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Chinese Idiom: 哪壶不开提哪壶 To Touch A Soft Spot

Jan. 20, 2016

The idiom "哪壶不开提哪壶 (nǎ hú bù kāi tí nǎ hú)" literally means "to pick the kettle that is not boiling." It's used to indicate that someone is saying or doing something that shouldn't be mentioned in front of others, or that someone is bringing up a sensitive subject.

Idiom Story:

Hěn jiǔ yǐqián, yǒu fùzǐ liǎ kāile jiān xiǎo cháguǎn.
很    久  以前,有  父子 俩 开了 间   小    茶馆。
A long time ago there was a father and son who owned a tea-house.

 

Dāngshí de zhīxiàn Bái lǎoye tāncái hàolì, jīngcháng lái bái hē chá.
当时       的  知县    白  老爷   贪财   好利,经常        来  白  喝 茶。
The local official, Mr. Bai, was of the greedy miser sort and always came for tea and promptly left without paying even a smile.

 

Yì tiān, Bái lǎoye hēle yì kǒu chá, jiù zhòuzhe méi shuō: "zhè shuǐ méi kāi, chá yě méi wèir."
一 天, 白  老爷  喝了一  口  茶,就 皱着       眉    说:  “这   水   没   开,茶   也 没   味儿。”
One day, Mr.Bai took a sip from his cup and grumbled, "This water's not boiled, and the tea itself tastes terrible."

 

Xiǎo zhǎngguì shuō: "lǎoye, zhè chá hái shì shàngděng de Lóngjǐng; shuǐ yě shì shāo kāi de,
小     掌柜          说: “老爷,这   茶  还   是   上等          的   龙井,    水   也 是   烧    开  的,
zěnme néng méi wèir ne?"
怎么      能     没  味儿 呢?”
The son replied, "My lord, the tea is our prized Longjing (Dragonwell Tea), and the water is piping hot, how could it taste terrible?"

 

Guòle jǐ tiān, Bái lǎoye jiànjiàn bù lái le.
过了  几 天,白  老爷    渐渐    不 来 了。
A few days later, Mr. Bai stopped coming to their tea-house.

 

Lǎo zhǎngguì biàn wèn érzi:  "Bái lǎoye wèi shénme bù lái le?"
老     掌柜       便     问  儿子:“白 老爷  为    什么     不  来了?”
The Father asked his son, "Why hasn't Mr. Bai been coming?"

 

Érzi jīling de yí xiào, shuō: "wǒ gěi tā qīchá, shì nǎ hú bù kāi tí nǎ hú!"
儿子机灵 地 一 笑, 说:     “我   给 他 沏茶,是 哪 壶  不 开 提 哪 壶!”
The son smiled knowingly and said, "Whenever I make his tea, I always use the water that hasn’t been boiled!" 

 

From that time on, the Chinese idiom "哪壶不开提哪壶 (nǎ hú bù kāi tí nǎ hú)" came into use. Now it's used to mean that someone is saying or doing something that shouldn't be mentioned in front of others.

Examples:

Nǐ zhēn shì nǎ hú bù kāi tí nǎ hú,  tā jiù pà biérén tí qǐ tā de qián nányǒu.
你  真    是  哪  壶 不 开 提 哪 壶,她 就 怕 别人  提起 她 的  前    男友。
You were obviously touching a soft spot. She's pretty sensitive when talking about her ex-boyfriend.

 

Lín Dá:  Nǐ kǎo yán kěndìng méi wènti ba?
琳  达:你 考   研    肯定       没   问题  吧?
Linda: What about the post-grad entrance exam? I think you'll do great.

 

Hēng Lì:  Bié nǎ hú bù kāi tí nǎ hú le, wǒ méi kǎo shàng.
亨     利:别  哪 壶 不 开  提 哪 壶了,我 没   考    上。
Henry: Don't bring that up right now. I did not pass the exam.

 
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