Taiwanese phrase of the day: If there’s no fish, shrimp’s ok too 無魚,蝦嘛好 bô hî, hê mā ho

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無魚, 蝦嘛好    (Click each syllable for pronounciation or click below for whole phrase)

This phrase basically means, “something’s better than nothing,” rather loosely illustrated here in a drawing by Arvid Torres (you should have been happy with the shrimp). It can be used to refer to someone’s partner too, as in, “he really scraped the bottom of the barrel with that one,” as used in Taiwanese author Li Ang’s latest novel, to portray the racist and misogynist tendencies of Taiwanese men in the anti-government pro-democracy protests of the 1980s:

陳英俊因一般女性仍不敢靠近,基本上沒有太多的選擇,加上林慧淑頗具吸引力的姿色,很快的確定了兩人的關係。

(As no normal women [Lin Hui-shu is the product of a mixed marriage between a mainland soldier and an aboriginal woman] dared to be associated with Chen Ying-jun, he really didn’t have much choice, and as, Lin Hui-shu was really quite attractive, the two quickly entered into a relationship.)

雖然偶有政治犯同學戲稱他無魚蝦也好,但多半是羨慕又帶嫉妒。 (Although some of his political prisoner comrades joked with him that he was really scraping the bottom of the barrel, most admired him with a little bit of jealousy mixed in.)

You’ll note that she uses it directly as an adjective here, Subject + adjectival phrase.

This phrase also works in Mandarin – hurrah!

4 thoughts on “Taiwanese phrase of the day: If there’s no fish, shrimp’s ok too 無魚,蝦嘛好 bô hî, hê mā ho

  1. Pingback: A Review of Li Ang’s ‘Everyone Chews on Sugarcane by the Side of the Road’ 李昂的《路邊甘蔗眾人啃》書評 | Translating Taiwanese Literature

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  3. Pingback: A Review of Li Ang’s ‘Everyone Chews on Sugarcane by the Side of the Road’ 李昂的《路邊甘蔗眾人啃》書評 | ChineseSpeakers

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