2016-04-29intermediate

The Boat of Friendship

Recently the phrase ”友谊的小船说翻就翻 [yǒu yì de xiǎo chuán shuō fān jiù fān]”, meaning “The Boat of Friendship Suddenly Tips Over”, went viral in China and spread through WeChat's moments and friend circles. In this lesson, we learn where this phrase came from and how you can use it.

The origin of the phrase is the classic American sitcom 老友记 [lǎo yǒu jì](Friends), where the male nanny Sandy teaches Joey:

Q:And what's the one kind of boat they can never, ever sink?
A:A Friendship.

Friendship in Chinese is 友谊 [yǒu yì], and ship (literal) is 小船 [xiǎo chuán], so the literal translation of friendship becomes 友谊的小船 [yǒu yì de xiǎo chuán]. This interesting joke originally appeared in a series of comics published by a cartoonist named 喃东尼(Nandongni) on his/her Weibo. Let’s look at some of them.

Friendship comic

Hover over any word to show translation
chéng zuò
乘坐
乘坐
to ride (in a vehicle)
zài
(located) at, (to be) in
yǒu yì
友谊
友誼
fellowship, friendship
zhī
(possessive particle)
chuán
boat, ship
de
(used after an attribute)
liǎng
two
ge
classifier for people or objects in general
hǎo péng you
好朋友
好朋友
good friend
 
rú guǒ
如果
如果
if, in case
one
fāng
side, party (to a contract, dispute etc)
biàn
to change, to become
shòu
thin, to lose weight
 
yǒu yì
友谊
友誼
fellowship, friendship
de
(used after an attribute)
xiǎo chuán
小船
小船
boat
shuō
to say
fān
to turn over, to flip over
jiù
at once, right away
fān
to turn over, to flip over
ò
sentence-final particle that conveys informality or friendliness
 

Two friends sit on the friendship boat. If one of them suddenly loses weight, the friendship boat will suddenly tip over.

Character set
Pinyin

说…就… [shuō …jiù …]

说…就…is a grammar pattern literally meaning “as soon as you say x, x happens”, and is used to express that something occurs easily and suddenly. So 说翻就翻 [shuō fān jiù fān] means the friendship boat will quickly tip over. Here are some other examples of how this grammar pattern can be used:

  • 他总是说干就干 [tā zǒng shì shuō gàn jiù gàn] - He's always been a man of action.
  • 说走就走的旅行 [shuō zǒu jiù zǒu de lǚ xíng] - A suddenly decided trip.

友谊的小船说翻就翻 means that the friendship is not strong and can break over the tiniest thing. Let’s look at two more comics:

Friendship comic

Hover over any word to show translation
chéng zuò
乘坐
乘坐
to ride (in a vehicle)
zài
(located) at, (to be) in
yǒu yì
友谊
友誼
fellowship, friendship
zhī
(possessive particle)
chuán
boat, ship
de
(used after an attribute)
liǎng
two
ge
classifier for people or objects in general
hǎo péng you
好朋友
好朋友
good friend
hé yǐng
合影
合影
group photo
 
zhǐ
only, just
gěi
for, to give
zì jǐ
自己
自己
oneself, one's own
P tú
P图
P圖
(Internet slang) to photoshop a picture
 
yǒu yì
友谊
友誼
fellowship, friendship
de
(used after an attribute)
xiǎo chuán
小船
小船
boat
shuō
to say
fān
to turn over, to flip over
jiù
at once, right away
fān
to turn over, to flip over
 

Two friends take a group picture in the friendship boat. If you only photoshop yourself in the picture, the friendship boat will suddenly tip over.

Character set
Pinyin

Friendship comic

Hover over any word to show translation
chéng zuò
乘坐
乘坐
to ride (in a vehicle)
zài
(located) at, (to be) in
yǒu yì
友谊
友誼
fellowship, friendship
zhī
(possessive particle)
chuán
boat, ship
de
(used after an attribute)
liǎng
two
ge
classifier for people or objects in general
hǎo péng you
好朋友
好朋友
good friend
 
ài shàng
爱上
愛上
to fall in love with
le
(completed action marker)
(negative prefix), not
yí yàng
一样
一樣
same, like
de
(used after an attribute)
ài dòu
爱豆
愛豆
idol (loanword)
 
(
ǒu xiàng
偶像
偶像
idol
 
),
yǒu yì
友谊
友誼
fellowship, friendship
de
(used after an attribute)
xiǎo chuán
小船
小船
boat
shuō
to say
fān
to turn over, to flip over
jiù
at once, right away
fān
to turn over, to flip over
 

Two friends sit on the friendship boat. If they fall in love with different idols, the friendship boat will suddenly tip over.

Character set
Pinyin

Now if your friendship is very strong on the other hand, how can you describe it in Chinese?

  • 闺蜜[guī mì] - best friend (between females)
  • 好基友 [hǎo jī yǒu] - bro, bromance
  • 知己[zhī jǐ] – best friend

So do you have a best friend? And have you ever experienced the boat of friendship tipping over for the smallest thing? Feel welcome to tell us about your experience on our Facebook page.