To Blow Or To Boast? (Elementary)

Recently, John has picked up the hobby of playing musical instruments. It’s a very new sort of hobby for him and he hasn’t been at it for all that long. At the moment, he’s talking to his brother Edward, who knows him very well.

              Wǒ huì chuī dízi hé kǒuqín le.
    John:我   会    笛子 和  口琴  了。

               I can play the flute and the harmonica now.

               Hǎo lìhai a!
Edward:好   厉害 啊!

               That’s awesome!

              Wǒ hái huì chuī xiǎohào hé sàkesi.
    John:我   还   会   吹    小号    和 萨克斯。

               I can also play the trumpet and the saxophone.

               Nǐ zhēn huì chuīniú!
Edward:你   真   会   


There are three 吹 (chuī) in the above conversation. Do they share the same meaning? Let’s have a detailed study of the word 吹 (chuī).

吹 (chuī) is a verb and means “to blow.” For example, 吹气球 (chuī qìqiú) means “to blow up a balloon.” When talking about wind instruments, such as flutes or trumpets, you can also use the verb 吹 (chuī). For example, in the above conversation, John says he can 笛子 (chuī dízi, play the flute) and 口琴 (chuī kǒuqín, play the harmonica).

Getting back to our dialogue, what about 吹牛 (chuīniú)? As you may know, 牛 (niú) means “ox,” which means the literal translation of 吹牛 (chuīniú) is “to blow up the ox.” That sounds impossible…or at least a bit uncomfortable for the animal. Actually, there’s an implied meaning and an interesting story to go along with it.

It’s said that in ancient China those who lived along the banks of the Yellow River had to use rafts to cross river. At that time, people made their rafts by blowing air into animal skin bags with their mouths. Rafts made of a sheep’s skin were fairly easy for one person to blow up alone, but a big ox-skin raft was a different story. If someone said she or he could blow up an ox-skin raft alone, not many would believe the boast. To this individual, the locals would say, “Why don’t you blow up all the ox skins if you’re so good at it?” Of course the man wouldn’t be able to. And since that time, 吹牛皮 (chuī niúpí, blowing up the ox skin) means “to boast.”

Nowadays, people always use the short form 吹牛 (chuīniú) or just 吹 (chuī) instead of 吹牛皮 (chuī niúpí). In the above conversation, Edward jokes with 吹牛 (chuīniú) to say that his brother is boasting. The whole sentence means “You sure can boast, can’t you?”


     Wǒ kǎo le yìbǎi fēn.
A:我   考  了 一百  分。

      I got 100 points on the test.


      You brag!

     Zhēn de, wǒ méi chuī.
A:真     的,我  没   吹

      It’s true, I’m not boasting.

      Shì ma?
B:是   吗?


      Kàn, zhè shì wǒ de chéngjidān.
A:看,  这   是  我  的    成绩单。

      Look, here’s my report card.

Besides the usage of 吹 (chuī) we mentioned above, have you seen any other situations where the word 吹 (chuī) was used? Let’s look at the following conversation.

      Nǐ de nánpéngyou ne?
A:你 的    男朋友       呢?

     Where is your boyfriend?

     Chuī le.
B:   了。

     We broke up.

     Zhème kuài jiù fēnshǒu le?
A:这么      快  就   分手     了?

      Why so quick?

     Wǒmen bù héshì.
B:我们      不  合适。

      We just didn’t hit it off.

When breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, it is now very common to use the word 吹 (chuī). It is thought that this verb is more vivid than 分手 (fēnshǒu), “to break up.” It makes it seem like the love was just like the wind, blowing on by.


1. What’s the meaning of the sentence “他在吹牛。(Tā zài chuīniú.)?” ______

A. He is blowing out his breath.

B. He is boasting.

C. He is blowing up the ox.

2. Which of the following is the correct use of “吹 (chuī)?” ______

A. 吹吉他 (chuī jíta)

B. 吹钢琴 (chuī gāngqín)

C. 吹小号 (chuī xiǎohào)

3. What’s the meaning of the sentence “我和女朋友吹了。(Wǒ hé nǚpéngyou chuī le.)?” _____

A. I broke up with my girlfriend.

B. My girlfriend and I are blowing up balloons.

C. My girlfriend and I are boasting.


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