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Weird But Useful Chinese Term for Last – Minute Person!

Jun. 14, 2019

HSK 3 quiz

We’ve all used the term “better late than never” to loosely express that it’s perfectly fine to be a bit late, at least sometimes. In Chinese, there’s an idiom that somewhat scolds, or mocks tardiness, or people who put things off until the very last minute.

In Chinese, “临时抱佛脚 (línshí bàofójiǎo)” might be easy for you to pronounce, word-for-word, however, put together, the words make for a useful and fun idiom.

While the literal meaning of the idiom translates to English as “embrace Buddha’s feet and pray for help in time of emergency”, it’s actual usage really implies seeking help or making efforts at the very last minute.

And “临时抱佛脚 (línshí bàofójiǎo)” has gradually developed into a common idiom that refers to someone’s inability to prepare in time, forcing them to rush to deal with the issue at the last minute.

Let’s look at the details of the individual phrases make up the idiom “临时抱佛脚 (línshí bàofójiǎo)”.

临时 (línshí) temporary, provisional, interim, or for the occasion.

抱佛脚 (bàofójiǎo) clasp Buddha’s feet – profess devotion only when in trouble.

The Story Where Buddha Deals in Office Management

The truth is, you cannot easily understand the overall meaning of the idiom by examining the above phrases, ”临时 (línshí)”, and ”抱佛脚 (bàofójiǎo)”, even upon learning their English meanings. This is a brief example of how simple, everyday words and phrases in Chinese can be paired together to imply an entirely new meaning, or idiom.

There is similar use of the idiom “临时抱佛脚 (línshí bàofójiǎo)” in the Chinese proverb “平时不烧香, 临时抱佛脚 (píngshí bù shāoxiāng, línshí bàofójiǎo)”, which means “last-minute efforts are useless if no preparatory work has been done beforehand”.

Key learning points:

临时抱佛脚 (Línshí bàofójiǎo) embrace Buddha’s feet and pray for help in time of emergency

平时不烧香, 临时抱佛脚 (Píngshí bù shāoxiāng, línshí bàofójiǎo) last-minute efforts are useless if no preparatory work has been done beforehand

This proverb demonstrates the commonality and usefulness of “临时抱佛脚 (línshí bàofójiǎo)” in Chinese language, and shows how idioms enhance oral communication.

Here are examples of how “临时抱佛脚 (línshí bàofójiǎo)” is used in a sentence:

    Xiǎo Míng wèile míngtiān de kǎoshì ér línshí bàofójiǎo.
1. 小明为了明天的考试而临时抱佛脚。
    Xiao Ming is boning up for tomorrow’s exam.

    Tā jiùshì nà zhǒng línshí bàofójiǎo de rén.
2. 她就是那种临时抱佛脚的人。
    She is that kind of last – minute person.

“临时抱佛脚 (Línshí bàofójiǎo)” is a useful idiom to learn, because it will allow you to further express your thoughts in Mandarin Chinese. It’s worth mentioning that “临时抱佛脚 (línshí bàofójiǎo)” is often seen as a slightly derogatory phrase, and is even used for making fun of friends or classmates, or self-mockery. After all, no one enjoys extra nagging when they are already late or behind.

HSK 3 quiz
1. Read the dialogue and answer the question below.

Xiǎo Míng: Qīmò kǎoshì zhǔnbèi de zěnmeyàng?
小明: 期末考试准备的怎么样?

Lì Li: Bié tí la, línshí bàofójiǎo bà le.
丽丽: 别提啦,临时抱佛脚罢了。

What does “临时抱佛脚 (línshí bàofójiǎo)” mean in this Chinese dialogue? Please choose the best option.

A. Go to the temple to pray for the god’s protection.
B. Ponied all night before the exam.
C. Study hard in at ordinary times.
D. Suddenly hugged the foot of a statue of Buddha.

2. Please choose the best option to fill the blank.

Xiǎo Xīn zuówǎn áoyè le, yīnwèi tā yào wèile dì èr tiān de kǎoshì ______ bàofójiǎo.
小新昨晚熬夜了, 因为他要为了第二天的考试______ 抱佛脚。
Xiao Xin stayed up late last night, because he was cramming for the exam the next day.

A. 平时 (Píngshí)

B. 临时 (Línshí)

C. 准时 (Zhǔnshí)

D. 及时 (Jíshí)

Take a Quiz to Know When to Use Time Measure Words

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