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Buying Soy Sauce in China. (Elementary)

Apr. 17, 2013

Soy sauce is a traditional Chinese condiment which is used almost every day by Chinese people. Before supermarkets appeared in China, Chinese people brought their empty soy sauce bottles to shops in order to refill them. We call this traditional activity 打酱油 (dǎ jiàngyóu), or, "buying soy sauce.” Currently in China, this old expression has taken on a new meaning. Here’s the story of how the new definition came into being.

A TV station was conducting a street interview, asking ordinary people their opinions on celebrity scandals. In one particularly memorable interview, the interviewee said calmly to a journalist about a recent scandal, “It’s none of my business. I just went out for some soy sauce.” This video was uploaded to the internet and ever since, 打酱油 (dǎ jiàngyóu) has been the popular way netizens say that something is none of one’s business.


      Nǐ yě cānjiā hànyǔ bǐsài ma?
A:你 也  参加    汉语  比赛  吗?


     Are you taking part in the Chinese contest, too?

     Wǒ shì lái dǎ jiàngyóu de.
B:我   是 来 打   酱油     的。


      I'm just doing it for fun.

In the above conversation, person B is actually taking part in the contest; however, he uses the self-deprecating comment of “打酱油 (dǎ jiàngyóu).” In this situation, the phrase means that he is taking part in the contest for fun only.

You will also hear people say 打酱油 (dǎ jiàngyóu) in other situations. For example, look at the following conversation:

           Nǐ jiéhūn le ma?
Jane:你  结婚  了 吗?


           Are you married?

          Wǒ háizi dōu huì dǎ jiàngyóu le.
  Lily:我  孩子   都  会   打   酱油     了。


           My kids can help me buy soy sauce.

Jane is asking Lily whether she is married or not, but Lily responds with a new usage of our phrase. The logic here is that if a kid can help his mother buy soy sauce, then he’s obviously not a young child. Lily is actually saying that she not only is married, but that she has been married for quite a long time.

To conclude, 打酱油 (dǎ jiàngyóu) in Chinese has three meanings:

1. To buy soy sauce.

2. Having nothing to do with the matter or being a passerby.

3. To say that a man or woman has been married for a while.


1. What does the woman mean in answer to the journalist? ___

Journalist:您觉得怎么样?(Nín juéde zěnmeyàng?)

   Woman:我不知道,我只是打酱油的。(Wǒ bù zhīdao, wǒ zhǐshì dǎ jiàngyóu de.)

A. I can’t find the road.

B. It’s good.

C. I don’t know. I’m just a passerby.

2. Which of the following means "It’s none of my business?"______

A. 我去商店打酱油。(Wǒ qù shāngdiàn dǎ jiàngyóu.)

B. 别问我,我只是打酱油的。(Bié wèn wǒ , wǒ zhǐshì dǎ jiàngyóu de.)

C. 我的孩子会打酱油。(Wǒ de háizi huì dǎ jiàngyóu.)

See answers

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