Embarrassed

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In learning Mandarin, after words for "hello", "how are you?", "goodbye", "yes", "no", "thank you", "where", and a couple dozen other basic expressions, one graduates to the next level of linguistic subtlety by learning "polite talk" (kèqì huà 客氣話) such as "bù hǎoyìsi 不好意思" and "bù gǎndāng 不敢當".

Both are well-nigh untranslatable, at least not with a single English term, since their meanings are so context sensitive.

"bù hǎoyìsi 不好意思"

syllable by syllable:  "not good idea-thought", where "yìsi 意思" could be rendered as:

meaning
idea
wish
desire
hint
sense
significance
fun
interest
connotation
gist
hint
trace
suggestion
sign
indicator
point
pleasure
judgement
attitude
hobby
joy
belief
denotation
excitement
exuberance
exuberancy
opinion
view
activity
attention
concentration
estimation
import
notice
proposal
intent
thought
token of affection / appreciation
to give as a small token
to do something as a gesture of goodwill, etc.
friendship
camaraderie
what I'm getting / driving at is
the central idea of an article

Taken as a whole, "bù hǎoyìsi 不好意思" can mean:

excuse me

(feel / be) embarrassed / shy (to do something or accept someone's praise)
    
find embarrassing to do

be ill-at-ease

(be) ashamed (of)

(be) sorry — esp. for inconveniencing somebody or causing them expense

Exhausting, if not exhaustive!

Let's hope the next example is less tortuous!

 

syllable by syllable:  "not dare bear / undertake", keeping in mind that "dāng 當", among many additional meanings in other grammatical contexts, could be rendered as:

to face; to turn towards
to bear; to withstand; to resist
to undertake; to manage; to take charge of
to work as; to serve as
to match equally; to equal; to be equal to
to regard something/someone as; to think; to treat something/someone as

Taken as a whole, "bù gǎndāng 不敢當" can mean:

you flatter me; I wouldn't presume; I don't deserve this (praise, reward etc.)

don't / wouldn't dare

dare not act / serve as

dare not (take on the role of)

I dare not accept (the honor)

unworthy of / to

When I was learning Mandarin in the late 60s, "bù gǎndāng 不敢當" was considered a perfectly acceptable expression, indeed it was almost obligatory for polite conversation.  Nowadays, however, it sounds dated.

Both of these expressions, "bù hǎoyìsi 不好意思" and "bù gǎndāng 不敢當"        , convey the notion that I (the person speaking them) feel unworthy of the praise or favor that you are presenting to me.

 

Selected readings



1 Comment »

  1. Chas Belov said,

    August 6, 2022 @ 1:24 am

    Alas, I've had cause to use the Cantonese equivalent 唔好意思 (mh hóu yisi) a number of times over the years.

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