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Be Careful When Using “eggs” in Mandarin (Elementary)

Jul. 31, 2013

Let’s look at a dialogue first.
(After taking a math exam, Lily and Wang Xiaohong are walking home together.)
   Lily: I stink at math. I’m afraid I didn't pass the exam.
Li Lei: Don’t worry. Doing your best is what matters. Also, I’m sure you will be OK! You won’t bring 鸭蛋 (yādàn) to your parents. Just relax!
   Lily: Why would I bring 鸭蛋 (yādàn) to my parents?
Li Lei: 鸭蛋 (yādàn) means "egg" but it can also mean zero. If you get 鸭蛋 (yādàn) on your exam, you parents would probably be disappointed.
   Lily: Oh, I see. But what's the connection between "egg" and "zero?”

Zero to one hundred
鸭蛋(yādàn) literally means "duck’s egg." Because the shape is like the number 0, the word can have the meaning of scoring a zero on exams. To counter this, for good luck, sometimes parents will prepare a special breakfast for their children on the day of a test. They will prepare a piece of 油条(yóutiáo) and two eggs. 油条(yóutiáo) is a deep-fried twisted dough stick, so it looks like the number 1. The eggs, which can be 鸡蛋 (jīdàn), 鸭蛋(yādàn), or 鹅蛋(édàn), look like two zeros. The combination will look like the number 100. It's a cute way to wish one good luck on acing an exam.

You're such an egg!
In addition, 蛋(dàn) can be used with other Chinese characters to convey different meanings. For example, 笨蛋(bèndàn) is commonly used to call someone stupid or a fool. The insult example is simple: 你真是个笨蛋(Nǐ zhēn shì gè bèndàn), which means “You are such an idiot!"

Depending on how it is used, sometimes笨蛋 (bèndàn) can be regarded as a cute pet name among people who are very close. For example:
Wǒ māma jīngcháng shuō wǒ shì gè xiǎobèndàn.
我    妈妈       经常       说   我  是  个     小笨蛋。
My mother often says that I am a little fool.

Egg someone out the door!
滚蛋(gǔndàn) can be a rude way to tell someone to leave. It means "get out." For example:
Gǔndàn, nǐ zǒngshì yuānwang wǒ.
滚蛋,    你   总是         冤枉     我。
Get out, you always treat me unfairly.

Please note that the above uses of 蛋(dàn) are very informal and should be used with caution. On the other hand, if used properly, 蛋(dàn) can liven up conversations with friends in daily life. Try it, and you'll be practicing and learning authentic Chinese.

Exercises:

1. Which of the following can be edible?

 A. 滚蛋(gǔndàn)

 B. 鸡蛋(jīdàn)

 C. 笨蛋(bèndàn)

2. If someone is very stupid, what can you call him in Chinese?

 A. 鸡蛋(jīdàn)

 B. 鸭蛋(yādàn)

 C. 笨蛋(bèndàn)

3. Which of the following can mean score zero in exams?

 A. 笨蛋(bèndàn)

 B. 滚蛋(gǔndàn)

 C. 鸭蛋(yādàn)

See answer

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Comments

It is too much good. I wrote it with my note book. Me living in Peshawar Pakistan. Without any teacher; I am learning Chinese from internet source.

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