English slang – I Heard it through the grapevine 道听途说. 以蛾传蛾

Hi everybody, I have posted an article entitled “English slang- I heard it through the grapevine“. Find out the meaning of the slang and part of the lyrics of the popular American pop song of the same title and the Spanish and Chinese translations thereof.

Please click here.

Word of Mouth, Boca a baca 口碑载道

All of the above three phrases essentially have the same meaning. Find out more how to use them and examples thereof at my blog at Weebly.com.


Speak of the devil 说曹操,曹操到

Meaning 意义

Speak of the devil (and in he walks). This idiom means “talk about certain person and he appears”.  A similar Spanish idiom is “”Hablando del Rey de Roma, por la ventana se asoma” (Speaking of the King of Rome, through the window he appears). In Chinese, it is 说曹操,曹操到 (“shuō Cáo Cāo, Cáo Cāo dào”), which translates as “Speak of Cao Cao and Cao Cao arrives. Cáo Cāo is the a well known historical figure of ancient China during the Three Kingdom Period (220-265CE).

Example 例子

  • Hey, I haven’t seen Bob for a long time. Speak of the devil, here he comes.
  • Hola. hace tiempo no he visto a Bob. Mira, hablando rey del Roma, aquí viene Bob ahora.
  • 喂,我很久没有见过Bob. 说曹操,曹操到, 他正走过来!

Google is “covering one’s ears to steal a bell 掩耳盗铃”

On 24th of March I posted an article written by a Bloomberg correspondent entitled “Google Faces No Hong Kong Censors After China Retreat”. It seems that Google has upheld its stance on internet freedom. The fact is that Google only passes the ball to China’s court. It is now the China authorities who are doing the censorship. It is confirmed that China has screened Google’s contents and blocked those topics which they do not like. The Chinese netizens (net users) still do not have access to such sensitive topics on Tiananmen Massacre, Tibet,, Dalai Lama, Falun Gong etc. I am a big Google fan and I am all for Google’s intent and purpose. However,  I have reservation the way they handle the matter.  What Google doing is akin to an ancient Chinese metaphor, 掩耳盗铃. More on this below.

The metaphor

掩耳盗铃 (yan er dao ling) literally means “covering one’s ears to steal a bell” in English or “Taperse los oídos al robar una campanilla” in Spanish. It actually means “deceiving oneself” or “engañarse a sí mismo“. It has similar meaning to “bury one’s head in the sand” or “esconder la cabeza debajo del ala

The origin of the metaphor can be traced back to the ancient China’s Spring and Autumn Period (476BC to 770BC). History had it that a thief at the time tried to steal a big and heavy copper bell from a house. He could not move it so he had to break it into pieces. The thief found a big hammer and tried to do so. He realized that it would produce a very loud noise and would draw others’ attention.  To avoid that he stuck some fabrics into his ears. He thought others, like him, could not hear it when he hit the bell with the hammer. Needless to say that was not the case and he got caught.

Do you agree what Google doing is 掩耳盗铃? Please take a vote:

The straw that broke the camel’s back 忍无可忍

There is a limit to everything. We can load the camel with lots of straw, but finally it will be too much and the camel’s back will break. And it is only a single straw that breaks its back – the last straw. This can be applied to many things in life. People often say “That’s the last straw!” when they will not accept any more of something.

There are a Spanish phrase and a Chinese phrase which have a similar meaning to the subject proverb and they are “La gota que colmó el vaso” and 忍无可忍 respectively.



  • You broke a lot of rules and I tried to put up with you. However, stealing money is the straw that broke the camel’s back. You are fired!
  • Rompiste muchas reglas y trato de aguantarte. Pero haberte robado el dinero es la gota que colmó el vaso. íEstás despedido!
  • 你多次犯规,我已容忍你,但是挪用公款,我忍无可忍,我现在开除你。
  • You have been rude to me all day. I’ve had it. That’s the last straw.
  • Has sido muy maleducado conmigo todo el día. ¡Me harté! !Esto es el colmo!
  • 你一整天对我不客气,我受够,忍无可忍!

One can’t have one’s cake and eats it too 鱼与熊掌不可兼得

One can’t have one’s cake and eats it too is a popular English idiomatic proverb or figure of speech. It means an individual can’t use a thing and still attempts to own it (such as eating a piece of cake and yet still possessing that piece for future use) It may also indicate having or wanting more than one can handle or deserve, or trying to have two incompatible things. The proverb’s meaning is similar to the phrases, “you can’t have it both ways” and “you can’t have the best of both worlds.

