Lost in song (Elementary)

Television singing contests are becoming more and more popular in China with many TV stations airing competitions watched by millions of viewers. Amy, who loves to sing, attended one such singing contest just yesterday. Let’s take a look at a conversation between her and her friend Laura to see how it went.

             Wǒ zuótiān cānjiā chànggē bǐsài le.
   Amy:我     昨天    参加      唱歌    比赛 了。
              I attended a singing contest yesterday.

             Shénme chànggē bǐsài?
Laura:什么           唱歌    比赛?
             Which singing contest?

             Zhōngguó hǎo shēngyīn.
   Amy:中国           好       声音。
              The Voice of China.

            Wā! Jiéguǒ zěnmeyàng?
Laura:哇!   结果      怎么样?
            Wow! What were the results?

             Wǒ chàng dào yíbàn de shíhou wàngjì gēcí le,   tài diūrén le.
   Amy:我     唱      到  一半   的   时候    忘记   歌词 了,太   丢人  了。
            Halfway through the song I forgot the lyrics. ….

            Diūrén? Shéi diū le?
Laura:丢人?    谁    丢 了?
            Lost person? Who got lost?

The confusion in this dialogue hinges on the word said by Amy: 丢 (diū). Let’s take a closer look.

丢 (diū) in Chinese is a verb, meaning “to lose.”


Wǒ qùnián diū le liǎngliàng zìxíngchē.
我     去年   丢  了    两辆       自行车。
I lost two bicycles last year.

The basic structure is: subject + 丢 (diū) + 了 (le) + object.

Sometimes the object can go before the verb. In this case, the structure is: object + 丢了 (diū le).


Wǒ de shū diū le.
我   的  书   丢  了。
My book is lost.

Bàba de qiánbāo diū le.
爸爸   的   钱包     丢  了。
My father’s wallet is lost.

Looking at the above explanation, and knowing that 人 (rén) means “person,” it is no wonder that Laura was so confused! “Lost person” is the literal meaning of 丢人 (diūrén), but that isn’t quite what Amy meant. To explain the expression, we’ll need to learn a bit about Chinese culture.

Chinese people are very concerned about reputation and honor, which are called 面子 (miànzi) or 脸 (liǎn), both meaning “face.” You might have heard the expression 丢面子 (diūmiànzi) or 丢脸 (diūliǎn), also have to do with reputation and honor. This phrase usually describes a humiliating, shameful, or embarrassing situation, in which a person feels they have lost some of their honor.

In Amy and Laura’s conversation, 丢人 (diūrén) is the synonym of 丢面子 (diūmiànzi) and 丢脸 (diūliǎn). 人 (rén) does in this case mean “people,” but instead refers to a deeper meaning of human reputation. So it is not “lost person” but “embarrassing” or “humiliating” that Amy actually means. Put together, the sentence “太丢人了 (tài diūrén le)” means “It was so embarrassing.”


Wǒ de hànyǔ kǎoshì méiyǒu jígé,   tài diūrén le!
我   的   汉语   考试     没有   及格,太   丢人  了!
I failed the Chinese test. It was so embarrassing!

Nǐ gēn xiǎoháir chǎojià, zhēn diūrén!
你 跟    小孩儿   吵架,   真     丢人!
Quarreling with little kids! How shameful!


1. What’s the meaning of the sentence “我的钱丢了。(Wǒ de qián diū le.)?” ________

A. I lost my money.

B. I threw money away.

C. My money is shameful.

2. Which of the following is the correct translation for the phrase “真丢人 (zhēn diūrén)?” ______

A. to lose a person

B. to lose face

C. how embarrassing

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