Pinch Sounds Like It Is

I can’t really explain it, but ever since I learned a new word for “pinch” yesterday, I can’t help thinking it’s a kind of a tactile onomatopoeia.


Tell me it doesn’t sound like the action of pinching or maybe the cry of someone who’s just been pinched.

Qia! What are you doing?!

I kind of wish it were 4th tone, but then again that would be more severe sounding than a little pinch.

Stump the Chinese Bonus

This came up in a class when a student asked me how to say “qiā” in English. The demonstration she performed on her classmate was a pretty good clue, and I realized this is the first “qia” I’ve ever learned (I know now that there are more).

I wrote “pinch” on the board for everyone else and explained it means “qiā.” I saw heads nod in understanding and then the nervous looking around at classmates’ papers started.

I chuckled and said, “If you don’t know how to write qiā, you can just write niē if you want,” and that students nodded gratefully.

I’ve got a lot to say about the hanzi roadblock that prevented my students from getting out of their own pinch and just writing niē without getting permission from me. But instead I choose to end this post feeling good that, back when I first learned niǔniǔ niēniē 扭扭捏捏 (documented here), I clicked the scissors icon at MDBG (giving me the individual characters’ meanings) so I could offer the students an alternative to this fun little word. I can’t wait for Saint Patrick’s Day!

5 Replies to “Pinch Sounds Like It Is”

  1. Sort of gives you a feeling of power, doesn’t it. The teacher tells them to write , and that’s what they’ll do, or try to do. It wouldn’t occur to them to write something else.

  2. As a Chinese, I leave my comments below:

    1. qiā means someone use his nails pinch the skin or stem(nip off the leave, etc.)

    2. niē, I think it means nip or gently squeeze. for example, She gently nipped the lobe of his ear. 她轻轻地捏了一下他的耳垂。tā qīnɡ qīnɡ dì niē le yī xià tā de ěr chuí

    And when artist use clay make a doll, we call that “捏泥人儿niē ní rén ér

    3. nǐnɡI think it means squeeze heavily a heavy pinch.

    [1]twist a wet sweater.


    nǐnɡ ɡān yī jiàn shī máo yī

    [2]Screw the lid off the jar .


    bǎ pínɡ ɡài nǐnɡ kāi

  3. [3] 扭扭捏捏 niu niu nie nie

    Here, and have nothing to do with the nip or squeeze.

    In Qing Dynasty, girls should wrap her feet, it will make them give a sexy wiggle when they walk. So it looks like 扭动(wiggle her waist and bottom.

    Also, girl’s action is much more gentle and slight than man’s, when girl want to get something (for example, a piece of paper on the table), she will ()nip it gently. no like man, he always grasp a piece of paper…..

    So, 扭动(wiggleand 捏(get somehing gentlyall describe the lady’s behavior.

    In this way, if someone say a man 扭扭捏捏,that means he is shy as well as a girl and behave not like a man.

    Also, when we use 扭扭捏捏 describe girl, that means she behaves very very shy.

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