Obscure horse-radical characters

In modern Chinese, characters with the horse radical are common and useful (馴 xùn to raise and train an animal, 騙 piàn to cheat, 駡 mà to cuss), but there are a whole host of characters that are equine-specific and gloriously of zero practical use. These were all important technical terms when horses were the transportation of choice:

shàn gelding – a castrated horse, making for better-behaved work horses
xīng reddish-brown (bay or chestnut) horse
máng black horse with a white face
cōng dapple-grey horse
guā ‘buckskin’ horse – cream-yellow coat with black points

This is likely the first and last time you’ll see these characters.

But there are some horse-specific characters that still get used every day, usually in proverbs, here are some useful ones:

young horse (colt or filly)

This originally meant a two year old horse, not fully grown to adult size, and can be used as a metaphor for a young man (龍駒 lóng jū a brilliant young scholar). And you’ll see it in this expression from Zhuangzi:

白駒過隙 bái jū guò xì time flies

Literally, [time flies like the flash of a] young white colt running past a gap in the wall.

a worn-out old horse who can no longer run quickly

This is only really used in this proverb:

駑馬戀棧 nú mǎ liàn zhàn
an incompetent man clings to a good position

Literally, the old horse loves being [fed the grain] in the stable (instead of having to forage for food themselves).

And the last one for today…

駿 jùn a fine horse (良马), a steed

This one you’ll actually see used for horses (in films and such), in names, like:

宮崎駿 gōng qí jùn Hayao Miyazaki

Founder of Studio Ghibli animation studio. His name means ‘Palace-Rough mountain road – Fine Steed,’ which is a pretty cool name.

That’s not a horse….

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.