‘When you can’t fatten your pig, but your dog is ballooning’ 「豬不肥,肥到狗去」

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A friend of mine posted a Taiwanese phrase in a Mandarin-language Facebook post recently that caught my eye:

「人生第一次抽中1元飲料,居然是幫[某某人]買咖啡,這就叫豬沒肥,去肥到狗~~」

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:

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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:

雙魚座的陳慧翎成長壓力來自不被了解,難忘媽媽說過「豬不肥、肥到狗」,意旨為何她比弟弟優秀。

“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:

國民黨一向認為兩岸關係為其強項,其領導菁英都想跑北京領命,現在恐怕成了選票毒藥,致英雄無用武之地。

在這樣的情況演變下,如果蔡英文不犯錯,十一月的選舉大勢不難推估,唯有執政黨穩固了這次中期選舉,才有可能促使北京重新考慮其對台對口的設定,兩岸在明年才有機會鬆動緊繃的局面。不過,中國到頭來肯定會發現竟是「豬不肥,肥到狗」。這樣的辯證關係,豈不是很好玩嗎?

“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.

Punning with Shrimp and Fish 「蝦不掩魚」

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」:

何煖軒用有損華航形象為由幹掉一位工會空姐,新潮流覺得這樣做很好嗎?段宜康覺得這樣做很好嗎?鄭文燦覺得這樣做很對嗎?鄭運鵬你也力薦何煖軒啊,要不要評價一下他上任的表現?瑕不掩瑜?蝦不掩魚?又愚又瞎?

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:

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.

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).

 

「ㄆㄨㄣ(潘)系列」 Swill, leftovers, rice water and other delicacies

When browsing a few of the Chinese-language posts that come up on my Facebook feed, I saw the following (public) post from China Times journalist Feng Kuang-yuan:

The first section of the post reads as follows:

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(之一)

昨天與女兒聊到一個話題
就是:家裡要不要來擬一份MENU
這樣,如果有客人來
就可以讓他們選擇想吃的餐點

我們都覺得這點子很好
就開始想菜單上的大類
我心裡想的是,漢堡系列、Omelete系列、或義大利
麵系列之類的
可是她提出來的第一個系列是:
ㄆㄨㄣ系列

(1)
Yesterday I was discussing something with my daughter
This was whether or not we should plan out a menu for our house
That way, if guests visit
We can offer them a choice of dishes

We both thought this was a good idea
So we started to think of different sections for the menu
I was thinking of things like a range of hamburgers, of omelettes, of pasta
But the first range she mentioned was
a range of leftovers

I found an article in the ET Today from 2014 which helped explain the meaning of the Taiwanese word 「ㄆㄨㄣ」 (pun/phun). It explains that Chinese character (本字) associated with the term is the popular surname 「潘」 (Pān in Mandarin), which originally meant “the water leftover after washing rice”. The term can now be used to refer to leftover foods or kitchen waste that is normally used to feed pigs, so another translation might be “swill” or 「餿水 sou1shui3」(food waste) in Mandarin.

This definition is also featured in the MOE Taiwanese dictionary as below:

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The character is pronounced “phun” (Click through to hear).

The ET Today article came out in the midst of the gutter oil scandals and apparently kids surnamed 「潘」 were teased at the time, being called 「ㄆㄨㄣ小孩」. Kids can be so cruel. A Taiwanese teacher cited in the article, suggested that an alternative character be invented to represent the word to avoid embarrassment for all the Mr and Miss Swills out there. He advocated the combination of the food radical 「食」 alongside 「賁」 (bēn in Mandarin). Although the latter means “energetic” on its own, he suggested it because it makes up the right part of the character 「噴」 (pēn in Mandarin), which means “to spray or spurt”:

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Afternote (Nov. 16, 2017): 饙 fēn (to steam rice) is in fact already a character, so in this case the Taiwanese teacher cited in the ET Today article is suggesting borrowing this character for a new purpose, rather than creating a new character.

泊車 paak3 che1 English interpreted through Cantonese to Mandarin – Parking

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Parking Lot APP CEO Ronald Yu (second from left)

I recently attended a conference in Taipei at which the CEO of parking app 「停車大聲公」 (ParkingLotApp) Roland Yu (余致緯) described his company’s transition from a mobile-based valet parking application to an app that provides information to drivers on cheap and convenient parking spots near their destination where they can park themselves, allowing them to pre-book times and check availability. It was an interesting question and answer session and I’ll go into it in more depth in the IP Observer later this month.

