Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The character of “便”


Let’s talk about something interesting today. Do you know the character便 (in mandarin pinyin [biàn] or [pián])? What are the different usages? We know that the same Chinese character can have different meanings according to its different pronunciation and usage in the content. “便is one such Chinese character.

When “便” is pronounced as [biàn], we have words like “方便 [fāngbiàn] (convenient, handy),簡便 [jiǎnbiàn] (simple and convenient).

And when “便” is pronounced [pián], it has a different meaning like “便宜 [piányi] (cheap).

Have you ever heard Chinese people use “方便” for other meanings beside “convenient”? Yes, they use the term when they want to use the restroom. Why does “方便”, which literally means handy and convenient, carry the meaning of using the restroom?

Here we would like to explain by talking a little about Chinese culture. In ancient China, people intentionally avoided saying pee or poo because it was too vulgar; how did they make others understand they were going to use the restroom? They used 方便” to imply this; “我要去方便一下” ( wǒ yào qù fāng biàn yí xià ) means that I want to use the restroom. That’s how the term“方便” is used in different contents to either mean convenience or imply using the restroom.

We hope this little introduction is interesting and helpful to you. You can now tell other people the different usages of “便”.

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