It’s always interesting to me to see which Taiwanese words people choose to use in otherwise Mandarin sentences, and it’s fun to speculate on the possible reasons behind the choice to switch, whether it’s humour, an attempt to sound down-to-earth or because the person being cited isTaiwanese.
I’ve become a regular listener to 台灣通勤第一品牌 (Commute For Me), and the largely Mandarin-speaking hosts used Taiwanese words and phrases from time to time.
Context: 我媽都說我們是很 好命hó-miā 了，不過我看到其他同學他們是更 好命hó-miā。你們這些 好命囝 hó-miā-kiáⁿ 齁。其實 好命囝hó-miā-kiáⁿ 是一個很負面的詞。 對對對，是在批評人家，酸的時候才講。 ( – My mum always said we were born with silver spoons in our mouths, but looking at my other classmates, they were even more like that. All you kids born with silver spoons in your mouths. Actually that term is quite a negative one. – Yes, yes, it’s critical of others, you only say it when you’re bitter. Listen here from 37:50
They’ve also been having fun with the Studio Ghibli movie stills on their Facebook Page (and in the comments section):
See the full post here:
There were a few other Taiwanese phrases peppered in there as well, but got blank stares when I tried to repeat them to my colleagues:
44:12 我信心put-tit – I didn’t have the confidence?
我媽有一陣子這樣子問我…….不一樣的事，還是問得我很煩。一直問我說，真的沒交女朋友？真的沒交齁？ màikāma-mapiáneh。問到有一年我跟她說我陽痿了。 (For a while my mum kept asking me… about something different, and she got me really annoyed because she kept asking. She kept asking, “Have you really not got a girlfriend? You really haven’t? Don’t lie to your mother now. She asked me so much I told her one year that I was impotent.) Listen from 45:26 – there were some Taiwanese interjections I didn’t catch just after this point, so appreciate any help.
In retrospect, I was perhaps a little harsh on the Commute For Me (台灣通勤第一品牌) podcast, as it has grown on me in the time since I penned this blog on Chinese-language podcasts from Taiwan. The interview style is quite intimate and discussions are quite frank, although you have to keep up to know who and what they’re talking about, as they don’t give their guests much of an intro.
Anyway, I was listening to their interview of hip hop artist Chunyan 春艷 and it was an interesting conversation about his life as an introvert in different subcultures (temple gangs, graffiti art, hip hop). More importantly, there was quite a lot of Mandarin-Taiwanese code-mixing, which is always fun.
I’ve listed some of the phrases below, although there were a lot more.
One of the most interesting was 𨑨迌 (normally the characters 企投 are borrowed to represent the sound):
𨑨迌 chhit-thô, which literally means to play or “遊玩” in Mandarin, but in the context of this conversation means getting up to no good in a gang context (what gang banging meant before porn redefined it), commonly referred to as “混” (hùn) in Mandarin:
“其實那裡就是不挑人 說真的 但我不能說這是陣頭 它只是一個𨑨迌(chhit-thô)” (Actually, they are not selective at all about people to be honest. But I’m not saying that this is really a temple parade (zhentou), it’s just messing around with gangs.) Listen here from 43:49
被ㄠ／被凹 phē au is an interesting one because the Mandarin and Taiwanese are similar enough that the bei is often pronounced in Mandarin, with the au being pronounced in Taiwanese. It means being forced into things or taken advantage of or “被勉強” in Mandarin.
你那時候去是有被挺的感覺 更多的時候是你要挺 對啊，因為是互相的 所有別的人來的時候你就要挺他 所以有時候會覺得被凹，對不對 挺你一而已 不過你要挺他五 (-So when you went there, you felt they had you back -More often it’s you that has to have their back -Yes, because it’s mutual, so anyone who came there, you had to have their backs -So sometimes you’d feel forced into things, right? -They have your back over something trivial, but you have to have theirs over something really serious) Listen here from 44:51
Another example is captured here in people trying to get engineers to reformat their computers for free (found on a jobs page on Facebook):
(Tell us how people try and take advantage of your profession! “You’re a doctor? You have time to do me a favor and take out this tumor, right?” “You just have to talk right, why don’t you just do me a favor and argue my lawsuit for me! It’s pretty easy for you as a lawyer, no?” “You’re an engineer, right? Can you fix my computer for me? You wouldn’t charge a friend though, right?”)
Other bits and pieces I thought were fun, was the use of the Taiwanese word for temple (宮kiong) in the context of a Mandarin sentence to indicate that the temple here stands in for gang affiliation – although it’s not explicit. The other one was a phrase I’ve heard a lot but couldn’t quite pin down. Looking it up in dictionaries, it is defined as “to stand up” but 徛起來(khiā-khí-lâi) seemed to imply being worked or hyped up here, which is why it stuck with me more.
