3 Expressions Better Said in Chinese

Even though I am a native English speaker, sometimes I actually prefer to use Chinese to express some things. Here are three Chinese phrases where I find it easier to use the Chinese expression rather than say it in English (assuming the other person knows Chinese!)


天作孽犹可违 自己作孽不可活
tian1zuo4nie4you2ke3wei2 zi4ji3zuo4nie4bu4ke3huo2

Literally: ‘If heaven does something against you, you may escape, but if you do something against yourself, you are done for.’

Closest English expression: ‘Sometimes, a person is their own worst enemy.’

Example sentence:

‘My co-workers are angry at me cos I didn’t send my work to them on time, but it wasn’t my fault, because we lost power.’
‘Oh, that’s fine then. As long as it’s not your fault, you can survive anything. 天作孽犹可违自己作孽不可活.’



Literally: ‘(Like) Sai Weng losing his horse, how do you know this is not a blessing in disguise?’

Closest English expression: ’This whole thing might have a silver lining.’

Context: In ancient China, the story goes, there was a man named Sai Weng. His horse ran away, and horses weren’t exactly cheap then. So he felt terrible. But then it returned later and not only that, it had a mate! So Sai Weng had gained another horse and was quite chipper about it. Unfortunately, his son broke his leg later while riding one of the horses, and so Sai Weng’s supposed ‘good luck’ led to his son now being crippled. However, soon afterwards, the Emperor called up every available man to fight in a war, and his son was obviously not required to fight due to his broken leg. Nearly everyone died in the ensuing battle, hence the broken leg had probably saved his son’s life, and so misfortune was once again turned into joy.

Example sentence:

‘I failed my university course. It looks like I’ll have to stay back another semester.’
‘塞翁失马焉知非福? Who knows, maybe you can use your extra free time to develop one of your business ideas…’



Literally: ‘To touch (someone’s) bottom line.’

Closest English expression: “to be more than what (someone) can accept/to be past the pale/to be unacceptable”.

Context: In English the word ‘bottom line’ is unfortunately already taken - usually it means the fundamental status of a person’s financial situation or a company’s financial situation, and so this expression cannot be literally translated.

The reason why this expression is so useful is that ‘触到…的底线’ expresses more clearly than the above English expressions that the reason why some act is not acceptable is because it infringes on a person’s basic principles, which is a bit more descriptive than the English expression ‘I can’t accept this’. It seems to leave open more room for negotiation in an argument, because you’re indicating it’s not necessarily the case you can’t accept some kind of compromise, but that this particular action, expressed in this way, will go against your fundamental principles.

Example sentence: 

‘How strictly are employees evaluated here?’
‘Basically if you don’t do anything to 触到(our)底线, such as not come to work on time, use company time to surf Facebook, or miss deadlines, there shouldn’t be any reason for an employee to need to leave.’

We do Chinese to English translation!

Facebook: www.facebook.com/chinese2english
Website: www.willfanyi.com