Linguistic advice for when you’re broke and need a loan

Your true friends will be there through thick and thin, good and bad—unless you need money. Oh, yes, your friends will be there when you want to talk about your colorectal surgery or Big Bang Theory fan fiction, but the moment you need a loan, you’ll find them staring at their shoes and kicking the dirt. Nothing kills a good friendship like loaning or borrowing cash, but, sometimes you have no other choice. Here are some tips on asking for a handout in Chinese without killing your friendships.

The first thing that one should keep in mind is that you should probably not use the word “money.” People prefer to describe their difficulty in a more euphemistic manner; for that there is 手头紧 (shǒutóu jǐn), which roughly means “tight fists.” If you don’t want to give a specific description about what happened to you, you can go with this all-purpose term:

It’s hard to explain, but recently my fists are a little tight. So, I have to come to you for help.
Zhēn bù hǎoyìsi kāikǒu, dànshì wǒ zuìjìn shǒutóu yǒudiǎn er jǐn, zhǐhǎo zhǎo nǐ bāngmáng.

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Can You Share Some Change? is a story from our issue, “Wildest Fantasy.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.


author Sun Jiahui (孙佳慧)

Sun Jiahui is a freelance writer and former editor at The World of Chinese. She writes about Chinese language, society and culture, and is especially passionate about sharing stories of China's ancient past with a wider audience. She has been writing for TWOC for over six years, and pens the Choice Chengyu column.

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