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Words Indicating “Black” in the Vietnamese Language Posted by on Nov 15, 2021 in Culture, Vocabulary

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How many Vietnamese words have you learned that indicate the color black? The answer should be: A LOT. Let’s see how many words you might have learned…
The primary Vietnamese word for black is màu đen. However, there are many Sino-Vietnamese words to use in lieu of màu đen such as hắc, huyền, ô, mun, mực. Each word is only used in certain contexts. Addtionally, there are many từ ghép (compound words) describing various shades of màu đen.
SINO-VIETNAMESE WORDS FOR BLACK COLOR
Ví dụ (example):
• A black horse is called ngựa ô
• A black dog is called chó mực
• A black cat is called mèo mun
• Silky black hair is called tóc huyền
• Black pants are called quần thẫm
• Black wood is called gỗ mun
COMPOUND WORDS TO INDICATE BLACK COLORS
Depending on the subject and region, there are many compound words to indicate different shades and conditions of màu đen: đen thui, đen ngòm, đen sì, đen kịt, đen tuyền, đen đúa, đen thâm, đen dòn, đen nháy, đen bóng, etc.
Ví dụ:
• Ban đêm con đường này đen thui vì không có đèn đường (at night this street is pitch-black because it has no street lights)
• Nhìn cái vực đen ngòm mà ớn (It’s scary to look at the pitch-dark abyss)
• Tóc cô ấy đen tuyền (her hair is jet black)
• Cô bé ấy có cặp mắt đen nháy (that girl has a pair of dark black eyes)
• Anh ta có nước da đen dòn (he has a healthy dark skin complexion)
• Bầu trời đen kịt (the sky is very dark)
• Mặt bàn đen bóng (shiny black table surface)
FIGURATIVE MEANING
Figuratively, the word đen annotates negative states such as bad luck, or bad vibes.
Ví dụ:
• Số phận đen đủi (unlucky fate)
• Xã hội đen (mafia, crime syndicate, underworld)
• Đen bạc, đỏ tình (unlucky in money but lucky in love)
• Khuôn mặt hắc ám (Sino word, indicating an evil face)
• Gần mực thì đen, gần đèn thì sáng (Vietnamese idiom: “It’s bad to associate with bad people. It’s good to associate with good people”)
TRIVIA QUESTIONS
Time to play the game. How many questions can you answer?
1. Which sea’s name has the word “đen” in it in Vietnamese?
2. In Vietnamese, “vàng đen” (black gold) is a figurative word for what?
3. What is the Vietnamese word for black market?
4. What is the Vietnamese figurative word for poor people, the laborer, the powerless, or peasants?
5. What is the other name for “thạch đen” (black grass jelly) in Vietnamese?
6. What is the Vietnamese word for melanin (a natural dark pigment found in most organisms)
7. What is an important component to use on paved roads in Vietnamese?
8. Can you name some well-known Vietnamese trùm xã hội đen (crime syndicate leaders)?

Answers:
1. Biển đen or Hắc hải (Black sea)
2. Than đá (coal)
3. Chợ đen (black market)
4. Dân đen (poor people)
5. Sương sáo (black jelly)
6. Hắc tố (melanin)
7. Hắc ín or dầu hắc (tar)
8. Năm cam (Saigon), Đại Cathay (Saigon), Cu Nên (Hải Phòng), Dung Hà (Hải Phòng), Khánh Trắng (Hà Nội)

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