Word of the day – 差不多 (chàbuduō)

差不多 (chàbuduō)

The phrase 差不多 (chàbuduō) is one of my favourite phrases in Chinese. It literally means “lacking not much” and can be translated as “more or less”, “near enough”, “almost” or “about”. It’s used frequently in Taiwan, and also in China I think, and seems to embody quite a common philosophy, i.e. there’s no need to do everything perfectly, as long as things get finished, so don’t worry too much. That’s my impression anyway.

A longer version of this phrase is 差不多就可以 (chàbuduō jiù kěyǐ), which means “near enough, that’ll do”. Quite good English equivalents are “close enough for government work” and “near enough for jazz”.

You can see a good example of chabuduoism from Taiwan on Pinyin News.

I found an equivalent expression in my big book of Welsh idioms: yn rhywle o’i chwmpas hi (lit: “somewhere around it”).

Do similar phrases exist in other languages?

7 thoughts on “Word of the day – 差不多 (chàbuduō)

  1. IN spanish, “ya casi”, “ya mero”, or in México we say, when you are very close to the result but not excaltly, ” ya merito”.

  2. It seems pretty close to Australian philosophy! We say: ‘she’ll be right’ or ‘it’ll be right’. Some people say it’s ‘ocker talk’ (stereotype) but i know that in the country areas we say things like that more often than we like to think!

  3. But I see that there are two ideas in what you expose, Simon: the first is of a very close approximation to a result, and the second, “I do not care what happens, I’ve done my part of the job”. In México it is said “Ahí se va…” and is often not well seen, because it is indicating that the person that says so, is doing a low quality task or job. As you said, is some kidnd of philosophy or rather an attitude.

  4. As far as I understand, the Korean term is 그냥그래 (geunyeong geurae) which can mean ‘so so’, ‘not bad’, or ‘good enough’. 그냥 by itself means ‘just’, and 그래 means ‘so’.

  5. I don’t know if it’s in English or any other language, but you can try to find an article called “Mr. Chabuduo”, done in sarcasm by Hu Shih in the initial years of ROC, intended to break this habit of chabuduoism of Chinese people. Things haven’t been able to change much, though, unfortunately……

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