Da3po4 sha1guo1 wen4 dao4di3

Have you heard this old saying: “打破沙鍋問到底”? Do you know why “打破沙鍋” have something to do with “問到底”?

First, let’s look at what all these words mean.

漢字:打 破 沙 鍋 問 到 底.
Pinyin:Da Puo Sha Guo Wen Dao Di.
Meaning:hit break sand pot ask to bottom.

打破沙鍋:break the pot.

問到底:(literally means) ask to bottom, (actually means) keep asking until get all answers.

Ok, then, what is the relation between “break the pot” and “keep asking until get all answers”?

The answer will be revealed tomorrow.

Guess before that.

[quote=“mingwangx”]漢字:打 破 沙 鍋 問 到 底.
Pinyin:Da Puo Sha Guo Wen Dao Di.
Meaning:hit break sand pot ask to bottom.

Pinyin: da3 po4 sha1guo1 wen4 dao4 di3
TOP: da Po SHAGUO Wen Dao di

Great post, just adding a few tones for us foreigners! :smiley:

There is a lot of thing to talk about in this sentence. Relax, I won’t tell the answer now. I just want to talk about something else.

First, let’s talk about “打破”(da3 po4).

打(da3) means hit, and 破(po4) means break. This two verbs are put together in this structure:

打 + 破 = 打使之破
da3 po4
hit + break(vi) = hit it to make it break(vi) = break(vt)

There are many phrases in the same structure:

說 + 服 = 說使之服
shui4 fu2
talk to + convinced = talk to him to make him convinced = convince

改 + 善 = 改使之善
gai3 shan4
change + good = change it to make it better = improve

推 + 動(hai4) = 推使之動
tui1 dong4
push + move = push it to make it move = promote or activate

Can you give me another example?

Second, why the Pinyin of 破 I gave at first is “puo”, but Ironlady say “po”?

Which one is correct?

In fact most people pronounce 破 as “puo”. However, because of the history of Chinese phonologic development, there is always a “u” between “p” and “o”. (There is alway a “u” between “b” and “o” too. And so is “m” and “o”.) In almost all pinyin systems, “po” is used to indicate “puo”, because if something can be predicted in some conditions, it may be omitted.

I seldom use pinyin (whether Hanyu Pinyin or other pinyin systems), but often use IPA. I usually write a syllable in its actual pronounciation rather than its common form. So, I use “puo” until Ironlady reminded me that it should be “po” in pinyin.

OK, then tell me. how do you pronounce 婆 and 摸, and what are their pinyin?

Third, what is “到底”?

Literally it means “to the bottom”, however, when we use it, it has 4 meanings:

1.Literally: to the bottom, to the lowest place, to the lowest leve.

For example, “踩到底” means stamping something with your feet until it get the lowest place.

2.Literally too: to the end, to the place where we cannot move forward.

For example, “走到底” means walking along the road to the end of the road.

3.Less literally: do something in a extreme way, do something to a extreme level.

For example, “問到底” means asking until you get all answers, as in “打破沙鍋問到底”.

Another example, “抗爭到底” means make a stand and fight against someone or something until you get all you want and if you don’t get what you want, you will keep fighting, never stop.

4.Least literally:
Eh… I don’t know how to express it in Englsih. I just try to give some examples, and I need someone to help me to translate them into English:



And for the entire phrase I would render it:
da3po4 sha1guo1 wen4 dao4di3
(Note differences in word demarcations.)

Strangely I believe fuck works quite well, or hell if you want to soften it.

“你到底是誰?” Who the fuck are you?
“你到底要做什麼?” What the fuck do you want to do?
“這裡到底是哪裡?” Where the fuck is this?
“他到底為什麼要這樣做?” Why the fuck would he do it like that?

Agree with Cranky, it should be po. Funny how I couldn’t understand this thread title with the use of puo. And that reminds me, there’s a Taiwanese chengyu that uses smashing pots (打 破). I vaguely recall it had something to do with the Japanese. Sorry, I’ve forgotten it, but it was quite good.


Well, ABCC has it as meaning “insist on probing to the bottom of something”, but I don’t know the story behind it. :idunno: Maybe something involving plastic toys and soft cheese?

[quote=“Huang Guang Chen”]Strangely I believe fuck works quite well, or hell if you want to soften it.

“你到底是誰?” Who the fuck are you?
“你到底要做什麼?” What the fuck do you want to do?
“這裡到底是哪裡?” Where the fuck is this?
“他到底為什麼要這樣做?” Why the fuck would he do it like that?


I also thought of the famous F-word first, but on further reflection, perhaps translating this as “in the world” would be better for general use.

“Who in the world are you?”
“What in the world do you want to do?” etc.

And that right there is why you’re a translator and I am not! :laughing:


I don’t think dao4di is as openly obscene as (who) the fuck, but it can be considered rude in certain contexts. At one company, a clerk was sternly disciplined for asking of a client on the telephone “你門到底是什麼公司”. This was entirely out of line with corporate phone etiquette, which requires not “so, like who the heck are you guys” but rather a tone more along the lines of “I’m sorry, I missed the name of your company. May I ask which of our valuable clients you might be?”.



OK. Here comes the answer.

(vi) to split

We seldom use this character in Mandarin (at least our Mandarin), so few people know it. It means “to split” ,and is pronounced wen4, the same as “問” (wen4, to ask).

So it is very easy to understand that “打破沙鍋問到底” da3po4 sha1guo1 wen4 dao4di3, is a pun. The sound wen4 means “to split” and “to ask” at the same time.

In China Mainland, there are some dialects with 璺, that is, they use a sound pronounced the same as 問 “to ask” to mean “to split”. It may not be wen4. The point is, there is a sound which can mean “to ask” and “to split” in the same dielect.

We can find this character in Fang1Yan2 (方言, a book about dialects which is written by 揚雄 Yang2Xong2 in Han Dynasty):

In 秦 and 晉, “to break but not to break into pieces” called 璺.

秦 and 晉 is nearly Shan1Xi1 and Shan3Xi1 nowadays. However, there are some dialects with 璺 in the Southeast region too.

Very interesting! I had assumed the origin was allegorical rather than paranomastic (punning). In the history of the Chinese script, there is a gross underestimate on the part of the average person of the role of paranomastic usage (basically, 假借 jia3jie4 phonetic loans). I tend to be highly aware of the possibility of such etymology, but certainly missed this one! :slight_smile: