25 October 2016
Lots of Cantonese slang revolve around food. Photo: Reuters
Lots of Cantonese slang revolve around food. Photo: Reuters

Get smart: Some useful Hong Kongese slang to wield

It’s fun to learn Cantonese slang, although it can be a bit complicated.

By using this sort of quirky language, people would get the impression that you’re smart and you know your way around — so they better be careful when dealing with you.

Cantonese is one of the five major Chinese languages.

It is spoken by about 100 million in the southern province of Guangdong and neighbouring regions such as Hong Kong and Macau, as well as some Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia.

Each of these regions has its own slang words and phrases, some of which do not reflect their original meaning.

In Hong Kong, slang is used widely, and most of these words revolve around food.

Ready for some quick lessons?

Someone who has been rejected or fired from a job is said to be “caau jau jyu” (炒魷魚) or “fried like squid calamari”.

You leave home for work but forgot your keys. That’s fine if it happens only once in a rare while.

But if you forget your keys every so often, you are called  “taai tau haai”  (大頭蝦) or “big-headed shrimp”, meaning absent-minded.

Flaunt your achievements and you may be described as “baan saai hai” (扮哂蟹) or “acting like a crab”.

When people say you are so “ngou kuug” (夠疆”) or “spicy as ginger”, they mean you have the guts to speak out, say, against your boss.

Meanwhile, if you keep bothering your officemates or interrupting people who are speaking, and wasting their time, you may be called “wan gat” (混吉).

Worse yet, if you are demoted or you lose your status, you might be described as “dun dung guu” (燉冬菇) or “stewed mushrooms”.

Indeed, some of these phrases are not very flattering.

An unmarried woman is sometimes labelled as “maai sing che” (賣剩庶) or “leftover bamboo”.

Popular men, on the other hand, are known as “neoi jan tong yuen”  (女人湯圓) or  “women’s sweet dessert dumplings”. 

Learn more Cantonese and you’ll find that there is always an apt and colorful food description for every person or situation.


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Head of the Residential Leasing Department at Savills

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