A Storage Mouse

Guinea Pigs at Pets Corner

Guinea Pigs at Pets Corner by Cyberslayer

We are forever being told that the best way to learn is to make mistakes, but it’s not often that we get to observe ourselves doing so. There have been a few times in my on/off attempts at learning Chinese when I’ve remembered things as a direct result of my mistakes.

I introduce you to 囤鼠, the storage mouse. I forget why, but I asked A. how to say guinea pig in Chinese. Without seeing the characters, I assumed that túnshǔ was 囤鼠 which translates literally as “storage mouse”.

Forgetting everything I knew about traditional household pets I assumed that the guinea pig was named 囤鼠 because it stored food in it’s cheeks. I was wrong on two counts:

  1. Guinea pigs don’t store food in their cheeks; that would be the hamster.
  2. The Chinese for guinea pig is 豚鼠, túnshǔ which sounds exactly the same as storage mouse, but is in fact a completely different character.

Realising my mistakes, I looked up the word for hamster. To my surprise, this really was a storage mouse; 仓鼠, cāngshǔ.

One week on, I can still remember the difference between a guinea pig, a hamster and a storage mouse. Learning from our own mistakes really is the best way to learn. If you are still struggling, the following vocabulary might help.

Chinese Pinyin English
shǔ rat / mouse
tún to store / hoard
tún suckling pig
cāng barn / granary / storehouse
豚鼠 túnshǔ guinea pig
囤鼠 túnshǔ storage mouse
仓鼠 cāngshǔ hamster