我們這個宮(kiong)跟另外一個宮(kiong)的一個年輕人 有人有衝突，然後聽說等一下會有人來處理這件事情。 (A young person from our temple got into a conflict with someone from another temple, and some people were coming in a bit to sort things out. Listen here from 28:46
那我朋友就說，我要去打 不要啦 我要去我要去 他那時候就整個徛起來(khiā-khí-lâi)了 我要去我要去 (My friend said, I wanna go fight Don’t I wanna go, I wanna go He’d already gotten all worked up at that point I wanna go, I wanna go) Listen here from 29:09
Any additional suggestions welcome!
You can see the rap battle they repeatedly reference here:
The Taiwanese equivalent to 「兇」 (Mandarin xiong1 fierce/ferocious/tetchy/short-tempered) is generally written as 「歹」(dai3 in Mandarin) and pronounced pháiⁿ. However, recently, the substitution of the word 「派」(pai4) has been cropping up in otherwise Mandarin sentences, often in an indication of an underlying irony or sarcasm behind the comment.
This first came to my attention, when an acquaintance posted this meme in response to another person’s comments in a Facebook thread:
咧 here stands in for the Taiwanese for 在 (Thanks for the tip Leon) 工 is standing in for the Taiwanese pronunciation of 講 三 is standing in for what 小 is standing in for the Taiwanese word for sperm, but here it’s just like using f.ck or hell.
Another friend then said “很派” in response. And given who the friend is, I’m assuming the sarcasm was intended.
魯妹拿出逗貓棒準備跟灰塵貓來場激烈的運動 沒想到貓貓一把搶走逗貓棒自己玩得很開心 還露出凶狠的表情 (The single loser that I am took out a cat teaser so Dusty could get some vigorous exercise, but with one swoop the cat took the teaser and started playing with it himself all happy, and even flashed me a fierce look.) With reference to this image:
很派 (So ferocious)
學姐貓只有在等罐頭的時候很派 (My cat is only ferocious when he’s waiting for me to open cans.) With reference to this image:
Another example is when last year, Taipei’s subway lines all got their own Facebook accounts, and the Orange or Zhonghe-Xinlu Line (中和新蘆線) was called out as being 「很派」:
(Brave choice to borrow terms from sub-cultures to subvert stereotypes
And the most talked about on Facebook and most popular, was the vicious Zhonghe-Xinlu Line, which never shied from calling people 88-1 (87, Taiwanese pronunciation of 白癡). It’s character was based on the image of loyal temple brotherhoods (read: gang members). While it was interacting with internet users, its unique character had internet users lining up to be cussed out.)
Hmm… yeah, I’m not really clear on how that was subverting stereotypes either, but ok…
OK, before class is dismissed, time to set some homework: use the following words in your Facebook comments over the next week to try and add a little maturity and open-mindedness to the conversation:
「奧步」 is the common written form for the Taiwanese expression 「漚步」 àupō͘ meaning a sly or crafty move. This is just one of those phrases you’ll hear again and again. I heard it a while ago in the run-up to the election:
“Especially when at the minute everyone is actually waiting to see what crafty maneuver the DPP will end up pulling at the last minute.”
You can hear it around the 11:04 point in the video below:
I heard it again just now while getting my hair cut (shorn off), in the Taiwanese soap opera 《炮仔聲》 (Ep 327) playing in the background. It was translated into Mandarin in the subtitles as 「耍手段」:
“That Kang Hong-kiat is a real piece of work, he’s always got some sly trick up his sleeve. If he isn’t buying people off, he’s using people’s families to threaten them.”
Earlier in the episode, one character describes getting a woman drunk in order to get her into bed (quite rightly) as an 「奧步」, although this time it’s translated into Mandarin as 「卑鄙手段」 “how could I use that kind of dirty tactic?”
It’s one of those really useful phrases that’s really hard to find the right situation to use. In the first example I used, it’s used in a Mandarin sentence, so you can use it that way too, but make sure your tones are on point if you’re going to, or you’ll stand there shamefacedly repeating yourself until you have to spell it out like I did in the kitchenette at work when I called my colleague a 抓耙仔jiàu-pê-á/liàu-pê-á (a snitch). I said bei instead of pei or something *shrugs*.
These commemorative stamps (they can’t actually be used as postage stamps, they’re just decorative) were launched by the Taiwan Anti-Tuberculosis Association. The one with all the shrimps on it is their way of saying thank you to those who bought stamps in support of the cause.
Why does a bunch of shrimps mean thank you? 多蝦 duō xiā (many shrimps) is a transliteration of the Taiwanese for thank you to-siā (the actual characters are likely 「多謝」 which is how it is normally written).
