"Have a good day!" in Mandarin

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Gloria Bien (who has been teaching Mandarin for more than forty years [she was my first-year teacher]) heard this sentence at lunch yesterday:  Zhù nǐ yīgè hǎo xīnqíng 祝你一个好心情 ("[I] wish you a good mood").  She remarked:

I was stunned.  How can anyone wish a good mood on me?  But our intern, a native Chinese fresh from Beijing in August, declared that this is actually said, as an equivalent to "Have a nice day."

Zhù nǐ yīgè hǎo xīnqíng 祝你一个好心情 ("[I] wish you a good mood"; lit., wish you one m.w. [measure word] good mood]) strikes me the same way it did Gloria:  I find it to be an odd locution in Mandarin.  Yet her language intern, a native speaker fresh from Beijing last month, affirms that it is actually said and is equivalent to "Have a nice / good day."  The disparity between the intern's assurance and the uncomfortable reaction of Gloria and me prompted me to ask a number of other native speakers their opinion on this sentence.

Some of them asserted that it is weird or absolutely unidiomatic and that they would never say it.  Some of them confessed that they often use this expression and do not feel it to be strange at all.  Others said that they use it, but with the addition of a yǒu 有 ("have"):  祝你有一个好心情 ("[I] wish you have a good mood").  Among those who avowed that they use the latter formulation, some said they felt a little uneasy doing so, while others felt that it was a perfectly good Mandarin sentence.

Jiajia Wang, a native Beiijinger who heads the Middlebury School in Kunming, Yunnan, China exclaimed:

It's very odd!! it's Zhonglish!
Wish you a good mood there….

Considering the way Zhonglish has a way of washing back into English ("gung ho", "running dog", "paper tiger", etc.), perhaps it won't be long before native speakers of English will be saying "Wish you a good mood" to each other.

This is especially the case since many people are tired of telling each other to have a good day.  According to the McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs:

Have a nice day. and Have a good day.; Have a nice one.; Have a good one.

Cliché an expression said when parting or saying good-bye. (This is now quite hackneyed, and many people are annoyed by it.)
Clerk: Thank you. Tom: Thank you. Clerk: Have a nice day.
Bob: See you, man! John: Bye, Bob. Have a good one!

Since there was such a wide diversity of opinions on this current expression — Zhù nǐ yīgè hǎo xīnqíng 祝你一个好心情 ("[I] wish you a good mood") — among my initial group of informants, I asked some more native speakers, poked around on the web a bit, and came up with the following additional variants (this list is by no means exhaustive):

Zhù nǐ hǎo xīnqíng 祝你好心情

Zhù nǐ xīnqíng hǎo 祝你心情好

Zhù nǐ yǒu gè hǎo xīnqíng 祝你有个好心情

Zhù nǐ tiāntiān doū yǒu hǎo xīnqíng 祝你天天都有好心情
(tiāntiān 天天 means "every day", doū 都 means "all")

Zhù nǐ tiāntiān yǒu gè hǎo xīnqíng 祝你天天有个好心情

Zhù nǐ tiāntiān hǎo xīnqíng 祝你天天好心情

Pulling all of this together, I come to the conclusion that these expressions are based upon the ubiquitous English formulaic expression that I've already mentioned above:  "Have a good day!"  As such, they are a sort of awkward "translatese" that is still in the process of being absorbed into Mandarin and have not yet become standardized or fully accepted by all native speakers.

As to how "good day" has become transformed into "good mood", it is simply unthinkable in Mandarin to say "have / possess a day" in the sense of "enjoy the rest of your day".  I further hypothesize that those variants with tiāntiān 天天 ("every day") represent an unconscious attempt to retain the notion of "day" in the Mandarin version of the expression.

Lest I be accused of giving too much weight to English in the development of such spoken Mandarin civilities, I would direct doubting Thomases to this article by Mary S. Erbaugh:  "China expands its courtesy:  Saying 'Hello' to Strangers," The Journal of Asian Studies, 67.2 (May, 2008),621-652.

