Xiehouyu (simplified Chinese: 歇后语; traditional Chinese: 歇後語; pinyin: xiēhòuyǔ; Wade–Giles: hsieh1-hou4-yü3; literally: "a saying with the latter-part suspended") is a kind of Chinese proverb consisting of two elements: the former segment presents a novel scenario while the latter provides the rationale thereof. One would often only state the first part, expecting the listener to know the second. Compare English "a stitch in time (saves nine)" or "a bird in the hand (is worth two in the bush)".
Pun is sometimes invoked in a xiehouyu. In this case the second part is derived from the first through one meaning, but then another possible meaning of the second part is taken as the true meaning. To create examples in English, one can say "get hospitalized" to mean "be patient", or "small transactions only" to mean "no big deal". Thus a xiehouyu in one dialect can be unintelligible to a listener speaking another. Valuable linguistic data can sometimes be gleaned from ancient xiehouyu.
The origin of Xiehouyu.
Xiehouyu is a special form of language created by the Chinese working people since ancient times. It is a short, funny and figurative sentence. It consists of two parts: the former part ACTS as a "lead", like a riddle, and the latter part plays the role of "back lining", which is like a riddle, which is quite natural. In a certain language environment, usually the first half, "rest" to the second half, can understand and guess its original meaning, so it is called "xiehouyu". The Chinese civilization has a long history. Five thousand years of historical vicissitudes, quenching, condensing into brilliant language art. The rest of the language is characterized by its unique expressiveness. To give people a deep thought and enlightenment. It reflects the unique customs and national culture of huaxia nationality, tastes life, understands philosophy and promotes wisdom. Xiehouyu generally has a profound meaning, and a short sentence condensed a lot of wisdom.
- 外甥打燈籠——照舅 (舊) / 外甥打灯笼——照舅 (旧)
- 皇帝的女兒——不愁嫁 / 皇帝的女儿——不愁嫁
- pinyin: huángdì de nǚér—bù chóu jià
- translation: the daughter of the emperor—need not worry that she cannot soon be wed
- gloss: someone or something that is always wanted
- pinyin: lǐ yú chī shuǐ --tūn tūn tǔ tǔ
- translation: A fish is drinking water, meaning that one speaks hesitantly.
- pinyin:èr wàn wǔ qiān lǐ zhǎng zhēng --rèn zhòng dào yuǎn
- translation:A march which is 25.000 miles long, used to describe an arduous journey.
- pinyin:jiāng shān yì gǎi ，běn xìng nán yì
- translation:The fox may grow gray but never good.
- pinyin:lú gōu qiáo shàng shí shī zǐ --shù bú qīng
- translation:There are numerous stone lions on Lu Gou Bridge. It is used to describe a large amount.
- pinyin:huó dào lǎo ，xué dào lǎo
- translation:It is never too old to learn.
- pinyin:bú jīng lì fēng yǔ ，zěn me jiàn cǎi hóng
- translation:No cross, no crown.
- pinyin:wù yǐ lèi jù ，rén yǐ qún fèn
- translation:Birds of a feather flock together.
- pinyin:chá hú lǐ zhǔ jiǎo zǐ ——yǒu yě dǎo bú chū
- translation:Dumpling in a boiler(kettle)—cannot be poured out.
- pinyin:chuán tóu shàng pǎo mǎ ——zǒu tóu wú lù
- translation:horse race on the bow- back to the wall
- pinyin:dǎ pò shā guō ——wèn dào dǐ
- translation:Insist on getting to the bottom
- pinyin:dī shuǐ shí chuān ——fēi yī rì zhī gōng
- translation:Constant dropping wears the stone
- pinyin:diàn xiàn gǎn shàng bǎng jī máo ——hǎo dà de dǎn （dǎn ）zǐ
- translation:Feathers tied on the pole----How dare it!
- pinyin:fèn kēng lǐ de shí tóu ——yòu chòu yòu yìng
- translation:The stone in the cesspit——smelly and hard
- pinyin:jiǎo cǎi liǎng zhī chuán ——yáo bǎi bú dìng
- translation:sit on the fence——swing
- pinyin:lǎo hǔ de pì gǔ ——mō bú dé
- translation:the butt of the tiger, can not touch.
- pinyin:huáng shǔ láng gěi jī bài nián --bú huái hǎo yì
- translation:A weasel wishing Happy New Year to a chicken-harboring no good intention.
- pinyin:ròu bāo zǐ dǎ gǒu --yǒu qù wú huí
- translation:Chasing a dog by throwing meat dumplings at it-gone, never to return.
- Rohsenow, John Snowden. A Chinese-English dictionary of enigmatic folk similes (xiēhòuyǔ). Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1991.
- Zhongguo da baike quanshu. First Edition. Beijing; Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe. 1980-1993.
- A collection of xiehouyu (archived page)