What interested me in terms of language, however, was that although his app bears the word 「停車」 (ting2che1), meaning “to park”, Ronald kept using the word “pa車” during his speech.

During his brief introduction to his business, he mentioned that he’d written an article online detailing his company’s transition. On inspection of this, I found that he’s used the term 「泊車」, which although looks temptingly like 「怕」 is pronounced “bo2che1”. So why was he pronouncing it “pa”?

Continue reading

The curious case of 「開嘜」

I was at my bus stop this morning when I saw this sign on a shop that pricked my curiosity:

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The first bit is the classic shaven ice dish that’s very popular in Taiwan 「剉冰」(Mandarin cuo4bing1), almost always referred to by its Taiwanese pronunciation: chhoah冰

(Side note, you should definitely try this place if you want some pretty stylized shaven ice – 路地 氷の怪物 (Street Ice Monsters) – there are two in Taichung and one in Taipei)

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)

Anyway, it was the second two characters that intrigued me more: 「開嘜」.

Looking online I found several examples of its usage, but they all seemed to point to a different meaning, referring to starting filming or broadcasting. One of my friends suggested that 「嘜」 is short for 「麥克風」, a borrowing from the English microphone, with an additional mouth radical to emphasize the difference from the original meaning of 「麥」, “wheat”. So in this sense it would be something similar to where the director shouts “rolling” on a film shoot, referring to when the sound starts getting recorded.

This meaning is suggested by the Executive Yuan’s Youtube channel, titled 「行政院開麥啦」 (notice the 口 in front of 麥 isn’t included), translating roughly to “The Executive Yuan start broadcasting”.

Likewise with this article on the broadcasting of judicial proceedings: 「司法,開嘜啦!」.

This doesn’t really help us with the sign at the bus stop, however, and it’s most likely that the character 「嘜」 `(mai4 ㄇㄞˋ) is just standing in for its homonym 「賣」(mai4 ㄇㄞˋ), although I’m not exactly sure why. It could just be to attract attention or for comedic effect. If anyone has a better suggestion, feel free to put it out there in the comments section.

 

Honor Among Thieves? DPP Legislator Wu Bing-rui on the New Power Party 「連江湖道義都無」

WuBingRui.pngI thought this clip from Democratic Progressve Party legislator Wu Bing-rui (吳秉叡) talking about New Power Party legislator Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌)was quite amusing. Huang backed out of signing an agreement on the 7 day holiday bill and insisted on changing the language from “completed examination (of the bill)” to “examination”, supposedly due to pressure from labor groups, much to the chagrin of the majority leader of the Legislative Yuan Ke Chien-ming (柯建銘). Ke then called Huang a 「媽寶」 or “mummy’s boy”. The change in the language doesn’t really do much to the content of the bill, as it has the same effect with or without the word “completed”. Wu has taken a lot of flak for his defiant response to protests by labor groups.

In the video Wu uses Taiwanese to state:

江湖道義都無 kang-ôtō   to   (Mandarin: 連湖湖道義都沒有)

Without even the Jianghu honor code/Without even the honor code of the mafia

This is the same as in Mandarin. Jianghu can refer to the community of martial artists in martial arts fiction novels or alternatively to the mafia. So essentially Wu is saying that the New Power Party don’t even have the honor code of the mafia. I thought this was a bit of a gaffe, given that it unintentionally implies that the DPP functions with an honor code like that of the mafia, hardly a comparison they really want to be making at this point.

‘Capable’ in Taiwanese: 「gâu」

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A scene from the play; Source: Greenray Theater Company

I spotted this word used in three places in the second of the Human Condition (《人間條件》) series of plays, ‘Her and the Men in Her Life’, by Wu Nien-chen.

The first situation is when a man discovers his wife, from a Taiwanese-speaking family) is capable of speaking Mandarin well:

Yuki: 我是議員太太的是我都記得要捲舌……

先生很意外,沈默了一下。

先生:這麼gau哦,若這樣,囝仔[小孩子]的北京語妳順便把伊[他]教乎好,北京話不輪轉的人,後擺免[不用/別]想要在社會跟人站起……

《人間條件2:她與她生命中的男人們》臺北市: 圓神文叢,2007年。

This translates as follows:

Yuki: When I say “I’m the legislator’s wife” I even remember to curve my tongue for the consonants.