Here is the abstract:

Courtesy reveals fundamental judgments about who merits respect. Traditional Chinese courtesy rests on lifelong hierarchical bonds that are too clear to require constant verbal reinforcement. But strangers, women, peasants, migrant workers, and others often do not merit face work because they lack status, fall outside the network of insiders, or are politically taboo. Until very recently, European-style equivalents of “hello,” “please,” “thanks,” “sorry,” or “goodbye” existed only in impersonal-sounding translations restricted to brief contacts with foreigners. As Beijing steps back from the socialist revolution, it is promoting these “five courteous phrases” (ni hao, qing, dui bu qi, xiexie, zai jian) to expand courtesy to universal, reciprocal greetings. Popular acceptance of this “verbal hygiene” is spreading via rapid, urban service encounters in which one's connections are unknown. In this way, China's self-identity as an “advanced civilization” is being retooled in international terms.

The intricate intertwining of English and Chinese is a wonder to behold.

[A tip of the hat to Haitao Tang, Maiheng Dietrich, Mien-hwa Chiang, Gianni Wan, Jing Wen, Rebecca Fu, Lala Zuo, Liwei Jiao, and Yunong Zhou]

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30 Comments »

  1. Simon Fodden said,

    September 5, 2012 @ 7:52 am

    I keep waiting for someone up here (Toronto) to say "You have a nice one!" so I can reply "Yours is nice too!" But we run to the less exciting "Have a nice day," alas.

  2. Jerry Friedman said,

    September 5, 2012 @ 8:48 am

    For the people who dislike "Have a good day", I think the objection is the thought, not the wording—"Don't tell me what kind of day to have." So as Gloria Bien's reaction suggests, switching to "mood" won't help.

    Did anyone in long-past centuries ever say "Tell me not how to fare"?

  3. Johanne D said,

    September 5, 2012 @ 9:06 am

    Strange: I find "Have a nice day" a bit irritating, but "Bonne journée" sounds perfectly ordinary (although my answer is invariably "Au revoir", even to someone I will never speak with again).

  4. davep said,

    September 5, 2012 @ 10:52 am

    Johanne D: "Strange: I find "Have a nice day" a bit irritating, but "Bonne journée" sounds perfectly ordinary (although my answer is invariably "Au revoir", even to someone I will never speak with again)."

    "Have a nice day" is a shortened version of "I hope/wish you have a nice day". It's irritating because the same syntax is used for commands (being told what to do).

    "Bonne journée", "good day", is also a short version of "I hope/wish you have a nice day" with the additional benefits of being even shorter and less "commanding".

  5. Dan Lufkin said,

    September 5, 2012 @ 11:07 am

    I think it was Peter Ustinov who would reply to "Have a nice day!" with "Thanks, but I've already made other plans." Anyway, it has about a 30% hit rate, in my experience. It has great bonding power if you say it with just the right world-weary intonation.

  6. Andy Averill said,

    September 5, 2012 @ 11:16 am

    Depends where you are. In Iowa, people say "have a nice day" and usually mean it. In New York, I'd suspect irony.

    But wait, people don't actually say "ni hao" in China? That's almost the only Mandarin I know. Can't trust Pimsleur I guess.

  7. Roger Shuy said,

    September 5, 2012 @ 11:23 am

    A bit of prehistory about "have a nice day." My aunt's name was Gertrude Day and her friend's name was John Nice. I can recall back in the 1940s that they invariably greeted each other on the street saying, "Nice day."

  8. Victor Mair said,

    September 5, 2012 @ 12:55 pm

    And then there's the antipodean contraction "g'day!".

    http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/g%27day

  9. MonkeyBoy said,

    September 5, 2012 @ 1:23 pm

    @davep

    "Have a nice day" is a shortened version of "I hope/wish you have a nice day". It's irritating because the same syntax is used for commands (being told what to do).

    This is all part of the semantics of such as prayer, magical-invocation, spells, etc. Often such phrases have a deletable initial "may" and omit some agency because of taboos about explicitly mentioning supernatural agents. This has tempted some to analyze the non-imperative phrase "fuck you" as coming from a deeper structure "may GOD fuck you" where GOD stands for something like a supernatural being, nature, chance, etc.

  10. Lacey Mair said,

    September 5, 2012 @ 1:53 pm

    If a stranger takes time to acknowledge the existence of another, it's due to hopeful thinking that all is well. Perhaps it is just an inward reflection to make it so.

  11. June Teufel Dreyer said,

    September 5, 2012 @ 2:09 pm

    jeez, guys, lighten up! These pleasantries are just designed to establish a mood of friendshiip rather than hostility. They soon become cliches, even, I suspect, in Iowa (an ex-New Yorker, I am nettled at Andy-san's slur on my laojia), and are replaced by some new pleasantry. So what?

