Chinese Corner

Happy New Year to Zhu2 min read

Pig out on these Lunar New Year puns – Anne Henochowicz

Lunar New Year, a.k.a. Spring Festival, a.k.a. Chinese New Year, begins today. This is an auspicious time of year for punsters – if, for instance, someone wishes you “year upon year of fish” (niánnián yǒu yú 年年有餘), that’s because “fish” ( 魚) sounds just like “abundance” (餘). Mandarin has very few phonemes (the sounds that make up words), so opportunities for punning abound. (I speak here for Mandarin only, but other varieties of Chinese have their own new year puns, and some of the Mandarin ones work in other varieties, too.)

As this year is the Year of the Pig, I’ve been signing off my emails with “I pig you a happy new year” (zhū nǐ xīnnián kuàilè 猪你新年快樂), as “pig” (zhū 猪) and the verb “to wish” (zhù 祝) are near-homophones, separated only by a tone.

Now that everyone in China learns English in school, clever zodiac animal puns have emerged that play on both languages. Here are a few of my favorite new year puns, both in Chinese and “Chinglish,” in zodiac order, though I don’t know puns for five of the 12 zodiac animals. Keep these ones handy for the years to come and tweet at me if you know of any I’ve missed:

🐄 Happy niú year (happy 牛 year) – lit. “happy cow year,” this is a Chinglishism par excellence

🐅 I lǎohǔ you (I 老虎 you) – lit. “I love you,” because who can resist tiger love?

🐇 Happy new year you (happy new year 兔 you) – lit. “happy new year rabbit you”

🐒 Monkey love you (hóu ài nǐ 猴愛你) – “I really love you” (hǎo ài nǐ 好愛你)

🐓 Don’t miss the chicken (jī bùkě shī 雞不可失) – “don’t miss your chance” (jī bùkě shī 機不可失)

🐕 May the Year of the Dog be prosperous (gǒunián wàngwàng 狗年旺旺) – a play on the onomatopoeia for a dog’s bark (wāngwāng 汪汪)

Many thanks to Victor Mair at Language Log, from which many of these puns are sourced. ∎

Header image: Circus pig (Valdemar Fishmen)

Anne Henochowicz

Anne Henochowicz is an executive editor of the China Channel.