So next time you’re in a taxi with a driver with a nice body but whose face has a “nice personality”, remember “many shrimp” and you can charm him by saying thanks the Taiwanese way.
TVBS’s ‘The Situation Room’ has returned to talking about the impeachment proceedings launched by the Control Yuan against National Taiwan University President Kuan Chung-ming after he’d been in the post just a week. The discussion reveals a lot of interesting theories about the role of the「獨派」, or ‘pro-independence’, faction within the Democratic Progressive Party, who President Tsai is said to have appointed to the Control Yuan as a compromise, but who are now allegedly going rogue.
Kuan has been accused (so far) of having a second post while being an official, writing editorials in Yizhoukan （一週刊）, although there is a lot of debate as to whether or not this constitutes a second post, as contributing to magazines and newspapers is quite a common practice among officials.
In the course of this debate, Cheng Li-wen (鄭麗文) used a Taiwanese phrase *09:50* to try and communicate what she feels is the disconnect between the priorities of the DPP and of the public:
逐工 ta̍k-kang is equivalent to 每天 in Mandarin (every day)
就是 tiō sī is the same as Mandarin (are just)
顧三頓 kòo-sann-tǹg is equivalent to 顧三餐 in Mandarin (to concern oneself with getting three square meals)
爾爾 niā-niā is equivalent to 而已 in Mandarin (and only that)
*I’m not sure if she says niā once or twice here.
From the context of her comments, we can guess why she chose to use a Taiwanese phrase. She’s talking about and appealing to the common man who hasn’t got time for politics, and Taiwanese is a way of appealing to this Taiwanese everyman.
Interestingly in the 五月天 (Mayday) song ‘I Love You無望’ both the phrase 逐工 ta̍k-kang (0.20), and ‘每一工’ muítsi̍t–kang (0.31) are used, to mean “every day”. In Mandarin 逐日 is more formal and is closer to on a daily basis, whereas 每天／每一天 is less formal. I’m not quite sure of the differences in Taiwanese, although one Taiwanese friend suggested that 逐工 can mean “the entire day”.
For anyone keen on keeping up with current affairs in Taiwan but with a funny edge to it, I really recommend ‘Stand up, Brian’ (博恩夜夜秀). It takes its cue from Western late night formats and isn’t afraid to take the piss.
The show was crowd-funded and is run by young comics, so there’s a lot of contemporary slang and references which is quite fun to parse.
In this short clip, they’re taking the piss out of Taiwanese diet supplement advertisements. A woman says she’s lost her figure completely after having seven kids, but she uses the phrase 「走精」 (tsáu-tsing), commonly represented by the characters 「走鐘」 (presumably because they are pronounced the same in Taiwanese 「精」 (tsing) and 「鐘」 (tsing) ). The phrase can be roughly translated as “losing your former lustre/losing your sex appeal”. The sentence starts at 0:39 in the clip below:
After having my seventh (child),
My whole figure has gone to shit.
One of the great things about living in Taiwan is that when political leaders make speeches, like the speech made by Xi Jinping on Jan. 2, there is a flurry of discussions and critique on political panel shows and on social media, and people aren’t scared to express their own opinions on them. This is also a great learning opportunity, as people are more likely to come out with an interesting turn of phrase when they’re not being overly careful about what they’re saying.
One, such political panel show that I’ve grown fond of over the years is TVBS’s political chat show ‘The Situation Room’. Cheng Li-wen (鄭麗文), a politician and broadcaster previously aligned with the Democratic Progressive Party but who later became a Kuomintang member and is now the KMT Vice Secretary-General, is a regular on the show and is one of the more humourous panelists.
In critiquing Xi’s speech in which he proposed a “one nation, two systems” approach to Taiwan, she said that he’s trying to push cross-strait relations forward at such a pace that he risks not getting anywhere at all. She used a Taiwanese phrase similar to “more speed less haste”, 「食緊挵破碗」(lit. eating with such haste that you break your bowl), which is pronounced “Tsia̍h-kín lòng-phuà uánn“:
You can hear her say this phrase in Taiwanese while she’s primarily speaking in Mandarin at 5:27.
Photo by timlewisnm, licensed under Creative Commons.
A friend of mine posted a Taiwanese phrase in a Mandarin-language Facebook post recently that caught my eye:
The post translates roughly to:
For the first time in my life I got a drink for NT$1 in a lucky draw, and it turned out to be when I was buying a coffee for [name omitted], isn’t this what they call [lit.] the pig not getting fat, while the dog balloons.