    I was stunned when, early in my first visit to China, someone asked me if I'd eaten enough. And so it goes.

  12. Stuart said,

    September 5, 2012 @ 2:56 pm

    "And then there's the antipodean contraction "g'day!"." This was interesting because although it's obvious that "g'day" is a contraction of "good day", it's only ever used here as a greeting, while "have good/nice day" is only ever used in farewell. As the dictionary citation provided says of "good day" : "an expression said when parting or saying good-bye." I've lived all 44 years of my life in the Antipodes, and I've NEVER heard "g'day" used "when parting or saying good-bye". "G'day" = "hello" not "(I hope) you have a good day" in the usage I'm familiar with.

  13. arthur waldron said,

    September 5, 2012 @ 3:05 pm

    Surely the next topic must be 有一個好的時間–"have a nice time"

  14. Victor Mair said,

    September 5, 2012 @ 3:16 pm

    There are, of course, less idiomatically problematic ways of wishing someone a pleasant day in Mandarin, e.g.:

    Zhù (nǐ) (tiāntiān) yúkuài / kāixīn 祝(你)(天天)愉快/开心 ("May you be happy every day").

    =======

    @Stuart

    Good point!

  15. TK Mair said,

    September 5, 2012 @ 4:12 pm

    I am with Lacey. If someone takes offense at a sincere wish from another that they have a good day, they should examine what in their inner angst is bubbling up that offense. And take a nice deep breath to dispel it!

    On the other hand, the obviously sarcastic "have a nice day," said with a shrewish grin is truly obnoxious.

    I am reminded of a Saturday Night Live sketch in which the "Earl of Sarcasm" invents sarcasm. At first no one understands that he is insulting them. Finally they realize he is being sarcastic – at which point they rip him to pieces! He doesn't seem to mind one bit…

  16. W. Sun said,

    September 5, 2012 @ 4:57 pm

    祝你一个好心情 sounded odd to me at first, too. But then I thought about some common phrases like 给你一个好心情, 送你一个好心情,还你一个好心情。
    I think the problem lies with the usage of 祝, instead of the rest of the construction.

  17. Andy Averill said,

    September 5, 2012 @ 5:01 pm

    @June Teufel Dreyer, no slur intended, just different folkways in different places. I don't think New Yorkers are any less well-intentioned to others than Iowans, they just have different ways of showing it.

  18. Jim said,

    September 5, 2012 @ 5:26 pm

    "I don't think New Yorkers are any less well-intentioned to others than Iowans, they just have different ways of showing it."

    Like passing you up and finding someone else to mug? Sorry, but New Yorkers spent decades building and doting on that stereotype. Couldn't resist.

    "Considering the way Zhonglish has a way of washing back into English ("gung ho", "running dog", "paper tiger", etc.), "

    That's not Zhonglish washing back into English, that's just plain old Chinese, every one of those. "Gung ho" got mangled semantically on the way over, but that hardly invaildates it as real Chinese.

    As for actual pleasantrires, thee's the good old fashioned "Long time no see." Maybe it's good, old fashioned only on the West Coast. Anyway, again, a straight up translation of a good old expression with a solid Chinese pedigree.

  19. David Morris said,

    September 5, 2012 @ 6:10 pm

    For my first lesson teaching English at a government high school in Korea, I started with greeting:
    Me: Good morning!
    Them: Good morning!
    Me: Hello!
    Them: Hello!
    Me: Hi!
    Them: Hi!
    Me: G'day!
    Them: [silence]

    Maybe it's the Australian accent. Another class half got the idea:
    Me: Good morning!
    Them: Good morning!
    Me: Hello!
    Them: Hello!
    Me: Hi!
    Them: Hi!
    Me: G'day!
    Them: G'die!

  20. William Steed said,

    September 5, 2012 @ 6:16 pm

    This Australian has never heard "G'day" as a farewell. It's strictly a greeting, and still going pretty strong (surprisingly to me). "Have a good one" is a standard thing to hear as you leave the checkout at the supermarket. I'm sure they've heard all the witty replies.

    As for the Mandarin, I suspect it's yet to be heard in Taiwanese Mandarin (I'll check).

  21. Victor Mair said,

    September 5, 2012 @ 6:37 pm

    @Jim

    The latter two terms ("running dog" and "paper tiger") are not Chinese. They are among the countless English expressions devised by Chinese propaganda organs for foreign consumption. Some, but not all, of these terms are based more or less closely on Chinese expressions, but they are not themselves Chinese. They all fall under the category of Xinhua English or New China English, also called New China Newspeak, which has become a very hot topic with the publication of this notable work:

    http://www.chinaheritagequarterly.org/glossary.php?searchterm=029_xinhua.inc&issue=029

    On the other hand, "gung ho" is the mangled abbreviation of the transcription of a Chinese name corresponding to "Industrial Cooperative Society", whose etymology, meaning, and usage are spelled out clearly here:

    http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/gung_ho

    And, by sheer chance, the OED online word of the day for Sept. 3, 2012 was none other than:

    =====

    gung ho, n.

    Pronunciation:/ɡʌŋ həʊ/

    Forms:Also kung-hou.

    Etymology:Chinese kung work + ho together.

    A slogan adopted in the war of 1939–1945 by the United States Marines under General E. Carlson (1896–1947); hence as adj.: enthusiastic, eager, zealous.

    1942 Times Mag.(N.Y.) 8 Nov. 13/4 Borrowing an idea from China, Carlson frequently has what he calls ‘kung-hou’ meetings… Problems are threshed out and orders explained.

    1943 Life 20 Sept. 58, I [sc. E. Carlson] told them of the motto of the Chinese Co-operatives, Gung Ho. It means Work Together… My motto caught on and they began to call themselves the Gung Ho Battalion.

    1959 She May 21/3 All would be gung ho (in favour) of declaring him a fungus (musty character).

    1967 R. M. Stern Kessler Legacy (1968) xvi. 143 In those days he was very gung ho for National Socialism and the pan-Germanic grandeur it was going to produce.

    1968 M. Lockwood Accessory (1969) ii. 59 I've always thought of you as being—I don't know, full steam ahead about life. Not gung-ho exactly, but—well always ready to manage and organize things.

    1969 I. Kemp Brit. G.I. in Vietnam iii. 49 He..was one of the most ‘gung-ho’ (exceptionally keen to be personally involved in combat) characters I ever met.

    1970 Times 28 May 7/5 Today's grunts are noticeably different from those who filled the enthusiastic ‘Gung-ho’ units of a few years back.

    =====

    For Zhonglish, see:

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2382

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1108

    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=zhonglish

  22. Jarrod said,

    September 5, 2012 @ 6:45 pm

    I like the idea of wishing somebody a good mood. Ones mood determines so much.

    Also 'good day/g'day' are usually greetings, whereas 'have a good day' is more of a parting. As a parting it is far too long and awkward.

  23. Matt said,

    September 5, 2012 @ 7:02 pm

    But even according to your links "祝你一个好心情" isn't Zhonglish, because it's Chinese. It's, I don't know, Engwén?

  24. Guy said,

    September 5, 2012 @ 7:43 pm

    I don't think I've ever heard "zhu ni hao xin qing" in Taiwan. Its obvious what it means but if someone said that to me I would think they were being "zuo zuo" (fake/cutesy).

    "Zhu ni XXX yu kuai" is pretty standard in Taiwan tho.
    I've had people wish me a happy day, a happy journey, a happy meal, a happy day at school, I've even had an elevator attendant wish me a happy ride up the elevator.

  25. Victor Mair said,

    September 5, 2012 @ 11:17 pm

    @Matt

    But it's Chinese modeled upon English.

  26. Matt said,

    September 5, 2012 @ 11:25 pm

    @Victor — You're right, I'm wrong; I was brain-farting the distinction between "Zhonglish" and "Chinglish". Sorry!

  27. Chaon said,

    September 6, 2012 @ 12:12 am

    I'll buy a beer for whoever can provide the best Chinese translation of "brain-farting".

  28. Victor Mair said,

    September 6, 2012 @ 5:05 am

    @Stuart @William Steed

    You're right about OZ and NZ, but it's curious that "g'day" denotes the *end* of a transmission for an air traffic controller.

  29. Mark F. said,

    September 6, 2012 @ 1:27 pm

    Recently read The Hound of the Baskervilles and noticed that people at that time said "Good morning" upon parting, as long as it happened to be in the morning. Takes getting used to.

  30. Pharmamom said,

    September 6, 2012 @ 8:32 pm

    Going off on a tangent…and the Mandarin non-concept of "having" a day…my Italian friend doesn't get that in English, one can "have" something to eat. And I thought about it…she's right. In Italian and I think in French, one eats something always. Never "has" something without the verb "eat" in there somewhere.

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