Ah... I really love the way the idea of 'being a third wheel' is expressed in Chinese (and some of the photos I got to put in this blog post as a result).



The term that they use for this situation is 'being a light bulb' which translates to 当电灯泡 - dāng diàn dēng pào.



The reason it's called being a light bulb (电灯泡) is that has to do with the ideal dating situation.  A nice, dark intimate setting where a couple can enjoy "intimate conversation" (insert heeeyoohh).  



But instead the couple can't enjoy this moment because you're hanging around, like a light bulb, making everything too bright and public to enjoy.


Example usage:


wǒ bù xǐ huan dāng diàn dēng pào

I don't want to be a light bulb.


Extra vocabulary:

尴尬 - gān gà

awkward / embarrassed


I first heard of this phrase from Chinesepod Intermediate - The Jealous Friend (may need membership to listen).  


And this was a great photo that I had to include, via Eric and Lauren show.  当电灯泡! - dāng diàn dēng pào!


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Tags: bulb, china, chinese, dating, deng, dian, friends, idioms, light, lightbulb, More…mandarin, offbeat, pao, phrases, slang, third, wheel


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Comment by Qiaodan on September 12, 2011 at 10:25pm

It is similar to the italian anciant way of says :  "tenere la candela" "hold the candle":

Here the etymology:

ancient times people used candles to light since there was no electricity. So the servants in the homes of the wealthy were often instructed to hold the candle to give light to the bosses. In practice they were there, impaled with this candle in your hand doing nothing. Today has been the defining expression for those who find themselves in a situation where they are ignored there doing nothing while everyone else has something to do.

Comment by Dora on September 12, 2011 at 4:37pm

当电灯泡会让我们感到尴尬 dāng diàn dēng pào hùi ràng wǒ men gǎn dào gān gà

Comment by Brandon on March 23, 2011 at 8:36pm

@Zhang - That's a great story, thanks for sharing.

@Allen - Yeah I think I liked the pictures almost as much as the phrase itself.

Comment by allen wong on March 23, 2011 at 5:20am
HAHA.  The pix are hilarious.  Funny how the light bulb guy is not happy.  Usually, I just imagine the light bulb having a blast and the couple is not happy because the light bulb is around.

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Comment by Zhang Wenzhuo on March 22, 2011 at 9:04pm

I used to be a light bulb when I was in hight school. My sister is 3 years older than me, at that time she had a boyfriend, but my aunt didn't like him, so she sent me to hang out with them!! That really was a  awkward experience which made me feel that I was a 2000 watts of light bulb!!


In Chinese, if we want to show that someone is a big light bulb, we always say"……真是两千瓦的电灯泡!(……zhēn shì liǎng qiān wǎ de diàn dēng pào)" which means " someone is  a 2000 watts of light bulb".

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