Recently, on the weibo-sphere, I saw a lost and found notice about a ring of keys. They used the word:
- suǒchí 锁匙 = key
I’ve been in China almost seven years and this was a first for me. I’ve talked about, lost, and copied many a key in my day, and I’ve only heard and seen:
- yàoshi 钥匙 = key
The disturbing thing is: I can’t deny that suǒchí 锁匙 is a real word for keys and it’s really in use. There it was, staring me in the face on the weibo.
But imagine I just arrived in China and saw this weibo post and wanted to know which word to use. How would I know? What’s the difference between these two words? Is it regional? Is it written / spoken? Formal / informal? Are there slight differences in connotations?
And to make things worse, I thought to myself, “Well at least I know ‘key’ on a piano / computer keyboard, etc. is jiàn 键.”
Then I see MDBG’s entry:
- jiàn 键 (door lock) key / key (on piano or keyboard)
Oh no! “Door lock key” is listed there too! But is it really used that way?
All my experience says that yàoshi 钥匙 is absolutely the most frequently used word. Signs for key copying places use it. People say it. So I’m not too worried about getting this one right. But still, I’d like to know what the difference is between these words. And is jiàn 键 really ever used to mean “door lock key”?
This seems to be the nature of Chinese: It’s rare to find a thing or concept that there’s only one Chinese word for. So we need the dictionaries to help us make sense of all these synonyms.
Any thoughts on keys or dictionaries, feel free to leave a comment.