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Why does eating vinegar mean being jealous? (Elementary)

Jan. 2, 2013

To celebrate the New Year, (Watch the video and know how Chinese people celebrate the New Year) Wang Wei invites his girlfriend Zhang Li to have dinner at a restaurant, but the two face a few challenges…

                   Nǐ chī cù ma?
Wang Wei:你  
醋  吗?

                  Wǒ bù chī.
  Zhang Li:我  不  吃。


Wang Wei asks his girlfriend like this just because he feels a certain dish needs a bit more flavor. At this moment, Wang Wei’s phone rings. He answers and talks for quite a long time.

(How do Chinese people answer the phone?)

                 Shéi dǎ de diànhuà?
  Zhang Li:谁   打 的    电话? 

                  Who was it?

                   Wǒ de tóngxué.
Wang Wei:我   的    同学。

                   One of my classmates.

                 Shì nánshēng ma?
  Zhang Li:是     男生       吗?

                    A guy?

                   Búshì, shì yíge nǚshēng!
Wang Wei:不是,是  一个    女生!

                    Naw, a girl!

As Zhang Li's demeanor is suddenly covered in a gloomy shadow, Wang Wei asks:

                    Nǐ chīcù le ma?
Wang Wei:你 吃醋  了 吗?

Can you guess what happened to Wang Wei’s girlfriend?

As you may have noticed, there is a word marked in bold, which is the key to fully understand the conversation. Often, in such a situation, girls or boys can feel jealous of their significant other. This leads to our second use of the expression “吃醋 (chīcù).” The first sentence “你吃醋吗?(Nǐ chī cù ma?)” means “do you want vinegar?” If we look word by word, here 吃 (chī) is eat, (Have you eaten yet?) and 醋 () means vinegar. In the second sentence “你吃醋了吗?(Nǐ chīcù le ma?)” means “are you jealous?” Got it?

Why has the Chinese expression 吃醋 (chīcù) come to denote the green eyes of jealousy? The following anecdote will hopefully clear things up.

It’s said that there was a powerful prime minister in the Tang Dynasty who was henpecked. One day, the emperor sent him a beautiful girl to be his concubine. However, the prime minister’s wife strongly refused to accept the emperor’s decision. Though polygyny was a normal practice in ancient China, she would rather drink poison than accept her husband with another woman. The emperor, touched by her courage and love, secretly filled a vial with vinegar and bade her to drink. After gulping down the liquid and surviving, the story spread and people began using the term “吃醋 (chīcù)” to refer to someone jealous of their lover.

In fact, there are other words related to “吃 (chī)” that describe the relationship between a man and a woman. Such as 吃软饭 (chī ruǎnfàn). 吃软饭 (chī ruǎnfàn) literally means eat soft rice and is often used to refer to a man living off a woman rather than working to earn a living.

It’s said that there was an old rich widow who had a very young lover. One day when they ate steamed rice at a restaurant, the waiter asked the young man whether they wanted the long-cooked soft steamed rice or the short-cooked hard steamed rice. Thinking of the old widow's bad teeth, the young lover decided the soft rice would be more suitable. The young lover ordered the dish: “吃软的!(chī ruǎn de!),” which means “we’ll have the soft rice.” The waiter smiled and teased “老太太吃软的,你一个大小伙子也吃软饭吗?(Lǎo tàitai chī ruǎn de, nǐ yíge dà xiǎohuǒzi yě chī ruǎnfàn ma?)” meaning “an old lady eating soft rice is normal, but a young man like yourself, likes soft rice too?” Since then, the joke became popular and people have come to use the term 吃软饭 (chī ruǎnfàn) to refer to men who depend on women financially.

Sometimes people may call themselves "吃软的!(chī ruǎn de!)" in a sarcastic self-ridiculing fashion to express that they make a living in software engineering, which contains the word “soft.”

Until now, we’ve mentioned two Chinese words with “吃 (chī).” There are so many of them in the Chinese language, for examples: the Chinese call a job 饭碗 (fànwǎn , rice bowl), being employed 混饭 (hùnfàn, hunting for food) and even more interesting, a beauty can be described as 秀色可餐 (xiùsèkěcān, a feast for the eyes). The word “吃 (chī)” isn’t present in the above three words, but each of them contains it symbolically. China is such a country with a splendid catering culture! (Learn some Chinese culture with our professional Chinese teachers!)Those who love eating and tasting different delicacies, or “foodies,” are called 吃货 (chīhuò). This term was originally used in the dialects of certain Chinese regions, but has since spread to all parts of the country. The documentary, A Bite of China, produced by CCTV, gave a comprehensive picture of Chinese food and helped to initially popularize the term. When in China, you’ll commonly hear 吃货 (chīhuò).

For example:

      Nǐ xiǎng chī shénme?
A:你   想    吃   什么?

      What do you want to eat?

     Wǒ xiǎng chī suǒyǒu de měishí.
B:我   想     吃    所有    的  美食。

      I want to eat all of the delicacies.

      Nǐ zhēn shì yíge chīhuò.
A:你   真   是   一个 吃货。

      You little foodie you.

There are a lot of foodies in China, but there’s one thing they don’t enjoy: vinegar. No one likes to 吃醋 (chīcù, be jealous), not even a lifetime gourmet.


1.  What does the sentence “他的女朋友吃醋了。(Tā de nǚ péngyou chīcù le.)” mean?______

 A. His girlfriend is jealous.  

 B. His girlfriend likes vinegar.

 C. His girlfriend has a sour stomach.

 D. His girlfriend is happy.

2.  Li Hua likes eating, we can call her____

 A. 吃醋 (chīcù)

 B. 爱吃 (ài chī)

 C. 吃货 (chīhuò)

3.What do Chinese people call men who depend financially on a woman rather than work for themselves? _______

 A. 秀色可餐 (xiùsèkěcān)

 B. 吃软饭 (chī ruǎnfàn)

 C. 饭碗 (fànwǎn)

 D. 混饭 (hùnfàn)

See answers

Related Post:

为什么吃醋?Why do you eat vinegar?

忽悠 (hūyou) Hoodwink & 吃醋 (chīcù) Jealous


Chinese Popular Words (Fun Stuff)

HSK Test

General Chinese (Beginner Level)

General Chinese (Intermediate Level)

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饕餮was used in some gourmet magazines I was reading.

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