Why 2016 Makes an Ancient Chinese Idiom Contradict Itself?

Monkey year, Horse month

The Chinese idiom “猴年马月(hóunián mǎyuè)” literally means “monkey year, horse month” and is causing a lot of excitement on social media in China. Following the cycle of the 12 Chinese zodiacs, every 12 years is the year of the monkey.
In accordance with this, each of the 12 months is assigned one of the zodiac. The month of the horse in this idiom is May of the lunar calendar, which is actually June. Yet, in daily life, this idiom takes on a new meaning aside from an actual time. It is used to describe something that won’t be done in the foreseeable future or a future result that can’t be anticipated. It is usually said to represent a feeling that some task will never be finished. Check out these examples to get a better idea:


Bàba:   Érzi,    nǐ zěnme le? Zěnme bù gāoxìng a?
爸爸:儿子,你 怎么   了?怎么   不   高兴    啊?
Father: Son, what’s wrong? How are you so unhappy?

Érzi:    Nǐ kàn, lǎoshī bùzhì le zhème duō zuòyè, zhèděi hóuniánmǎyuè cáinéng zuòwán a?
儿子:你 看,老师  布置  了  这么    多   作业, 这得     猴年马月         才能     做完    啊 ?
Son: Look, my teacher assigned this much homework, it will take forever to finish it all.


Fángjià zhème guì, hóuniánmǎyuè cáinéng mǎideqǐ fáng a?
房价      这么    贵,  猴年马月       才能     买得起   房  啊?
With housing prices this expensive, won’t it be forever before they are affordable?

Although the origins of this idiom are unknown, it is causing a big scene in social media in China. It has become a joke with many young people as the actual time will soon be upon us in June.
Before, someone might have used the idiom to mean they would never get finished with something. But now the joke is that foreseeable time is just months away, since 2016 is the year of monkey, and June is the month of horse. You can finally see the outcome of many things you have been waiting for. Get a better idea of this from the example below:


Bàba:  Nǐ zài zhèyàng xiàqù, děi hóuniánmǎyuè cáinéng zhǎodào nǚpéngyou a?
爸爸:你 再   这样     下去,得  猴年马月         才能       找到       女朋友      啊?
Father: If you again continue like this, you will never find a girlfriend.

Érzi:  Hóuniánmǎyuè mǎshàng jiù dàole, wǒ hěnkuài jiùhuì yǒu nǚpéngyou le.
儿子:猴年马月          马上      就  到了,我 很快      就会   有   女朋友      了。
Son: “Monkey year, horse month” is almost here, I will have a girlfriend very soon.

HSK 3 quiz

1. Which of these words isn’t a meaning of “猴年马月(hóunián mǎyuè)?”
A. “year of the monkey, month of the horse”
B.  long time off
C.  time that will never come
D. “horse year, monkey month”
2. When does “猴年马月(hóunián mǎyuè)” actually refer to when speaking of a time?
A. June, 2016
B. May, 2015
C. June, 2015
D. May, 2016

Chinese Idiom
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