Girly Flowers and Manly Grass

“You can’t learn the language without learning the culture!” Sound familiar? In formal language education there is a movement for calling culture the “fifth skill” (along with: reading, writing, speaking, listening).

But what ever does it mean to us learning Chinese? I’m not going to pretend I know the answer. All I’m saying is the Chinese seem to associate flowers with girls and and grass with boys. Oh…um…and sometimes flowers with boys too. Flowers and grass make appearances in the language of love (and it’s not always bāoyì 褒义).

A few examples:

  • xiàohuā 校花 = prettiest girl in school [school flower]
  • xiàocǎo 校草 = most handsome boy in school [school grass]

(apparently you can replace “xiào” with “bān” to mean “prettiest girl/boy in the class”)

  • huā húdié 花蝴蝶 = social butterfly (girl) [flower butterfly]
  • huāxīn 花心 = playboy / playgirl (but it’s an adjective!) [flower heart]
  • huāhuā gōngzi 花花公子 = play boy [flower-flower prince]

Also, I think that if Chinese people see a written name of someone they’ve never met and it contains that flower character (huā ), they’ll assume it’s a girl’s name. Would the same be true of grass (cǎo ) in a boy’s name? (Where’s my Chinese name bank?!)

And one final use of grass and flower in an exceedingly, long two-line proverb/saying/idiom thingy:

tiānyá héchù wú fāng cǎo 天涯何处无芳草
= There is a lot of fragrant grass in the world

hébì dānliàn yì zhī huā 何必单恋一枝花
= There’s no reason why unrequited love should be a single flower

I’ve been told it means “There are plenty of fish in the sea” (you know, after someone has been rejected by a lover).

Are all of these pretty widely used in your part of China? Anyone else know of any flowery/grassy idioms or phrases we can add to this list? Please do share.

8 Replies to “Girly Flowers and Manly Grass”

  1. My opinions:

    Normally, and both are girl’s given name. These name are very traditional name, I think around 15 years before,parents will name their daughter “”or “.

    I suppose becasue “flower” and “grass” are all stand for effeminate things.

    For example: 李春花, 张春草 spring flower , spring grass

    1. 花花世界:varicolored world or where has a plenty of amusements, girls and many lures.
    Shanghai is a varicolored world.
    shànɡ hǎi shì yī ɡè huā huā shì jiè.

  2. For slang with , there’s also 花痴 (lit: flower idiot), which is used to describe a boy crazy girl.

    With reference to grass, sometimes it’s the girl who is the grass, as the old proverb “老牛吃嫩草”(lit: old cow eats tender grass)…if the girl is the grass, I think we can all guess who the “old cow” is without too much of a mental leap…

    As for names with, I think it’s definitely safe assume thatis a girl’s name! However, as far as I know (in Taiwan at least) (flower) fell out of fashion a few decades ago. It’s an old-fashioned name, and also one with strong sexual overtones (not surprising given all the sexually charged slang words and idioms it has produced).

    I know this anecdotally, having taught a woman whose given named contained the character . As a 40 year old woman, she said that she hated her father vehemently for a long time for having given her this name (the steal glint in her eyes made it clear that she still hadn’t forgiven him), but admitted that it was one of the factors that drove her to be better than everyone else. She told me, “If I got first place on the test, no one would dare to laugh when the teacher called my name, because it was the first name spoken.”

    There are girls named “hua” in Taiwan, but it is this hua – , used as a noun in “China” (中華) or in “Overseas Chinese” (華僑), or as an adjective (豪華) meaning “luxurious”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.