There is a Chinese proverbs which bears similar meaning. It is 鱼与熊掌不可兼得, which literally means “one cannot get fish and bear’s paw at the same time”. Back in the old days, both were considered culinary rarities. I was told the closest Spanish phrase to this is.“no puedes tener simpre lo que quieras”



  • He can’t make up his mind whether to go to college or get a full-time job. You can’t have your cake and eat it. 上大学还是找个全日工作的职业,他还拿不定主意,两者不可兼得啊。
  • You spend all your money on beer and then complain about being poor, but you can’t have your cake and eat it, you know. 你把所有的钱都喝啤酒喝完了,然后又抱怨没钱用,你知道,这不能两全其美啊。

Cantonese v Mandarin

What is the difference between Cantonese and Mandarin?

Big difference. Both are spoken languages. There is where the similarity ends. Yet the differences are so huge that the analogy is like comparing Spanish to Italian, in spoken forms. For a Chinese, if he only understands Cantonese, there is no way he can understand Mandarin, and vice versa. It is easier for a person who knows one of the two languages to learn the other, as both are the same in written forms, than those who do not know at all.

Cantonese is merely a dialect. which is commonly used in Hong Kong, Southern part of China and the overseas Chinese communities in North America, Australia, Western Europe and probably in South America as well. Whereas Mandarin is the China national language. As a matter of fact, Mandarin in Chinese is 国语, which literally means language of a nation. With Mandarin one can communicate with over 90% of the Chinese. Further, like myself, many of the Cantonese speakers can speak or understand Mandarin. So, with no disrespect to Cantonese speakers, as I am one of them, unless one wishes to communicate with a diminishing population of “Cantonese only” speaking persons, otherwise, there is little incentive to learn Cantonese instead of Mandarin.

Having said that, I have been approached by friends on the language social nets, such as italki and LiveMocha, to teach them Cantonese. They learn Cantonese mainly because they want to understand the Cantonese in Hong Kong TV soap operas or the songs sung by Hong Kong pop singers. Interestingly, one friend told me he wanted to do it because he wanted to know what his Hong Kong colleagues spoke behind his back.

How to learn Cantonese?

To tell the truth,  I have never taught anyone Cantonese because I think, as a dialect, it is unteachable. There are no rules for speaking Cantonese. Further, tools for learning Cantonese are difficult to find. The best way to learn it is through watching Cantonese soap operas or listening to Cantonese songs or talking to Cantonese speakers. Whereas for learning Mandarin there is Pinyin, or romanizaton (alphabetization) of the language, a system which foreigners are more accustomed to.  Besides there are vast free resources in the market, and more native speakers, to help one learn Mandarin.

Is it difficult to learn Cantonese?

I am a native Cantonese speaker so Cantonese presents no difficulties to me. In Hong Kong, which is a predominately Cantonese speaking place, I often see Mormon preachers who can speak perfect Cantonese. Most of them were not born in nor are they resident of Hong Kong. However, as they are required to preach to people in the street in Cantonese, they have a lot opportunities to practice the language.  On the other hand there are a lot of expatriates who have worked or lived in Hong Kong for many many years, but they can only speak literally a handful (less than ten words) of Cantonese, let alone Mandarin. As they have secretaries or employees who help them in case they need to communicate in Cantonese or Chinese. Besides, Hong Kong is basically a bi-lingual (Chinese and English) city. One can get around Hong Kong with ease knowing only English. Whether it is easy or not  it would be a matter of how often you practise the language. As I said before,  learning Cantonese is more difficult than Mandarin. However, after one is able to speak Mandarin, it would then be easy to pick up Cantonese.

Is Mainland Mandarin different from Taiwan Mandarin?

Basically no. Only a slight difference in accent. The analogy is like between American English and British English.

What is the difference between traditional and simplified Chinese?

In a nutshell, as the names suggested one is simplified and the other is not. Other differences are the traditional Chinese is more calligraphic and simplified Chinese is romanitized and the former is used in Taiwan and Hong Kong, while the latter Mainland China. Needless to say the differences are not as simple as that.  The Taiwanese are staunch supporters of the traditional Chinese and the Mainland the simplified. If I say the wrong thing I could get into trouble. That is why I do not want to say more.