There seems to be several variations of this phrase, including the one above, the version my colleague suggested 「豬沒肥，肥到狗」(ti bô pûi, pûi tio̍h káu) and the one listed on the Ministry of Education dictionary 「豬毋大，大對狗去」(Ti m̄ tuā, tuā tuì káu khì (Click link for audio)). A literal reading of the phrase is someone being unable to fatten their pig for market, while the dog, which is meant to serve as a guard dog, and should be agile, is getting fat instead.
One explanation of this phrase I found at this blog, suggests that it was originally quite a misogynistic phrase, as it could be used to describe a situation wherein the son of a house, who would actually benefit the family if he got a good education, gets bad grades in school, while the daughter, who wouldn’t benefit the family with an education, gets good grades:
A very horoscope-heavy profile on Weiling Chen (陳慧翎), the director of the Taiwanese drama On Children (《你的孩子不是你的孩子》) and the actor in the recent first episode, Ivy Yin (尹馨) makes reference to this interpretation, when the director (Chen) mentions that her mother once used the phrase, comparing her and her younger brother:
“Piscean Chen Weiling’s pressure growing up came from not being understood. She always remembers when her mother said, “the pig won’t get fat, while the dog gets fatter,” questioning why she was more brilliant than her little brother.”
It does seem to have a wider application, however, as both the poster and the subject of my friend’s post were male. In this context it’s kind of a mixture between ‘casting pearls before swine’ and a bitter cry of ‘why do some guys have all the luck.’ My friend is suggesting (jokingly) that he deserves good luck, but instead it’s being wasted on his friend.
A report in the Liberty Times used the phrase in a political context too, although the fact that Tsai Ing-wen is a woman may make the use of the phrase more natural. If you couldn’t tell from the subtle objective tone below, Liberty Times is not a big fan of the KMT:
“The KMT has always considered cross-strait relations its strength, and its leading elites take their orders from Beijing. Now, it seems, this has become toxic to their election hopes, so these heroes are unable to make use of their skills in this department.
As the situation continues to evolve, if Tsai Ing-wen doesn’t make any mistakes, the overall trend of the November election isn’t hard to guess at, as only the party in government will be sitting pretty in the mid-term elections. It’s only this situation that will drive Beijing to reconsider their stance on Taiwan. Cross-strait tensions are unlikely to ease until next year. However, China, in the end, is sure to discover that “the pig isn’t getting fatter, while the dog is ballooning”. Isn’t this dialectic quite good fun?”
This suggests that China will end up working with the DPP (the fat dog), rather than the KMT (the skinny pig), despite its idea of which party should be the best for it to work with.
There is a great columnist in Taiwan, Chou Wei-hang, who goes under the nickname 「人渣文本」 (Scum Text), often featured in magazines in Taiwan. Always a column to look out for. I was reading a particularly scathing article he wrote ripping into Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), when I came across this cool pun, which harkens back to one of my previous posts 「無魚，蝦也好」:
Ho Nuan-hsuan fired one of the union air hostesses for damaging China Airlines’ image. Does the New Tide faction (within the DPP) think that he did a good job? Does Tuan Yi-kang (DPP Legislator) think he did a good job? Does Cheng Wen-Tsan (Taoyuan Mayor for DPP) think he did a good job? Cheng Yun-Peng (DPP Legislator), you highly recommended Ho Nuan-hsuan (as chairperson of China Airlines), why don’t you evaluate his performance after taking the job? A small blemish doesn’t spoil jade? Shrimp doesn’t spoil fish? It’s both foolish and blind?
The author takes the common idiom 「瑕不掩瑜？」 (xia2bu4yan3yu2), meaning literally that “one blemish doesn’t spoil the jade” and figuratively that just because there are disadvantages to something, doesn’t mean that they aren’t great overall. He then substitutes the 「瑕」(xia2) meaning “flaw” for 「蝦」(xia1) meaning “shrimp/prawn”, and 「瑜」 (yu2) meaning the “lustre of jade” for “魚” (yu2) meaning “fish”.
Now the phrase reads, “shrimp cannot spoil the fish”, and this is a nod to the Taiwanese phrase 「無魚，蝦也好」 (bô hî, hê mā ho):
Although this phrase was originally used to indicate “Something is better than nothing”, here it is used to mock the idea that you can replace something good with something lesser and still claim to be great overall. Here it particularly refers to the way politicians and others step down from their campaign promises with less appetizing versions of policies. This is a similar usage to the one I pointed out in Li Ang’s novel chronicling the breakdown of idealism and misogyny of the opposition activists that eventually formed the DPP:
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.
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.
Riffing again on the “yu2” and “xia1” sounds, he adds the phrase 「又愚又瞎」, where 「愚」 (yu2), meaning “foolish”, is a homophone of 「魚」 (and 「瑜」) and 「瞎」(xia1) is a homophone of 「蝦」 (and a near homophone of 「瑕」xia2).