Chinese proverbs are a great source of wisdom. Whatever challenges you may be facing, there is bound to be a proverb that would help you out. However, not all of them have English translations, and given the enigmatic nature of ancient sayings, they would be very difficult to understand even for someone who is well-versed in Chinese. Luckily, we live in an age where tools like Google Translate and Pleco are readily available to us, but there are times when words will get lost in translation, which could yield hilarious results. Here are 8 Chinese proverbs according to Google Translate.
Literal translation: People have left their names, wild gooses have left their voices.
Actual meaning: Don’t worry about the wild gooses/geese, they haven’t offered their voices to a sea witch in exchange for human legs. A more accurate translation would be “a person leaves behind a reputation the same way a swallow leaves behind its call”, which means that a person is easily remembered by their reputation.
Literal translation: The dumb eats dumplings and knows it.
Actual meaning: Surely, everyone would know when they are eating dumplings, right? Unless the dumplings are that bad, but really, this more accurately translates to “when a mute eats dumplings, he usually knows how many he has eaten.” This is used to describe a person who knows the situation well but chooses to keep their thoughts to themselves instead of contributing to the conversation.
Literal translation: A done deal is done, raw rice cooks mature rice.
Actual meaning: Rice is an inanimate object that’s incapable of being mature. This proverb just means “the timber is already a boat, the rice is already cooked,” which is basically a version of the saying “what’s done is done.”
Literal translation: Road Yao knows horsepower, sees people’s hearts over time.
Actual meaning: The concept of horsepower definitely did not exist in Ancient China, unless it is referring to something that is literally being pulled by a horse. This is meant to be translated as “distance tests the horse’s strength, time tests a person’s character,” and it describes how it takes a long time to truly understand someone’s nature and capabilities.
Literal translation: Improper, I don’t know that Chai Mi is expensive.
Actual meaning: No, this isn’t a complaint about inflation, but it might as well be in this day and age. It actually means “if you don’t run the family, you won’t know the value of food and rice,” which is a way of saying you should be responsible for your family.
Literal translation: If we lose our horses, we will not know what is good.
Actual meaning: This proverb doesn’t make much sense considering that most of us don’t have spare horses lying around to teach us a lesson, but it’s really a way of saying blessings come in disguise. It’s based on the story of a man named 塞翁, whose horse had run away but came back home a few days later with another horse.
Literal translation: Family ugliness can’t propagate outside.
Actual meaning: Put your pitchforks away, no one’s good looks are being insulted here. The more accurate translation would be “family shames must not be spread outside the house,” which means you should try to keep your family problems to yourselves instead of letting everyone know about them.
Literal translation: The three monks have no water to drink.
Actual meaning: The actual translation is the same as the literal, but rest assured, there are no dehydrated monks involved. It’s just a way of saying you won’t get anything done when you have too many leaders who are each trying to have their way.
Google Translate is a very helpful tool when it comes to translating everyday phrases, but you shouldn’t rely too much on it if you’re a beginner or if you want to hone your skills in Chinese. There are just some things that do not translate well, especially when there are figures of speech involved, although admittedly, it’s fun to use Google Translate when you have some extra time in your hands because you’ll definitely get some good entertainment out of it.