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

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

Friendship comic

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.

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