Variations on a colloquial Sinitic expression

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When I walked into my "Language, Script, and Society in China" class on Tuesday morning at 9 a.m., the students were energetically discussing a colloquial expression.  Those from south China didn't know the expression, but the ones from northeast China knew it, although they weren't entirely sure how to write it in characters, and there was some difference of opinion over how to pronounce it.

Finally, they agreed that we could write the sounds this way:  yīdīlə.

Then we moved on to a consideration of the meaning of this expression.  The consensus was that it meant "carry / pick up a group of things (such as a six pack)".

After that we tried to determine how to write "yīdīlə" in Sinographs.

The consensus was that it could be yīdīliu 一提溜 (lit., "one-pick up-slide / glide / slip [away]"), though some said it should be yīdīliu 一滴溜 (lit., one-drop-slide / glide / slip [away]").

In the afternoon, I asked the seven members of the Literary Sinitic / Classical Chinese class who are from the mainland if they knew this expression, and the response was rather amazing.  One student from Beijing didn't even know this expression, though one from Shandong knew of it, but said she'd never use this term.  Indeed, the entire class averred that they would never use "yīdīlə" in their own speech, though six of them said they would understand it passively if someone spoke it to them.

In the evening, I started to look this expression up in dictionaries and found that it led to a labyrinthine thicket of related colloquial terms that were widely used in late imperial (17th-19th centuries) vernacular fiction.  For example:

dīliuzhe xīn 提溜著心 ("feel apprehensive [about somebody who is apt to do something klutzy at any moment]")


tíliūtūlú  提溜禿盧 ("eyeballs moving / rotating / revolving")


dīliu 提溜 / 滴溜 ("carry [something with the arms hanging down]") — Shandongese


diūsān-làsì 丢三落四 ("forgetful")


diūsānwàngsì 丢三忘四 ("careless; casual; forgetful")


diusān lāsì 丢三拉四 (describes someone who is apt to forget or lose things through carelessness)


dǎdīliū 打提溜 / 打滴溜 ("[somebody or something] swaying / rocking [because suspended]") — topolectal


And dozens more northeastern colloquial expressions formed in a similar fashion.

Then we started to talk about comparable expressions in Wu topolects, such as "yəʔ tɕʰiaŋ dou" (no agreement on how to write this in IPA or in characters) in Shanghainese.  Though the Shanghainese speaker in the afternoon class claimed that it meant basically the same thing as "yīdīliu 一提溜", which we started with above, the other students didn't have a clue about what it meant.

[Thanks to Nick Tursi]


  1. Bathrobe said,

    November 14, 2019 @ 7:06 pm

    I've heard dilidilu 一大堆 (from memory — don't know the characters; not sure of the tones). It means something like to blabber on about something, or discuss something at great length with no conclusion.

  2. Diana S. Zhang said,

    November 15, 2019 @ 2:54 pm

    1) "提溜禿盧" tīlə.tūlū is a word used by my parents' generation (both in their 50s) in my region (Northeastern China) usually to blame how careless someone could be. I remember them using this word to scold me in my childhood, when I didn't do my homework properly or made my new clothes a mess.

    (How are you so careless doing your homework/playing piano/with your handwriting?)
    (It is too careless/untidy of you to splash water everywhere each time you wash your face.)
    (This person's outfit is really untidy and inappropriate.)
    (Wearing jeans to interviews would give others an impression of carelessness.) [Note: in this context, not necessarily about how you look, but it reflects how careless you are about this job.]

    2) "打提溜" dǎdīlə does mean how somebody/something is swaying. It has another meaning in my regional topolect: "to gloss over, to muddle through"

    對於女朋友的疑問,那男人一直打提溜。(Facing his girlfriend's suspicion, the guy keeps muddling it through.)
    政治人物擅長打提溜。(Politicians are good at glossing things over.)

    3) 提溜 is a measure word. We can use it not only on a "pick-up" of beer in a six pack, but also 一提溜葡萄 (a pick-up of grapes), 一提溜蔬菜 (a pick-up of vegetables), or 一提溜書本 (a pick-up of books contained in a handbag). 提溜 measures the quantity and weight of the sum of any countable objects that can be picked up and carried by one hand.
    Such expressions are commonly used in my surroundings within my parents' generation:
    我去超市買了兩大提溜的食物。 (I went to the supermarket and bought two huge pick-ups of food.)
    一小提溜鵝卵石就夠裝飾陽台了。(A small pick-up of cobblestones is enough to decorate the balcony.)

    My family uses this measure word almost all the time, under the influence of which I use it a lot in my own speech. While I'm personally surprised how so many people, even Northerners, aver that this is NOT something that they would use, I believe that it may be a generational idiolect.

    4) The romanization throughout this post makes me wonder why schwa "ə" does not have an orthography in English or the pinyin system. Schwa may be the most frequently used vowel in any language for unstressed syllables.

  3. Diana S. Zhang said,

    November 15, 2019 @ 3:07 pm

    The first comment by "Bathrobe" reflects a good observation. Indeed there is an expression "提溜禿盧一大堆" in my regionalect, taking on the "careless, unneat, and inappropriate" senses.

    This phrase can be verbal "to blather", or nominal "that (nonsense) which was blathered on". Both
    (He blathered much yet still did not make himself clear)
    (I don't know what he was blathering on about)
    work well grammatically.

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