October 12, 2009

Dongxi 东西

Chinese word of the day is 东西 (dongxi).

The phrase dongxi (literally east west) is the term used in Chinese to describe stuff or things. Ex. Let me get my things (dongxi) together. Those are my things (dongxi). However, the term should never be used to describe people.

Our former language teacher would say, "Never call people dongxi" repeatedly throughout our language classes. Since we are beginners in language, one day the mistake was waiting to happen. A simple misspoken pronoun changed a sentence from "What is that dongxi?" to "What are you, dongxi?" We heard the entire lecture again for the next hour that we are to never call people dongxi.

The phrase has since become so common that we often use the Chinese "dongxi" intermixed with our everyday English. If you ever hear us use "dongxi", we don't even notice when we are using the phrase instead of English. And we promise not to call you dongxi.

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