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What color is your “collar?” (Elementary)

Jan. 8, 2013

Lucy asks Li Hua to go shopping, but she doesn’t seem to want to go. Why? Let’s look at the following conversation.

            Zánmen qù mǎi yīfu ba!
   Lucy:咱们     去  买  衣服 吧!


             Let’s go shopping for some clothes!

             Wǒ búqù, wǒ méiqián le.
Li Hua:我   不去,我   没钱   了。


              I don’t want to go. I’m broke.

             Búhuì ba? Nǐ shì báilǐng a!
   Lucy:不会   吧?你 是  白领  啊!


             That couldn’t be…you are…

              Ài! Gōngzī bái lǐng le.
Li Hua:唉!工资     白  领 了。


So, why doesn’t Li Hua want to go shopping? The trick lies in the word “白领 (báilǐng).” Both “白 (bái)” and “领 (lǐng)” have more than one meaning, which leads Li Hua to skillfully use the word “白领 (báilǐng)” to tell Lucy that she has no money. See the following explanation: 白 (bái) is usually used to mean “white,” but also means “in vain.” 领 (lǐng) is “collar” when used as a noun, but when used as a verb, means “to receive” or “to get.”

In the sentence “不会吧?你是白领啊!(Bú huì ba? Nǐ shì báilǐng a!),” the word “白领 (báilǐng)” means “white-collar.” 白 (bái) means “white,” and 领 (lǐng) is using its literal meaning, “collar.” 白领 (báilǐng) is one who works with their heads most of the day, such as teachers, lawyers, doctors and so on. They are well dressed and have a decent salary. Lucy is surprised when saying “不会吧 (Bú huì ba?)” after hearing that Li Hua has no money.

In the sentence “唉!工资白领了。(Ài! Gōngzī bái lǐng le.),” the word 白 (bái) means, “in vain.” For example, if you go to great lengths to explain a situation to a friend only to face a blank stare back at you, “我白说了!(Wǒ bái shuō le!)” can be appropriately uttered.

领 (lǐng), in this sentence means, “to receive,” or “to get.” For example, 他去领工资了!(Tā qù lǐng gōngzī le!) means, “He went to get his salary.” Therefore, Li Hua here is mocking herself that, even though she has a favorable salary, she still has no extra money to go shopping.

Do you understand the usages of “白 (bái)” and “领 (lǐng)?”

Speaking of the word 白领 (báilǐng, white-collar), there are some other uses of 领 (lǐng) to describe people who are involved in different jobs and fields. Let’s look at a few examples.

1. 金领

金 (jīn) means gold, so the word 金领 (jīnlǐng) refers to elites in a society such as CEOs, senior officials, and so on. These people have the right to decide the career fate of a 白领 (báilǐng).

2. 粉领

粉 (fěn) means pink. The word 粉领 (fěnlǐng) usually refers to female professionals in teaching, marketing, secretarial work, nursing, etc. Generally speaking, most of the 粉领 (fěnlǐng) are working at SOHO. Their working time is more flexible than professional female 白领 (báilǐng).

3. 蓝领

蓝 (lán) means blue, which is the color of the suits that most workers wear at construction sites, farms, factory, mines, or other places. Therefore, the word 蓝领 (lánlǐng) refers to those who work mostly with their strength rather than their head to earn a living.

Which 领 (lǐng)  do you belong to? Is your “collar” white, gold, pink, or blue?


1. What does the sentence “我星期五领工资。(Wǒ xīngqīwǔ lǐng gōngzī.)” mean?

 A. I will get my salary this Friday.

 B. I will change the color of my collar this Friday.

 C. I will spend my salary on buying a collar this Friday.

2. People who work with their strength to earn a living can be called _______

 A. 蓝领 (lánlǐng)

 B. 粉领 (fěnlǐng)

 C. 金领 (jīnlǐng)

 D. 白领 (báilǐng)

3. What does the word “金领 (jīnlǐng)” mean?____

 A. People who work with their strength.

 B. People whose collar is gold.

 C. People who are elites in society.

 D. People who are female nurses.

See answers


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