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Be Careful When Using the Chinese Term “小人 (xiǎorén)”

Dec. 9, 2011

Key Learning Point (Preview):

小人 (xiǎorén): n. a mean/cruel person

 

One day, my British friend asked me how to say "adult" in Mandarin. It’s "大人 (dàrén) adult" I told him. "So then, I’m an '大人 (dàrén) adult', and you are too," he started, "but my daughter is a '小人 (xiǎorén)' … right?" I was a bit confused. "Is your daughter a bad kid?" I asked. "If not, why would you say she's a '小人 (xiǎorén)'?" He was taken aback and quickly replied, "Well, because she's only six years old." I suddenly realized he meant his daughter was just a "小孩 (xiǎohái) kid."

Originally, the word "小人 (xiǎorén)" had several meanings. In ancient China, it referred to the common people, those with a limited knowledge base and also was what one would call themselves to infer a diminutive degree of address to those whose social rank was higher. Furthermore, it was also a word for children. For example, we call children's picture-story books "小人书 (xiǎorénshū)." Nowadays, the word "小人 (xiǎorén)" is more commonly used to refer to people who often make mischief, or those who kick you when you're down. It can actually be seen as the opposite of the word "君子 (jūnzǐ) gentleman." Since the word "小人 (xiǎorén)" is somewhat negative, we should be careful with its usage unless joking with friends.
 
Key Learning Point:

小人 (xiǎorén): n. a mean/cruel person

 

Example:

            Wǒ piàn nǐ nánpéngyou shuō nǐ hé yí ge shuàigē chūqu wán le. 
Susan: 我   骗   你     男朋友        说   你  和 一个   帅哥     出去     玩  了。

 

            I told your boyfriend you went out with some good-looking guy.
    
           Hā hā, nǐ zhège xiǎorén. Wǒ nánpéngyou cái bú xìn nǐ ne.
   Lucy: 哈哈,你  这个   小人。 我    男朋友        才   不  信你 呢。

 

            Haha, you evil woman! My man won't be so easily tricked by you.

Vocabulary:

小孩 (xiǎohái): n. a kid

 

小人书 (xiǎorénshū): n. children's picture-story books

 

君子 (jūnzǐ): n. a gentleman

 

大人 (dàrén): n. adult

 

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