Tag Archives: CHN1

Kain Kayo (Please Eat With Us)

When inviting someone to a meal in a table, we’d normally say “please eat”. Translating this literally to Mandarin, we’d say “吃饭!” This turns out not to be the case. We’d have to say “请自己来” or “请用”, but not “请饭” or “吃饭”。 This literally translates to “please serve yourself”, or “please use” (referring to utensils).
While this sentence may sound too direct or even offensive for some, this expression invites the guest to feel at home.

Lesson learned.

Character Etymology: 我,你,他

While it is true that Hànzì is pictographic and phoenemic, its structure holds pieces of Chinese Philosophy. How radicals were used in context and how its other components reveal their view on life, the environment, manner of living, and more.

Let us take three common characters as an example: 我, 你, and 他。

Wǒ means I.

Cover this character in half, lengthwise. Other than half a character, but this constitutes another character, which is 戈, which is a dagger-like weapon. Now, cover the other side. You know have a mirror image of the same character.doe

What does this imply?

Someone holding a 戈, with a mirror image facing it.

Usually, when someone holds a weapon, there is a battle. Question is, where is the battle?

The battle is within yourself.


Nǐ is you. Its radical is 亻, which is 人 (rén), a person in radical form. Its other part is 尔 (ěr), a formal term for you, and referring to someone with whom you respect and consider as equals, which is each other.

He. Tā also comes in other forms such as 她  (she), or 它 (it). For this entry, we will focus on 他。

Again, the radical is 亻。Its other half is 也. I will admit that I am not sure with this entry, as common use for yě means “also”. The explanation was that 也 resembles a horn. When combined, this means a person is blowing a horn, calling something.

Semantic Radicals

A characteristic of Chinese characters (汉字, Hànzì) is its method of context clues. While speakers of languages like English primarily infer meaning of unfamiliar words with its surrounding words taken into context, 汉字 does so by way of radicals.

汉字 is typically divided into two parts: semantic and phonetic. The semantic, commonly referred to as the radical, gives context to what the character refers to. Whereas its phonetic section lends its sound.

Here is an example.

As for its radical, there is 女 (nǚ), which means female. So this character refers to something that has something to do with females. The phonetic, 马 (mā) means horse. When put together, it forms 妈, referring to a mother.

Take heed however, this does not mean that it is possible to combine two separate (and possibly irrelevant) characters to form a new one.  There are specific etymologies on why these particular ones were chosen to represent its meaning, and these will be covered in future posts.