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Is It Rat or Mouse – About The Translation

As the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac were introduced to the Western world, a few were translated to different English words and caused some confusions as to which were correct. For example, Rat vs. Mouse, Ox vs. Cow, etc.

The Chinese words for all 12 animals 鼠牛虎兔龍蛇馬羊猴雞狗豬 are common, generic, unisex nouns. Except for the mythical creature 龍 (Dragon), all other words refer to a group of species exhibiting similar characteristics. Studying the characteristics of a particular group, instead of specific specie, is the primary objective of Chinese Zodiac. So as they are translated, the goal is to choose “common, generic, and unisex” words in English.

 

  

  Is it Rat or Mouse?
The Chinese word 鼠 can refer to either rat or mouse - there are no distinctive words for them. The illustrations in the Chinese Zodiac scripts depicted a common look of the two, or some look more like rat and others more like mouse. So the English translation “Rat” or “Mouse” is fine either way as both are common unisex nouns. We use “Rat” on this site because it has been widely used for Chinese Zodiac.

  Is it Ox or Cow?
Similar to “Rat or Mouse” above, the Chinese word 牛 can refer to water buffalo, cattle, ox, etc. The illustrations in the Chinese Zodiac scripts often showed water buffalo as it was a common livestock in ancient central China, or sometimes it showed ox or cattle. We use “Ox” on this site because it has been widely used for Chinese Zodiac.

  Is it Sheep, Goat or Ram?
Chinese word 羊 does not mean “goat” or “sheep” specifically. Goat was commonly illustrated in the Chinese Zodiac scripts, but modern zodiac books depict Sheep more often. We use “Sheep” on this site because it has been widely used for Chinese Zodiac. Goat is fine too, but Ram is not recommended as it refers to male sheep.

  Is it Rooster or Chicken?
Although the Chinese word 雞 (chicken) is a generic, unisex noun, the illustrations in Chinese Zodiac scripts always showed a male chicken, i.e., rooster. This is the only exception of all 12 Zodiac animals, possibly because rooster’s crown depicts chicken more distinctively so it is not mistaken for other birds. So We use “Rooster” on this site.

  Is it Pig or Boar?
Pig is a commonly used unisex term, whereas Boar is a male pig. So, it is a no-brainer, “Pig”.

Rabbit Year or Cat Year?

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