Realising that Chinese has no direct equivalence for “French kiss” got me thinking about other displays of affection and how they might fare in the translation process. One that springs to mind is hugging. Evidently Mandarin has four basic building block characters that can form hugging-words:
- 抱 bào： To wrap your arms around someone; to hug.
- 搂 lǒu: To hold someone with your arms; to hug.
- 擁 yōng: To hold someone with your arms; to hug.
- 偎 wēi: To lean close to; to cuddle (formal, literary language 书面语 shūmiànyǔ).
These can be informed by adverbs, such as in 相拥 xiāng yōng, to hug each other or 紧抱 jǐn bào, to tightly embrace. We can also start forming some useful bisyllabic words:
Firstly we have 拥抱 yōngbào which means to hug someone as a positive act of communication, such as the elderly hugging children or platonic friends hugging each other, often in an excited manner. You can also use derived forms such as 抱住 bàozhù or 抱着 bàozhe which not only emphasises the (grammatical) end result of hugging or holding but also has a more colloquial flavour.
Secondly you may also use 搂抱 lǒubào, which is a bit stronger in affection compared to 拥抱 yōngbào. 搂抱 lǒubào means to hug someone to show love; to embrace, usually between lovers or good friends. Google searches suggest that it may also sometimes be used between a mother and her baby, but my friends tell me this is a bit strange.
One thing I noticed when looking for images of 拥抱 and 搂抱 on Google and Baidu is that in Chinese there appears to be little distinction between “hugging” and “putting one’s arms around someone”. That must be the whole cultural thing coming through; displays of affection are not really emphasised in traditional Chinese culture.
Lastly, one should not forget about 偎抱 wēibào, a synonym of 拥抱 yōngbào, which simply means to hug or embrace but is technically more formal in register and is often found in literary works (an example of 书面语 shūmiànyǔ).
And for bonus points you can also spice up the language with a bit of good old fashioned “snuggling”, like in the following literary terms:
- 依偎 yīwēi: To snuggle up to.
- 偎依 wēiyī: To snuggle up to; to lean close to.
- 偎偎依依 wēiwēiyīyī: To nestle up to each other.
Hope you enjoy the words, and the action too from time to time!