Shut Your Crow’s Beak – Essential Chinese Vocabulary

by Dave Flynn | 3rd January, 2012 | Vocabulary |

Here’s an interesting phrase that I came across the other day while talking with a friend. I had mentioned that the transfer time for their flight might not be enough, and if there were to be a delay they would surely miss their connecting flight. Their reply to my doubts was 閉上你的烏鴉嘴 (闭上你的乌鸦嘴 bìshàng nǐ de wūyāzuǐ), literally “shut your crow’s beak”, to which came my obvious reply – what the hell is a “crow’s beak” in this context?

烏鴉嘴

Image of the ‘Mush’ from the movie A Bronx Tale

烏鴉嘴(乌鸦嘴)

Pinyin: wū yā zuǐ
English: a jinx; a negative influence; an unfavourable situation/phenomenon

A great phrase, I’m sure you’ll agree. Now let’s have a look at some examples of how we can use it.

As mentioned above if you think someone is being too negative and might jinx you, then you can tell them to ‘shut their crow’s beak':

閉上你的烏鴉嘴 (闭上你的乌鸦嘴 bìshàng nǐ de wūyāzuǐ)

You can also use it as a noun to make a joke about someone:

你真是個大烏鴉嘴(你真是个大乌鸦嘴 nǐ zhēn shì gè dà wūyāzuǐ
You really are a big jinx

Finally, here’s an example, taken from a passage in this news story, that shows how 烏鴉嘴(乌鸦嘴)can be used to describe a situation, rather than a person.

Traditional
其實在經濟正常、高速發展的時候,經濟學的「烏鴉嘴」是一種好的現象,它可以使管理者保持一種清醒的頭腦

Simplified
其实在经济正常、高速发展的时候,经济学的「乌鸦嘴」是一种好的现象,它可以使管理者保持一种清醒的头脑

Pinyin
qíshí zài jīngjì zhèngcháng, gāosù fāzhǎn de shíhòu, jīngjìxué de “wū yā zuǐ” shì yī zhǒng hǎo de xiànxiàng, tā kěyǐ shǐ guǎnlǐzhě bǎochí yī zhǒng qīngxǐng de tóunǎo

English
During periods of normal or rapid economic development, talk of economic disaster may actually be welcome and can cause managers to maintain a clear head.

In the example above the choice of English used to describe 烏鴉嘴(乌鸦嘴) really depends on the point you want to make – other translations might be “economic bad luck” or “misfortune”.

Commenter additions:

Commenter york2275 notes below that this phrase can also be used as an adjective in the following ways:

你很烏鴉嘴耶!(你很乌鸦嘴耶! nǐ hěn wūyāzuǐ yē)
You’re such a jinx

and

不要烏鴉嘴啦!(不要乌鸦嘴啦!búyào wūyāzuǐ lā)
Don’t tempt fate/bring bad luck; don’t be so negative; don’t be a jinx!

It’s great when readers post constructive comments like this that help to further clarify and add value to the content, so if you ever have anything to add please do and it’ll be added to the end of the post.

If you have any more examples of how you’ve heard this phrase being used then let us know in the comments below.

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Dave Flynn

Dave is a designer of websites, learner of Chinese and lover of technology. Originally from the UK, he's been living in Taiwan and learning Mandarin Chinese for the last seven years. He founded and runs Chinese Hacks, a blog dedicated to effectively learning Chinese.

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Tags: #bad luck #crow's beak #jinx #misfortune #mouth #mush

5 Comments

  1. When MX and I were dating… she taught me this and we said it ALL THE TIME!


    • what were you saying to MX to make her keep saying 烏鴉嘴 to you? :)


  2. york2275

    Great post, Dave.

    In addition, 烏鴉嘴 can be used as an adjective. When someone says something we don’t want to happen in the future, we can say “你很烏鴉嘴耶!”, or “不要烏鴉嘴啦!”, meaning that you act like a bad luck bringer, or don’t be a bringer of bad luck!


    • Excellent, thanks York2275, I love it when we get more great info like this from comments. I’ll add a note to the post above!


  3. Wow, that’s really interesting! Have you found out any more about the origin of this phrase? I think it’d be interesting to try and trace out the etymology!

    Also, we all know how regional certain slang can be, especially in a country as big as China. I am a newcomer to the site, and notice that you use traditional characters instead of the simplified – are you yourself based in Hong Kong or Taiwan? Is that where all of these phrases are becoming popular?


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