Meaning of Mamahuhu
The literal meaning for mamahuhu (马马虎虎) is horse horse tiger tiger. This is an adjective. The meanings are as follows.
- Careless, casual
- mediocre, so-so, average, fair, not so bad
Mamahuhu is one of the 4-word idiom expressions that is called 成语(chéng yǔ). Because it has an interesting story behind it and it is also easy to pronounce and write, learners of Chinese language like to use it too.
Special Pronunciations of Mamahuhu
The pronunciation for “horse” is the same, “mǎ.” The original and common pronunciation for “tiger” is “hǔ.” However, please note, in this 4-word idiom, the tone for “tiger” was changed to “hū.”
The Story Behind It and Its Meaning
There are a few versions of the stories behind it. Here is one of the most common one, in my opinion.
Long time ago, there is a painter whose painting skill is just so-so/ not so good and not so bad. One day, he was painting as usual. When he was almost done, Friend A stopped by and saw the painting.
Friend A asked: What are you painting?
Painter said : Can’t you tell?
Friend A said: Yes, of course, you are painting a horse.
Painter said: Nooooooooo
Then the friend left, and the painter continued painting some more. Friend B stopped by too and saw the painting too.
Friend B asked: What are you painting?
Painter said: What do you think?
Friend B said: It’s a tiger.
Painter said: Noooooooo, not you too…..
At this time, Friend A came back and heard what Friend B said. They started to argue whose point of view is correct.
Friend A: Horse
Friend B: Tiger
Friend A: Horse
Friend B: Tiger
Friend A: Horse horse
Friend B: Tiger tiger
Gradually, it became horse horse tiger tiger. The meaning of mamahuhu now refers to so-so and mediocre. The question remains what exactly the painter was trying to paint. What do you think? No matter this story is real or made up, it certainly provides a fun aspect of it. This helps learners remember and learn it.
How to Use It In Contexts?
After knowing the meaning of mamahuhu, of course, we need to know how to use it in contexts. Below are some examples. Example 1 and 2 are for the meaning of “so-so/fair/average/not so bad.” Example 3 and 4 are for the meaning of “careless, casual.”
A: 你今天怎么样？(nǐ jīn tiān zěn me yàng?) (How are you doing today?)
B: 马马虎虎。 (mǎ mǎ hū hū.) (so so.)
A: 你的数学好不好？(nǐ de shù xué hǎo bù hǎo.)(Is your math skill good?)
B: 马马虎虎。 (mǎ mǎ hū hū. ) (so so.)
A: 你最近的学习有一点儿马马虎虎。 (nǐ zuì jìn de xué xí yǒu yì diǎnr mǎ mǎ hū hū.) (Your learning recently is a little bit careless.)
B: 对不起， 我最近比较忙， 我会开始用功。 (duì bù qǐ , wǒ zuì jìn bǐ jiào máng, wǒ huì kāi shǐ yòng gōng. ) (Sorry, I’m busier recently. I’ll work hard.)
A: 这本书你看了吗？(Have you read this book?)
B: 我很忙，这本书我马马虎虎得看了一下。(wǒ hěn máng , zhè běn shū wǒ mǎ mǎ hū hū de kàn le yī xià.)(I’m very busy. I read it in a casual/careless way.)
Alternative Phrases to Replace Mamahuhu
Regarding how often Chinese native speakers use this term, I would say it’s not as often as learners of Chinese language. For native speakers, there are so many phrases they use and this is just one of them. Therefore, they might not use this term overboard. For people who are learning Chinese, since this idiom sounds interesting and easy to say, people seem to like to use it frequently. In my opinion, I encourage people to have a few synonyms in their pocket and use them interchangeably. So, in this way, it will make you sounds like a pro.
When it means mediocre/so-so/fair/average/not so bad, you can use the following terms to still express the same meaning in Chinese.
- 一般 (yī bān)
- 普通 (pǔ tōng )
- 还可以 (hái kě yǐ)
- 还行 (hái xíng )
- 还好 (hái hǎo)
When it means careless/usual, you can use the following phrases and still express the same meaning in Chinese.
- 马虎 (mǎ hū)
- 随便(suí biàn）
- 草率 (cǎo shuài)
To conclude, please feel free leave a comment below to let me know what you think about the story. Also, I would love to read sentences you make up with 马马虎虎 or other alternative words in the comments too.
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