A breakdown of the characters in 擦肩而过 (cā jiān ér guò):
擦 (cā): to brush, rub up against
肩 (jiān): shoulder (肩膀 – jiān bǎng)
而 (ér): conjunction meaning “but” here
过 (guò): to pass by (as in过去 – guò qù)
The fodder for countless chick-flicks: two strangers work and live near each other and would be a perfect couple; however, they keep missing each other!
It turns out there is a chengyu that’s perfect for this situation: 擦肩而过 (cā jiān ér guò).
擦肩而过 literally means “to brush shoulders and pass by”. It means to come into close contact with someone or something, but then barely miss it. 擦肩而过 can be used for very specific, tangible things (eg. asteroid almost hitting the earth) as well as very abstract things (love and death).
“AMY shì yígè kěwàng zhuāzhù àiqíng de nǚhái, què lǚlǚ hé zhēn’ài cā jiān ér ɡuò “
“AMY is a girl who longs to experience love, but often barely misses true love”
“qiáobùsī gǎndào rúshìzhòngfù, yīnwèi zìjǐ céngjīng hé sǐshén cā jiān ér ɡuò “
“Steve Jobs felt a sense of relief because he had brushed up against death, but came out alive”
“在这里，和别人擦肩而过的时候，即 使是素不相识的陌生人，大家也会互相 打招呼”
“zài zhèlǐ, hé biérén cā jiān ér ɡuò de shíhou, jíshǐ shì sùbùxiāngshí de mòshēng rén, dàjiā yě huì hùxiāng dǎzhāohu “
“Here, whenever anyone brushes shoulders with someone, even if it’s a complete stranger, everyone will say “hi” to one another”
“zài fánmáng de xiàndài dūshì shēnghuó zhōng, búyào ràng cā jiān ér ɡuò de yǒuyì chéngwéi yíhàn “
“Amongst the hustle and bustle of a modern city, don’t let a barely missed friendship become a regret”