Her husband is taken aback and is silent for a moment.

The husband: How capable you are. Since this is the case, you should teach the children Beijing-style Mandarin while you’re at it. Anyone who can’t get by in Beijing-style Mandarin won’t be able to make it in society…

Pronounced gâu, the “gau” above is equivalent to “能幹” in Mandarin and “capable” or “skilled” in English.

The second instance is an exchange between two friends who haven’t seen each other in a while. One of them has gone from selling clothes in a market to heading up a company and is being modest about it:

Yuki: 上遍[次]看到你的時候,你在市場賣衫……越一個頭,尚沒也是一個企業家……總是有一些鹹酸苦ㄐㄧㄚ……

武雄:那是機會好,不是我gau……

《人間條件2:她與她生命中的男人們》臺北市: 圓神文叢,2007年。

This translates as follows:

Yuki: Last time I saw you, you were selling blouses at a market… and now in the blink of an eye, at the very least you’re an entrepreneur… Whatever the case you seem to have gone through a lot…

Wu Hsiung: It was just a good opportunity, it’s not that I’m particularly talented

The third instance is as follows:

Yuki:你兒子開7-11哦?幾間?三間……哪會麼gau……

《人間條件2:她與她生命中的男人們》臺北市: 圓神文叢,2007年。

Which translates to:

Yuki: Your son opened a 7-11? How many stores? Three… Who knew he was so capable

The gâu also features in the phrase 假gâu (ké-gâu) for “trying to be clever” which I previously posted on.

Let’s All Stop Pretending We Can Do Anything About Chen Shui-bian: Breaking It Down in Taiwanese「免安呢假心」 bián án-ní ké-sim

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A picture of Chen Shui-bian on his release from prison with the caption “Chen Shui-bian gets out of prison and waves to his supporters to show his gratitude to them”; Source

In a discussion between panelists from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Kuomintang (KMT) and media commentators on whether former Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian is too healthy to remain on medical parole from jail on TVBS’s ‘Situation Room’, the former DPP legislator Shen Fu-hsiung (沈富雄) broke into Taiwanese to try and cut through some of the political bullshit being spouted by both sides. The gist of his point was that nobody in the studio really believes that Chen Shui-bian will go back to prison during the four years the DPP are in power, so there’s no point in arguing over this or that medical report. He also says that given Chen Shui-bian is on medical parole for political reasons, then he should be less provocative about it and not argue with people. This is in reference to his argument with a street pedlar selling bread in a Kaohsiung park who filmed Chen Shui-bian walking in the park. Chen and his friend approached and threatened him with a lawsuit and an “anonymous” tip-off later caused the bread seller to get in trouble with the government. You can get a sense of the effect of Shen using Taiwanese in the middle of a conversation being conducted in Mandarin from the wry smiles of the other panelists. Use of Taiwanese in Taiwan is generally more direct and emotive than Mandarin, so it’s often used when politicians want to convey sincerity (or forthrightness).  I’ve indicated the code-switching between Mandarin and Taiwanese below:

Taiwanese: 免安呢假心  bián án-ní ké-sim   ( 不用那麼假惺惺  / Let’s not pretend )

Mandarin: 也不用定期有醫療報告  (And we don’t need regular medical reports)

Mandarin: 我們大家也不要在這裡吵來吵去 (And we don’t need all of us sitting here arguing back and forth)

Mandarin: 因為這個都是一種表態而已 (Because it only serves to show where we personally stand on the issue)

Taiwanese: 我ê感覺是按呢   góa  ê  kám-kak   án-ní (Mandarin: 我的感覺是這樣子 / English: My feeling is)

Taiwanese: 阿扁啊,即然會當行到這個地步 到厝裡 更加出來散步 a píⁿ a  kì-jiân  ē-tàng  kiâⁿ-kàu chit-ê  tē-pō͘  tńg  kàu  chhù  nih   kèng-ka chhut-lâi  sàm-pō͘ (Mandarin: 阿扁啊,即然可以走到這個地步 回到家裡 還能出來散步 / English: Since Chen Shui-bian has already come this far – he’s returned home and he can even go out for walks)

Mandarin: 我覺得要守份一點,要低調一點 (He should wind his neck in a little and do things a little more low key)

Mandarin: 不要給人口舌啦 (Don’t give people anything to talk about)

Taiwanese: 對無對   tio̍h    tio̍h (Yes or no?)

