Just so-so Horse and Tiger

Any language has its common sayings, which seem hilarious to people from other cultures.

I translated the English expression “raining cats and dogs” once – and everyone, here in China, just looked at me like I was mad.

But then, people are always telling me that I am ‘chaos seven’.

乱七八糟 luàn qī bā zoo

Well, ‘chaos seven and eight messy’ to be exact.  My working desk has papers scrawled everywhere – some see this as a ‘big mess’ – but i just see it as being busy.

乱七八糟 luàn qī bā zào     –  

 chaos seven eight messy

 Often enough, non-native speakers pick up on sayings they think are used regularly in the foreign language. “Just so so” is one of those annoying phrases you will here often enough spoken by Chinese people with fluent English.  I mean who says that any more?  ( did anyone ever say it, about something they were ambivalent about?)

I prefer the Chinese expression. You’ll hear it regular in China, and it’s a favourite one used by anyone learning just a smidgen of Chinese.

To express my ambivalence, about a meal, a movie, a person, a city – just about anything really, I can just say, “horse horse tiger tiger”

馬馬虎虎.  Mǎmǎ hǔhǔ


Like most things in China, and all idioms, there is a story that dates back a millenium or two. Or three even.  In this case, it’s about a painter who had finished a beautiful painting of a tiger. A customer came in and asked to buy a painting of a horse, so the painter made a few quick strokes and hey presto, he has a horse painting to sell.

hence :   馬馬虎虎.  Mǎmǎ hǔhǔ

There’s a bit more to the story though.  The painter’s son, seeing a tiger when he was out hunting, thought a horse was a tiger, so shot it and had to recompense the horse’s owner. The second son thought a tiger was a horse and went to pat it.

He got eaten.

Did you enjoy this post? Or is it just so much horse-horse-tiger tiger!