Do You Need a Hug?

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!

7 Comments to "Do You Need a Hug?"

  1. 03/12/2010 - 5:42 pm | Permalink

    The best translation for french kiss is 热吻. rewen.
    but not frequently use it…

  2. Quek Sai Kee's Gravatar Quek Sai Kee
    11/12/2010 - 12:13 am | Permalink

    To add to your collection of hugs:

    投怀送抱(usually of a woman throwing herself at a man).

  3. Veronica's Gravatar Veronica
    03/09/2011 - 8:23 pm | Permalink

    My understanding of “French Kiss” is “舌吻” 🙂

  4. Bathrobe's Gravatar Bathrobe
    19/09/2011 - 8:32 pm | Permalink

    Don’t forget how young children ask for 抱抱, which means they want to be picked up.

  5. 23/09/2011 - 2:12 pm | Permalink

    The only translation I’ve heard in Chinese speech for French kiss is 法式长吻。

  6. Günther's Gravatar Günther
    12/06/2013 - 11:03 pm | Permalink

    Another translation for French Kiss is 激吻

  7. zyx199199's Gravatar zyx199199
    10/10/2013 - 7:12 pm | Permalink

    It is definitely right to define 抱 as “To wrap your arms around someone”. However, there are two types of 抱. The first and the most frequently used one is “To wrap your arms around someone” vertically, which is probably what you described in this post. The second one is “To wrap your arms around someone” horizontally, which we normally call 公主抱, a word adopted from Japanese.

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