In a Chaotic State – No-nonsense Chinese Idioms

This idiom describes the state that my workspace gradually enters after a week of work, until it becomes so bad that I have no choice but to stop everything and clear up before I can continue. A very useful idiom and can be used to describe desks, rooms, offices, classrooms, the inside of a car, anywhere that can be messy, really!

A Chaotic Mess - Chinese Idiom


Pinyin: zá luàn wú zhāng
English: to be in a chaotic state, to be in a mess; to be disorganised and unsystematic

I was reminded of this idiom while reading the Bill Gates book I mentioned last week, in one part the writer describes the state of Bill’s desk in the early Microsoft days:

tāmen de zhuōshàng záluànwúzhāng, quán dōu duīzhe hē guò de kāfēi zhǐbēi hé chī guò de pīsà cánzhā.
Their desk was in a chaotic state, piles of paper coffee cups and pizza remains.

This sentence is pretty straightforward, but one word that also stands out is 殘渣(残渣 cán zhā) which means “remainder” or “remnants”, or here, as this is food, “left overs” or “remains”, seems like a very useful word that should come in handy.

5 responses to “In a Chaotic State – No-nonsense Chinese Idioms

  1. 雜亂無章 雜亂 compound word phrase means messy.無 negate word, 章 noun, order or rule. So, literally it means messy without order.

    Very nice example sentence you have there.

  2. Hi Dave, great photo to go with this idiom! When I lived in Taipei in the mid 90s I often heard (and used) the phrase “亂七八糟” to describe something in disorder, such as my apartment or the way people sometimes parked their scooters all over the sidewalks. I don’t recall ever hearing or studying 雜亂無章… is that idiom more formal?

    1. Hi Gary,

      As a Taiwanese undergraduate student, I think you are right, 雜亂無章 is more formal and we seldom use this idiom in daily conversation. However, it’s often seen in books. Also, 雜亂無章 is more specific compared with 亂七八糟. 亂七八糟 sometimes means bad or lousy instead of being disordered.

      For instance,
      “He totally messed things up.”

      or an angry teacher may simply yell “亂七八糟!” at a child (which is quite mean), meaning that “What a terrible performance!(or behavior)”

      We, on the order hand, only use 雜亂無章 to describe something in disorder, the meaning Dave suggested.

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