My new project is to do a weekly round-up of challenging words and phrases I have encountered translating both from English-into-Chinese and Chinese-into-English. I’ll present them here in this list and see if you can translate them without reading ahead first:
- 对…评价不高, e.g. 我对他的演技评价不高。
- to hang out (with someone, at a place, etc)
- to make sense
- dummy, as in a “pacifier” (US) for babies
- ugg boots
- to give someone a big head
Ventriloquism. This is a hefty challenge; technically, this Western art is referred to as 腹语 fùyǔ or 腹语术 fùyǔshù in Mandarin but as far as I can tell this is not commonly known by the average Chinese. 口技 kǒujì is a much better, communicative translation – it’s just a shame that it’s not exactly the same thing; in fact, 口技 refers to a specific type of Chinese vocal mimicry. However most dictionaries will give you both possible renderings without explanation of their key differences, despite them being essentially very different things. Bonus points if you can translate “ventriloquist” – that’s even worse.
对…评价不高. Rendered literally – “to not have a high appraisal of something” – this common collocation remains stiff and strange. Looking at the example sentence 我对他的演技评价不高。 – one could go for the easy way out and translate it as, “I don’t think he is good at acting,” and that well may serve its purpose; “I don’t think much of his acting,” would be a tad more idiomatic.
To hang out. There’s no easy answer to this common English verb, but I’ll leave you with a few options to mull over:
- 和某人混在一起: Literally, “to mix [together] with someone.”
- 和某人聚聚: “To gather with someone.”
- 跟某人一起玩: “To have fun [together] with somene.”
- 跟某人泡在一起: “To while away [together] with someone.”
- 在某个地方逛: “To stroll around at a certain place.”
One caveat though: 混 can have a negative connotation of one idling about lazily, which in Chinese-speaking cultures is traditionally considered a bad thing, and this carries over into the language – see also the derived term 混混 hùnhùn, a “drifter” or “scoundrel”.
Make sense. – Dictionaries hark on about 有意义 yǒu yìyì but surely this more like “meaningful”? Methinks there is no native expression for this in Chinese; it certainly explains why this phrase is commonly used in Chinglish.
有失礼的地方，还请多多包涵. I heard this in a Chinese TV show this week; one of the Qin warlords said it during one of his many quips to the characters. 有失礼的地方 isn’t too bad – just render it communicatively as, “If I’ve said something out of turn” or “If I seem impolite” or something similar. As for 请(您)多多包涵, despite how old it sounds, this phrase is still used in modern conversation – albeit in very formal/polite situations. I’m afraid “Please forgive me” or “Please excuse me” is the best I can come up with; I would love to hear your suggestions, both in an “ancient” register and a modern one.
Dummy. Known as a pacifier in the US, “dummy” is one of those Western items that, despite its Westernness, translates relatively painlessly as 奶嘴 nǎizuǐ. However, as far as I know, 奶嘴 can also refer to the “nipple of a feeding-bottle” (Wenlin), so perhaps in some situations an additional piece of information may be required for clarification.
破口大骂. Literally dissected as, “smash-mouth-big-scold”, this idiomatic verb could be rendered as, “to shout abuse”, but I think “hurl abuse” or “go off” are slightly more interesting choices.
Ugg boots. One of the more interesting translation choices, “ugg boots” are known as UGG靴子 (yu-ji-ji xuēzi) in China, the “ugg” part of the phrase becoming a sounded-out initialism.
To give someone a big head. On Wiktionary, I posted five possible translations:
- 把某人捧上天: Literally, “to overpraise someone.”
- 给某人戴高帽: “To make someone wear a high-hat.”
- 使某人飘飘然: “To make someone smug.”
- 让某人自高自大起来: “To make someone become conceited.”
- 过奖: “To overpraise/flatter.”
Let me know what you think of all these in the comments!