“A bicycle can’t stand on his own because it is two-tired.” You must’ve heard of many puns in English, and you may also “create” puns by playing with the words. Puns can bring fun to the language and in people’s daily lives, too. Not surprisingly, there are also puns in Chinese language, since Chinese words are easy to meet another word with same or similar sounds.
What are puns? In Chinese language, pun, or double-entendre (双关, Shuāngguān) is a type of rhetoric that expresses both surface and extensive meanings. A pun can have several meanings with the same word or similar sound. One of the common types of puns is homophonic puns, which is 音译双关 (yīn yì shuāng guān) or 谐音 (xiéyīn) in English. Homophonic puns mean that the puns have different meanings with a different word, but similar sounds.
Some of the puns are used as jokes, so we can see more and more new-created puns in our daily lives. Some Chinese puns appear in traditional literature, and lots of them are involving people’s daily lives like advertisements and TV. So, let’s take a look at some of the easy-to-understand Chinese puns examples!
Chinese New Year greeting phrases and customs
In Chinese New Year, people would greet their friends and family to with them good luck in everything in the year. In addition, there are some routine customs such as certain food to prepare in Chinese New Year or little superstitions. Following are Chinese puns that people use in Chinese Spring Festival.
- 年年有余 (Nián nián yǒuyú): “Surplus (wealth) every year”
Chinese people say “年年有余 (Nián nián yǒuyú)” to wish others to have surplus wealth or good things every year. 余 (yú) means or “extra” or “surplus”, which has the same sound of 鱼 (Yú), “fish”. Therefore, fish is a must in dinner table during New Year. What’s more, since 余 (yú) has the meaning of “extra”, people always never finish eating the fish completely in order to adopt the meaning of “surplus”. symbolizing to attract extra wealth.
- 岁岁平安 (suì suì píng’ān): “Safe and sound every year.”
In traditional Chinese culture, breaking a porcelain bowl or plate, a mirror or a glass is considered a bad sign. However, if accidentally broke the china or glass, people would avoid this bad sign by saying “岁岁(碎碎)平安, suì suì ( suì suì) píng’ān“. The original 岁岁 means “year by year”, while its pun words 碎碎 mean “pieces”. Although you break something in pieces, which is an omen, you can still fix it by saying this lucky phrase and to be safe. This is one of the superstitions, but Chinese people believe it and it makes the traditional superstitions more flexible.
- 大吉大利 (dàjí dàlì): “All good luck.”
The fruit “orange (桔子, Júzi)” has a similar sound to luck (吉, Jí) in the phrase 大吉大利 (dàjí dàlì), so it becomes a popular fruit to Chinese. Particularly, you can easily see oranges on the table during Chinese festivals.
Examples in Chinese advertising puns
Advertisements are aiming to catch customers’ attentions, so they make good use of Chinese puns to reach this goal. Statistics show that there are about 17% of slogans take advantage of puns; undoubtedly puns become a popular strategy to earn money. Let’s look at some examples:
- 鸡(机)不可失 ( jī (jī) bùkě shī): Grab your chance (chicken)
It’s not uncommon that fast food restaurants or fried food stands use the name or advertisements with puns. In this example, 机不可失 means “don’t lose your opportunity”, which is a Chinese chengyu. The word 机(opportunity) is replaced by the same sound word 鸡 (chicken), meaning that here’s delicious fried chicken, grab your chance, and chicken!
- (二)八八二五二五二 (饿爸爸饿-我饿我饿, è bàba è-wǒ è wǒ è): “Daddy, I am so hungry”
This advertisement may seem confusing for you because it actually starts from Chinese number. However, this is a really interesting one. The number 2822-5252 (二八八二五二五二) is the phone number of the pizza chain restaurants. This number is clearly designed carefully so that it has the homophonic sound with words. The number 2 (二, èr) sounds similar to 饿(è), meaning “hungry”; 8 (八, bā) to 爸 (bà), meaning “father”, and 5 (五wǔ) to 我(wǒ), “me”. Such an easy number to remember, see how strong the puns power is!
- 纸(只)有春风最温柔 (zhǐ (zhǐ) yǒu chūnfēng zuì wēnróu): “The (only) softest paper is Chūnfēng.”
This is the advertisement of tissue. No placement marketing here, just takes this brand “Chūnfēng” as an example. 纸 (zhǐ), or “paper” has the same sound as 只, meaning “only”. Hence, this advertisement is telling their customers that their tissue is the “only” softest “paper” brand. Simple, but powerful, right?
Chinese puns are commonly used in traditional literature and poems, which are usually deeper in meaning; daily jokes or advertisements, and also blessing words. There are also drawbacks from the slogan puns as well, some students are much easier to write the wrong words on their homework since they are influenced by these ads and company names! So, if you are learning Chinese and you want to learn it in a relaxed way, why not finding out more Chinese puns? Just remember not to confuse yourselves which word from the pun is the original word!