The Mandarin Lingo: 落汤鸡

The Mandarin Lingo: 落汤鸡

I don’t know where you live, but it’s monsoon season here in Singapore and it’s been raining cats and dogs for days now. With that comes a steady stream of flood memes and unfortunate stories of people getting stuck in the rain. The Mandarin phrase “落汤鸡” is the most appropriate for the season.

What a cute little birdy.

 

Literally translated, 落汤鸡 means “drop soup chicken,” or “a chicken who falls into soup”. It is often used to refer to people who have been drenched by the rain.

 

As funny as the GIFs are, it got me wondering why the Chinese would describe anyone caught in the rain, as chicken dropped into soup.

Here’s a speculative origin story:

There once lived a rich land-owning lord called 罗堂吉 (luō táng jí) — yes it does sound very similar to the phrase 落汤鸡 (luò tāng jī), but the similarity in the pronunciation isn’t the real origin. The landlord has a servant who was overworked and mistreated. One day, when the landlord was on the way out to collect rent from throughout his land, he called upon his servant to pack his luggage. Now, the landlord was no light traveller – the servant had to pack and later carry almost a hundred pounds of baggage.

To make matters worse, the landlord’s wife was just as unscrupulous. She gave the servant some very specific instructions that he had to obey, or face punishment upon his return.

She went on to say, “First, you must carry all these heavy bags for the master. He should never have to carry a single item! Second, no matter where you go, the master must always walk ahead of you. Don’t you dare to cut in front of him! Third, don’t even think about speaking up when you’re with the master. It doesn’t matter who stops to greet him, you keep your mouth shut. Take good care of him or you will receive a whipping when you come back.”

The disgruntled servant was boiling with rage, but chose to bite his tongue and keep silent. He accompanied his master on his trip and chose to be an obedient servant.

Within the first hour of their travel, it started pouring. The landlord called out to his servant saying, “Fetch me the umbrella before I’m drenched!”. The servant could only reply, “Oh that’s not possible. The mistress specifically instructed that you are not to hold anything. It is very unbecoming of you, she said.” No matter how hard the landlord pleaded for his servant to take out the umbrella, the servant simply would not budge, for fear of punishment from the mistress.

While frantically looking for shelter from the rain, the landlord and his servant ran into a ravenous stray dog. The dog charged towards the landlord, ready to sink his teeth into the landlord’s chubby thighs. He screamed for his servant to chase the dog away but the servant stood helplessly and replied, “…but the mistress told me that no matter who (or what) came towards to greet you, I can never butt in. I am to remain silent and inconspicuous to protect your reputation.”

After fending off the stray dog with his own bare hands, the poor landlord was in terrible shape and they then decide to return home. But when they were about to reach the landlord’s residence, they were met with a small flood. The rain had blocked off a street and the water levels rose to knee-deep. He told his servant, “go ahead of me and make sure that it’s safe to cross.” The servant sheepishly whimpered, “Master, you should go on ahead.” Exasperated, the landlord asked, “Did the mistress forbid this too??”. His fearful servant replied, “Yes master. I dare not go ahead of you.”

The landlord saw no other choice but to take off his shoes and head into the water himself. But 5 minutes in and he slipped and fell. The servant rescued him with a rope and pulled him back to ground. Shivering from the cold and feeling absolutely dejected, he sent his servant home via another route to fetch a canoe and more help while he found a place to sit down and wait.

As the servant trudged up to the landlord’s residence, his wife said, “Ah! Is the master back?”

“Yes he will be back very soon. The other servants are going to fetch him.” He answered.

The mistress pressed, “I trust you obeyed my instructions?”

“Every word of it, my lady!” The servant declared.

When the landlord finally arrived home, his wife hurried out to greet him, only to be completely shocked by how horrid he looked. She exclaimed, “You look like a live chicken that’s been dropped into hot soup (落汤鸡)! What happened?”

