You probably don’t recall chewing on a mouthful of vinegar; it’s hardly a well-balanced meal and would be damn tough to swallow. But then again, so is watching a rival in love steal the object of your affections. Just like the grumpy baby in the picture below, no one wishes to end up eating vinegar(吃醋 chī cù).
Aside from eating vinegar (synonymous with jealousy), Chinese “eat” all types of unusual items in the Chinese language.
1. Eating “Flavors”
Aside from 吃醋, which means to be jealous of a rival in love, you can also eat the concept of bitterness itself. To 吃苦 (chī kǔ) literally means to eat bitterness, but figuratively means enduring hardship.
2. Eating “Liquids”
In English, you “take medicine”, whereas in Chinese, you “eat medicine”, be it a pill, a liquid, or capsule. whenever you 吃药 (chī yào) eat medicine, you are probably at the same time 吃苦, since sugar-coated pills may taste good, but Chinese herbal infusion is almost always bitter.
What do you think of a cup of tea? You can 吃茶 (chī chá) in southern provinces of China. But rest assured, they’re not biting tea leaves, it is consumed as a liquid like everywhere else.
Adults drink milk, but a baby literally “eats” it, thus he sucks the breast milk, 吃奶(chī nǎi), in the arms of his loving mother.
Having acquainted yourselves with the aforementioned phrases, you can understand well the following phrase, in which even inanimate things “eat” in the sense that they absorb something fluid. Some foods, such as eggplant, are apt to absorb a lot of oil (吃油 chīyóu) when fired and this makes you worried. So avoid frying the oil-eating foods unless you are craving something devilish and hearty.
3. Eating concepts
While the vinegar with the sour taste and Chinese medicine with a strong bitter taste are not at all pleasant to eat, some abstract things are still more unsavory.
In the same way that some food “eats” oil, hard work can eat up your strength, so it is very 吃力(chī lì) laborious and hard to do. You can also say that you feel 吃力 because your strength has been eaten up. Going back to the “milk eating”, a baby sucks with all his strength (力气 lìqi). Thus, whenever you laboriously work on something, whether dragging your furniture across the floor, or locating a long-lost childhood friend, you could say that you “used milk-sucking strength” (使出吃奶的力气)!
Surprised? Shocked? You just 吃惊 (chījīng) ate shock. To amplify it, you can add the character 大 (dà) big, along with 一 (yī) one, to create 大吃一惊(dà chī yì jīng), which means to be greatly astonished.
How about when you experience the “white tax” in China? Sometimes you can be force fed a deficit/disadvantage, by opportunistic vendors. One can also 吃亏 (chīkuī) if he or she suffers losses (usually not financial) or is disadvantaged. Moreover, if he is cheated and suffers a loss but is unable to talk about it for one reason or another, just like a mute person (哑巴 yǎba), you can say that he 吃哑巴亏(chī yǎba kuī).
Lastly, while usually people hop over a ditch, Chinese “eat ditches”. The idiom 吃一堑, 长一智 (chī yí qiàn, zhǎng yí zhì) refers to the gaining of wisdom from mistakes and failures. Just like those who have walked over a ditch (堑qiàn) and fallen will be more careful in the future, in the same way those who have suffered a setback will gain (长zhǎng) a piece of wisdom (智zhì) . After all, as little as you wish to “eat” bitterness, deficits, and disadvantages, you could always learn a lesson and become wiser.
Article by Wang Tong