Word of the week: shǒu
I recently made a trip to the dentist in China. He took one look inside my mouth and pulled a face that made me think “damn, this is going to seriously hurt both me and my wallet”.
It turns out I needed my zhì chǐ 智齿 pulling out. zhì means “wisdom” so you can probably guess that zhì chǐ are wisdom teeth. And I need all of them pulling out, apparently.
The dentist probably read the expression of horror on my face and somewhat comfortingly told me that he could introduce me to his “teacher” who works at the number one hospital in Hangzhou. He said nǐ fàng xīn ba, tā shǒu hěn ruǎn 你放心吧，他（她）手很软。 (don’t worry, his/her hand very soft).
When he said their hand was soft he didn’t mean they regularly moisturise with an expensive Nivea product. In this context it means that someone is very good at something because they have done it so many times. It is used for manual skills that involve the hands, so if you say wǒ shǒu hěn ruǎn it’s a bit like saying “I’ve done this so many times my hands have been softened by the action” or “I can do the action softly, without any tension in my hand”.
The word shǒu 手 is also common as a suffix and in this situation it means a person. If you are new to something you are a xīn shǒu 新手 (new hand) and if you have been doing it for a long time you are a lǎo shǒu 老手 (old hand).
tā shì wǒ men qiú duì de xīn shǒu 他是我们球队的新手 He is our ball team’s new hand/ he is new on our ball team
Obviously not everyone who has been doing something a long time is necessarily good at what they do. If you want to stress that a person is highly skilled you could call them a gāo shǒu 高手 (high hand). There is also the word duì shǒu 对手 which is literally “opposing hand”, so if you’re playing a game of Tennis and your opponent is really good you can say wǒ de duì shǒu shì gè gāo shǒu 我的对手是个高手
my opposing hand is a high hand
If, like me, you are into reading crime thrillers then you will also see the words xiōng shǒu 凶手 (aggressive hand) and shā shǒu 杀手 (killing hand) which are often used interchangeably to mean “killer”.
I’m not into Chinese pop music so much, but if you are then you will definitely hear the phrase gē shǒu 歌手 (song hand). You might even hear jí tā shǒu 吉他手 (guitar hand) and gǔ shǒu 鼓手 (drum hand).
nǐ zuì xǐ huan de gē shǒu shì shéi 你最喜欢的歌手是谁？(who is your favourite singer?)