The Mandarin Lingo: “两口子” (liǎng kǒu zi)

The Mandarin Lingo: “两口子” (liǎng kǒu zi)

We are introducing a new series on the blog this week – The Mandarin Lingo. We aim to share with you commonly used Mandarin phrases that you may not learn in textbooks. Some of these phrases have some pretty interesting origins. We are tackling the phrase “两口子” this week.

The term “两口子”, pronounced “liǎng kǒu zi”, refers to a married couple, according to “The Contemporary Chinese Dictionary”. Directly translated, the phrase means two mouths. How did use of the phrase first originate? According to research by Chinese folklorists, records of the word could be traced to an ancient note named “Yanjing Zalu” from the late Qing Dynasty(1664-1912 AD).

The story goes that there were two men working in the state office – one single, and the other was newly married. One day, the single man voluntarily shared half of his salary with the newly-married colleague. He attached a note that read, “Please do not refuse the money since I am only one person, but you are ‘liang kou zi’.” Which generally means, “you have two mouths to feed now”.

Since ancient times, the Chinese character “zi” means one person, whether male or female. Yet, the term “liang kou zi” doesn’t just refer to any two persons, but is specifically used to describe a couple. The depiction of husband and wife in the term “liang kou zi” is always accompanied by a soft and sweet tone.

Folklorists believe that with the secularization of the phrase of “liang kou zi” became associated with touching stories.

Among these, one edition of the tale goes like this: During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD), a man named Gao Wenjing saved a girl named Lu Chunhua, who fell into the river. The two fell in love at first sight and pledged to marry without permission from their parents. However, a local ruffian called Luo kidnapped Lu as his concubine. However, with the help of her servant, Lu escaped and eloped with Gao. Unfortunately, Luo caught up with them but during the fight, accidentally fell from a cliff.

Because of Luo’s former power and prestige, Gao and Lu were both sentenced to death and awaiting execution. ZhuYuanzhang, Emperor Hongwu (1368-1398 AD), on finding out the truth of the matter, pardoned the lucky couple. Instead, they were sent to Taoyuankou in central China’s Hubei Province and Jinshankou in Anhui Province respectively.

Despite the vast distance between the two lovers, Gao and Lu remained in love. Over time they became locally known as “liang kou zi” due to their unwavering affection. Sweet and heart-warming stories like these helped to popularize the phrase.

It is also interesting to note that in Mandarin, the quantifier for a family is different than say, for an individual. For example, one would say “这里有一人” (there is one person), whereas a father might say “我家有四人” (there are four mouths??). The quantifier changes from ‘个’ (general use) to ‘口’ (mouth). This is similar to the use of 口 in 两口子.

Put your language skills to practice and read the article in Mandarin:






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