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Chinese Idiom: It is neither a horse nor a tiger. But what is it?

Oct. 26, 2011

Key Learning Point (Preview):

马马虎虎 (mǎma hūhu): careless/just so so

 

The idiom "马马虎虎 (mǎma hūhu)" is widely used by Chinese people in their daily lives. But why do people in China use this idiom? Let’s read the following story to find out.

Listen to the whole story:

 

Sòngdài yǒu ge huàjiā, zuòhuà wǎngwǎng suíxīnsuǒyù, lìng rén gǎo bù qīng tā huà de
宋代        有  个   画家,作画       往往           随心所欲,   令  人   搞   不  清   他 画  的
shì shénme.
是    什么。

 

In the Song Dynasty, there was a painter who liked to paint anything he felt like painting. Most people could not understand his paintings.

Yí cì , tā gāng hle yí ge hǔtóu, pèng shàng yǒu ge péngyou lái qǐng tā huà mǎ,
一次,他   刚      画了 一个  虎头, 碰        上      有   个   朋友     来  请    他 画   马,
tā jiù suíshǒu zài hǔtóu hòu huà shàng mǎ de shēnzǐ.
他就  随手      在   虎头   后     画    上      马   的  身子。

 

One day, when he had just finished a painting of a tiger' head, his friend came to ask him for a painting of a horse. So, he painted a horse's body behind the tiger's head.

Péngyou wèn tā huà de shì mǎ háishì hǔ, tā dá: "mǎma hūhu!"
朋友         问  他  画    的 是  马   还是  虎,他答:“马马虎虎!”

 

His friend asked him if the painting was of a tiger or a horse. He answered "马马虎虎 (mǎma hūhu) horse and tiger".

Péngyou méiyǒu yào huà, tā biàn jiāng huà guà zài tīngtáng.
朋友         没有     要     画,他 便   将     画     挂  在   厅堂。

 

His friend rejected his painting, so he put it up in his living room.

Dà érzǐ jiànle wèn tā huà lǐ shì shénme, tā shuō shì hǔ, xiǎo érzǐ wèn tā, què shuō shì mǎ.
大 儿子见了   问   他 画 里 是     什么,他    说   是  虎,小  儿子  问  他,却   说    是   马。

 

His eldest son asked him "what was in the painting?" He answered, "a tiger." However, when his younger son asked him he answered, "a horse."

Bùjiǔ, dà érzǐ wàichū dǎliè shí, bǎ rén jiā de mǎ dāngchéng lǎohǔ shè sǐ le,
不久, 大  儿子 外出    打猎  时,  把 人  家 的  马     当成         老虎   射  死了,
huàjiā bùdébù gěi mǎ zhǔrén péi qián.
画家    不得不  给    马   主人    赔   钱。

 

Shortly after this, his eldest son while hunting shot someone’s horse because he thought it was a tiger. The painter had to pay the owner of the horse a lot of money.

Ér tā de xiǎo érzǐ wàichū pèng shàng lǎohǔ, què yǐwéi shì mǎ xiǎng qù qí,
而他 的  小  儿子  外出      碰       上     老虎,却    以为  是  马  想    去  骑,
jiéguǒ bèi lǎohǔ yǎo sǐ le.
结果  被   老虎    咬 死 了。

 

His second son went out and saw a tiger and he wanted to ride it because he thought it was a horse. But, when the boy tried to ride the tiger it killed him. 

Huàjiā hěn shāngxīn, jiù bǎ huà shāo le.
画家     很   伤心,     就  把  画   烧    了。

 

The painter was very sad, so he burned the painting.

These days the idiom is used to describe someone who is careless or situations and things that are not special or just common.

Key Learning Point:

马马虎虎 (mǎma hūhu): careless/just so so

 

In Chinese, the phrase "马虎 (mǎhu)" and "马马虎虎 (mǎma hūhu)" both can refer to people who are careless.

Examples:

Wǒ mèimei shì ge mǎma hūhu de rén, jīngcháng diūsānlàsì.
我   妹妹      是 个   马马虎虎    的  人,经常          丢三落四。

 

My sister is a careless person and always forgets about things.

Tā zhè ge rén zuòshì bǐjiào mǎhu.
他 这   个 人    做事    比较   马虎。

 

He's a rather careless person.

      Háo jiǔ bú jiàn, zuìjìn shēngyi zěnmeyàng?
Jim: 好 久  不  见,最近    生意      怎么样?

 

      Long time no see. How’s the business?

       Mǎma hūhu.

Dan: 马马虎虎。

 

      Just so so.

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Comments

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