Any Chinese Translation Help?

by Erin on April 27, 2007

Memory Dress

Dress A Day reader Erma's husband is a non-native speaker of Chinese and a linguistics professor, and he has a dress-related translation question. Does anyone know the meaning of the Chinese character bai3 ()? It's used in compounds such as qun2bai3 (), where qun2 means skirt. It was used in a sentence which translates to something like "Under the rustling of the evening breeze, the entire bai3 of the skirt was billowing".

The dictionary defines bai3 as "hem or lower part". But a native speaker told Erma's husband that bai3 refers to width — a narrow skirt has a "small bai3" and a wide skirt has a "big bai3".

Anyone have some input? I have to say, if we figure this one out, I'm going to steal that word into English and use it to refer to this concept all the time. "I only wear skirts with big bai," I'll say.

[The image is an artwork called "Memory Dress" by Yu Hong.]

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Robyn April 27, 2007 at 8:22 am

I don’t know chinese, but in patternmaking we call the bottom hem of the skirt the sweep. Which covers both of the definitions, hem or lower part, as well as the narrowness or width of the sweep.


Anonymous April 27, 2007 at 8:27 am

And yet, I think Erma’s husband’s friend is confirming what Erma’s husband thought, in a round about way. “Small” and “big” modify the word bia3. Therefore, it is not the word “bia3” that describes the size of the skirt, but the modifiers of “bia3.”If that makes any sense. Amy


sarah April 27, 2007 at 9:30 am

Agreeing here…narrow and wide skirts have to be narrow or wide in the lower part, right? since presumably your waist is unchanged no matter how “big” your skirt…so hem/lower part works perfectly, narrow lower part or big lower part. I think the two definitions are actually the same.


Nora April 27, 2007 at 9:33 am

How come English has, like, NO borrowed words from Chinese languages? Well, that’s going to change eventually (I liked how they worked that into “Firefly”, though it was mostly cussin’.)Maybe soon we’ll see a woman in a skirt with a full sweep and say admiringly, “baby got bai!”


alai April 27, 2007 at 9:54 am

English does have words (and phrases) borrowed from Chinese — tea, chop chop, long time no see (Chinglish, really), kowtow, etc. Chalk it up to less integration and less (history of) interaction. Also to the fact that most foreigners were not allowed to learn Chinese. As for the word, it kind of means “sway”.


alai April 27, 2007 at 9:55 am

Or, yeah, the sweep of the skirt sounds like a better translation for it. :) I only do legal translation, so I’m not too good with other subjects!


Anonymous April 27, 2007 at 10:03 am

At work, I asked two gentlemen who are from China. One of them said that it means to oscillate or swing. The other gentleman isn’t here today, so if he says anything different, I will post his response later.


Robinson April 27, 2007 at 11:16 am

I don’t know anything about the Chinese language, but the work is beautiful.


blossom April 27, 2007 at 1:59 pm

i agree, bai3 means swaying by itself, but when used as “qun2bai3”, it means hemline (of a skirt). if you want to say narrow skirt, you would usually add the adj before the word skirt (qun2, in this case), like “kwan1 (chinese for wide) qun2”, but not the word “bai3”.chinese words are tricky, a single character has a meaning by itself, but it would also mean something else when used along with other characters.


Dave April 27, 2007 at 3:28 pm

I asked two Chinese friends. The first confirms blossom’s: “I think it (qun2bai3 () ) means the edge of a skirt!”


Nadine April 27, 2007 at 3:42 pm

Do you read Knit and Tonic? (Because you totally should.) I bet she knows someone who could give you a bit of fashion-savvy Chinese translation.


LadyBeGood April 27, 2007 at 8:13 pm

I don’t have anything to add re: a translation… I just had to give a shout out to Nora for her to to “Firefly”!


LadyBeGood April 27, 2007 at 8:15 pm

opps… that was supposed to read “her NOD to”


Anonymous April 27, 2007 at 8:41 pm

We have a pretty phrase in chinese to describe girls walking along with their qun1 bai3 yao1 yao1, the hem of their skirts swaying away.


ashley April 28, 2007 at 5:41 am

hi hi!i’m fluent on both chinese & english. hee hee.actullay ‘bai’ means movement. swaying sort. associated with skirt means the flow of the skirt. the native speaker is correct.anyway, can you please link my fashion blog?http://www.rocketrend.wordpress.comthanks! i love you!(i’ve added yours to my blogroll already:):):) )


erma April 28, 2007 at 8:11 pm

Thanks for everyone’s help. It’s not always possible to find an exact translation of a word or in this case, a part of a word. I like robyn’s suggestion of “sweep”, and how it can be used with “wide” or “narrow”. Seems like a useful word to know.Somewhat appropriately, I just went to see the play The Light in the Piazza. The costumes were wonderful, lots of dresses with large bai.


Amiene Rev April 29, 2007 at 8:45 am

well… there are some e-translator online.


Sue April 29, 2007 at 9:32 am

I thought I was the only one who watched Fireplay :o) rock on Nora and ladybegood!


Anonymous April 29, 2007 at 11:47 pm

It actually helps if you had the entire sentence in Chinese to look at…but I’m pretty sure “bai3” is used as a verb here, for “sway”. So, the dress is swaying side to side.


The Trivial Traveller May 3, 2007 at 6:27 am

Hope I’m not too late because I was just reading the backposts… refers to the hem of the skirt and the sentence is probably used to describe, in a poetic way, the movement of the skirt hem.Someone correctly commented that Chinese word have a different meaning when used alone. The word when used alone has a different meaning. It literally means “to put something” or “to display” something”.


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