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This is the Year Of The Tiger in the Chinese Lunar Calendar. In Mandarin Tiger is called 老虎lao2 hu3。If it is a tigress, it is called 母老虎 mu3 lao2 hu3,母 indicates female.

What is more interesting about the term 老虎 is the character 老, which means ‘old’ in English. No matter what age the tiger or tigress is, the phrase 老 is used. For cubs, we add the character or term 小 or small. The cub is called 小老虎 in Mandarin, literally it means small tiger.

The character 老 is what makes reading and understanding Mandarin vocabulary most fascinating. The tiger’s face is in essence the image of an old person: a lot of hair grown in places that make it look old, crinkled face and everything.

Interestingly though, this character 老 is a derived character, which comes from a common etymological root but differ in that one part is changed to indicate a different pronunciation and meaning. In other words, it may not mean old in the first place. See Formation Of The Chinese Character.

Whichever way you look at it, it does make it easier for beginners of the Chinese language to remember how to write the character 老虎 perhaps by understanding what it symbolises. Why is the tiger old in 老虎?Kids can tell you, it has lots of hair on its face, especially a white beard.