Some cool Chinese words about the year of the OX 2021

Published on 23 February 2021
Author: Chinese online courses



There are 12 zodiac signs in the Chinese zodiac. Each year is represented by an animal: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Hare, Dragon, Snake, Horse, and Sheep. Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig, a cycle of 12 years. 

It is a unique way for Chinese to express the time of birth. People often compare the corresponding animals to people or things. For example, "Tiger head and tiger brain" means that someone looks like a tiger and is very strong, often used to describe a little boy. "Tiger head and snake tail" means that the head is as big as a tiger and the tail is as thin as a snake. This means that at the beginning of someone’s task the momentum is big, but later the energy is small, there is no clear end to the beginning, and the work is often not consistent. It often refers to doing things carelessly.  Interesting, isn’t it?

This year is the year of the ox, so what are the cool words related to the ox? 牛 (niú) literally means ox or cow, but the Chinese use it frequently in everyday situations with a different meaning. Let’s take a look at some of these!

You rock (你真牛nǐ zhēn niú )



The ox, 牛 (niú), is associated in Chinese culture with many positive values such as honesty, hard working and reliable, and modesty. So, in everyday expressions 牛 (niú) is often used to express these virtues. If you want to describe a person who has done something great, maybe even surprising you because they’re normally quiet and modest, you can use this phrase because it means "You are really awesome" or “You are really great” or you are amazing etc., not literally “you are an ox”! 
Just like in english, you can also use 牛 to be ironic, for example “你丢了你的钱,真牛!” , “You lost your money, really great!”

Bragging(吹牛chuīniú )



An ox or bull often blows and makes a lot of noise to impress females or scare others off. So 吹牛(chuīniú), literally blowing like a bull, is a Chinese way of describing bragging or boasting.

Example: “他喜欢吹牛,没人相信他说的话” He likes to brag, no one believes what he says.

Stubbornness(牛脾气, niú píqì )



An ox is a powerful and very stubborn animal, most cultures recognise this. If it stands there and doesn't want to move, no matter how hard you try to pull the rope on the ox's nose, you won't be able to pull it. In mandarin Chinese “脾气“ or “píqì” is temperament so “牛脾气” is to have a stubborn temperament like an ox.

Example: “他是牛脾气!“ - He is stubborn like an ox!

Bullish(牛气冲天 niúqìchōngtiān )



Chinese New Year is here. When you see a friend, you might say this to wish them prosperity. Here being “bullish” (牛气) is used in the same way as being bullish about the stockmarket, i.e. to get rich. 冲天 means to rise or soar skywards, so you wish your friend rising prosperity when you say 牛气冲天. This is a very common way for Chinese to greet each other at New Year, everyone wants the next year to be prosperous. It is particularly appropriate if the other party is speculating in stocks, it is to wish that his stocks to rise.

Example:  “祝你牛气冲天” “Wish you prosperity” is a good wish to use at New Year

To split hairs or go down a dead end(钻牛角尖 zuān niújiǎo jiān )



The meaning is to consider a matter too deeply or argue over inconsequential details, just like drilling into the tip of an ox’s horn, when you get there, you get stuck as the horn narrows. It usually refers to people who are stubborn but not flexible, and laboriously researching useless or unsolvable problems.

Example: “灵活点儿,别钻牛角尖” “be flexible, don’t think too narrowly”

Cast pearls before swine(对牛弹琴duìniútánqín )



The Chinese version of a very common english expression! Imagine a picture like this: a musician plays to a cow, hoping that the cow will appreciate and enjoy his music, but the cow is still grazing, as if he didn't hear it. It turns out that it's not that the cow doesn't want to listen, it's that the tune doesn't reach its ears, and the cow doesn't understand music at all. The meaning is the same as in English - don’t waste your time on people who don’t appreciate you

Example: “没必要向他解释更多,简直是对牛弹琴“ ”No need to explain more to him, it’s like playing the piano to the cow!”

A drop in the ocean(九牛一毛 jiǔniúyīmáo )



A piece of hair on nine cows is so small that it is almost invisible. This is the Chinese equivalent of the western “a drop in the ocean”. In older Chinese culture, few people had experience of an ocean, China is so big that most people lived, and still live, far from the sea or ocean. So they imagined a single hair among nine cows, an example in their experience, as being something insignificant.

Example: “100 美元对百万富翁是九牛一毛” “100 dollars is only a drop in the ocean for a millionaire”

Power of Nine Bulls and Two Tigers(九牛二虎之力 jiǔ niú èr hǔ zhī lì )



What is the result of adding the strength of nine cows and two tigers? Extremely powerful. Often used in situations where it takes a lot of effort to accomplish one thing.

Example: “他用了九牛二虎之力才说服卖家便宜了100 块钱“  “It took me a lot of effort to persuade the seller to make it 100 yuan cheaper”

They’re really cool, aren’t they? Chinese culture is extensive and profound, there are many interesting Chinese words or phrases full of stories and deep meanings. Let’s go find out more.






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