“Don’t you dare ask me what happened! It was all your fault!”


We hope this origin story gave you some laughs while you learn how to use the phrase落汤鸡.

It’s always raining somewhere in the world, so remember to bring your umbrella and avoid becoming a 落汤鸡!

 

If you want to read the story in Mandarin:

从前,恒口街有个大财主名叫罗堂吉,外号叫“落汤鸡”。一般不知底的人说,这外号是从他名字溜出来的,其实不是。
有一次,罗堂吉把长工叫来说:“把行李挑上,跟我下乡收租子!”
长工一看,行李一大堆:衣服、被褥、帽子、雨伞、烟灯、烟枪、茶叶点心。。。。。。数起来有好几十件呢,称起来足有百十斤,长工心里火极了。
忽听财主老婆又交代道:“老爷去收租,行李都是你挑,可不准老爷拿一件;不论走到哪儿,要让老爷走在前面;不论谁招呼老爷,你不准多嘴。总之,我们财主家出门,总得有个富贵的样子,不能让旁人笑话!如果路上不好好照应老爷,违犯了我的规矩,回来我可要揭你的皮!”
长工听了气得不得了,可也没说什么,挑上行李,便跟财主上路了。
一路上,财主一会儿茶,一会儿点心,长工连尝也不得尝。
谁知走到半路上,突然下了大雨,财主忙叫长工:“快!把雨伞给我!”
长工说:“那可不行,走时太太交代的,行李不能让老爷拿呀!”
”给我!难道让我淋雨吗?”
“不行呐!太太知道了,要揭我的皮哩!”
任财主怎么说,长工总是不给,把个财主淋得浑身湿透,像筛糠一样打寒颤。
财主忙叫长工快走,到前面去找个地方避雨,不料却跳出一只恶狗来,直扑到他跟前。财主一面躲,一面叫长工去招架。长工连理都不理。财主气得直叫唤:“你是聋了还是怎么的?穷鬼,老爷我叫你去招架狗,你他妈的为什么不动?”
长工说:“哎,老爷,这不能怪我呀!太太走时交代的,不管谁招呼你,都不准我多嘴呀。”财主一听,哭笑不得,拿长工没办法。
催完租往回走,走到一条小河旁,河里涨了大水,水急浪紧。财主忙对长工说:“喂!你先下去探一探,看能不能趟过去!”
长工推辞道:“还是老爷前面走吧,我不敢走前面。”
财主发脾气道:“又是不敢,难道又是太太交代的不成?”
长工不慌不忙地说:“是的!您怎么忘了?太太交代我:不论走到哪儿,都要让老爷走在前面。”
财主一听,气得直骂老婆,又千哄万哄地要长工走在前面。长工总是说:“不敢,不敢!我怕违了太太的规矩!”
眼看天快黑了,财主担心回不了家,直得自己脱鞋下水,谁知他虽然长得又肥又胖,却是个棉花人-见水就漂起来了,慌得大喊大叫:“救命!救命!”
长工见财主漂了老远一截子,才下水去拽着财主的辫子,把他提上岸来。财主浑身浸了个溜溜湿,便让长工回家去报信,叫家人用轿子来接。
财主婆见长工回来了,问:“老爷回来了?”
长工说:“回来了,在河边等着较子接呢。”
“老爷一路还富态吧?”
“富态得很哩!”
一会儿,财主坐着轿子回来了。财主婆连忙迎到门外,一看财主那样儿,吓了一跳,叫道:“嘿,你怎么?简直成了个‘落汤鸡’啦!”
财主说:“亏你还说哩!”
“怎么怪起我来了呢 ?”
财主便把一路上怎么来怎么去说了一遍,最后说:“你以后再不准教那老实疙瘩那一套了,以后收租干脆别让他再跟我啦!”
罗堂吉的外号—“落汤鸡 ”就这样传开了。后来,“落汤鸡”变成了一句俗语。

 

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