Taiwanese: 別囂掰啦   m̄-ài hiau-pai la (Mandarin: 別囂張啦 / English: He shouldn’t be arrogant)

Mandarin: 不要給人家看到這個樣子 (He shouldn’t let other people see him act that way)

Taiwanese: 你若想講我按呢做時 人看著礙目      sióng kóng  góa án-ní  chò  ,  lāng  khòaⁿ-tio̍h  gāi-ba̍k  (Mandarin: 你若想講我這樣做的時候,人家看到會覺得礙眼 / If I do this kind of thing, people  will get irked by seeing it.

看到 khòaⁿ-tio̍h (Seeing that)

真的很刺眼 (Is really irritating)

I wonder will Chen Shui-bian take his advice.

If I’ve made any mistakes, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Mixing Taiwanese Proverbs?: 「相罵無好話,打架恨無力」 sio-mē bô hó-ōe, sio-phah hīn bô-la̍t

So by now everyone’s quite likely seen the photo below of Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Su Chen-ching (蘇震清) choking Kuomintang (KMT) legislator Chen Yi-min (陳宜民) over the latter’s attempt to disrupt the DPP’s passing of a holiday bill. The bill is an altered version of a KMT bill that the DPP had opposed while in opposition. The KMT reportedly has little opposition to the bill itself, but were objecting to what they see as DPP partisan hypocrisy in trying to pass a bill they had previously opposed and in passing the bill without allowing any time for debate. The KMT are not necessarily opposed to the practice of passing a bill without debate, but are rather a little miffed that the DPP is doing this despite praising and visiting students taking part in the Student Sunflower Movement, who were protesting the very same method of passing bills when the KMT was trying to pass a cross-strait trade-in-services act in 2014. Despite more publicity being given to the photo below, the KMT reportedly stuck the proverbial boot into a few DPP legislators too, but less conspicuously.

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Photo source: Wild East Magazine

Anyway, this post is not primarily concerned with politics, but rather with a Taiwanese phrase used by former New Party legislator Li Sheng-feng (李勝峰) when commentating on the scuffle on TVBS’s political chat show ‘The Situation Room’:

 

「相罵無好話,打架恨無力」 sio-mē    hó-ōe,  sio-phah  hīn bô-la̍t

Nothing good or auspicious is said when people are cursing at each other; people hate themselves for not being able to hit each other harder in a fight.

I originally thought that this was a mixture of two phrases in Taiwanese:

1. 「相罵無好話  相打無揀位」sio-mē     hó-ōesio-phah  kéng ūi which means “It’s easy to say awful things when arguing and to underestimate your strength in a fight”.

2. 「相罵恨無聲,相拍恨無力」sio-mē  hīn  bô-siaⁿ , sio-phah  hīn bô-la̍t which means “When in an argument, you hate yourself for not being able to shout them down louder, and in a fight you’ll hate yourself for not being able to hit them harder”, or, you’ll always try and find a way to bring the other person down.

But my (very gracious) Taiwanese friend called his mother in the south and she said that the phrase that the guy says on the TV program does actually exist and that it is the same as the meaning of No. 2 listed above. But she also pointed out that people in southern Taiwan say “hūn” instead of “hīn”.

Feel free to share your opinion or any similar phrases you have in the comments section.

 

Taiwanese phrase: Pretence of diffidence when you really can’t help yourself -「愛甲給細二」/「愛食假細膩」 ài chia̍h ké sè-jī

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I was talking to my friend when he started talking about the vibe in Taipei bars, in the sense that people always complain about them every week, but still end up there anyway, due to fear of missing out. He said the following:
每周都出現在同樣夜店的人 嘴中總是掛著"I hate this place" “so boring here”但還是每周都出現,「愛甲給細二」。
(The people who turn up at the nightclubs every week are always saying “I hate this place” and “It’s so boring here”, but every week they turn up, they pretend diffidence, but they love it really despite themselves.)
The Taiwanese phrase he uses 「愛甲給細二」 is likely 「愛食假細膩」 ài chia̍h  sè-jī. This is equivalent 「貪吃假裝客氣」 in Mandarin, so “people who love to eat, pretending to be polite about it”.
There is also an alternate phrase with the same meaning in Taiwanese, which is pointed out at the Taiwan Language blog:
「iau(夭)鬼假細膩」  iau-kúi  sè-lī  which translates as “a glutton pretending to be polite”.
 Photo from Greed (1924) – Public Domain