Pulling a fast one with 奧步 àupō͘

「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:

「尤其是大家其實現在都在期待就是民進黨最後會出什麼奧步。」

“Especially when at the minute everyone is actually waiting to see what crafty maneuver the DPP will end up pulling at the last minute.”

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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」:

「這個江宏傑真的有夠可惡,只會耍手段,不是用錢收買人,就是抓人的親人來威脅。」

“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.”

arc

You can hear her say it here (1:46;47).

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?”

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You can hear him say it here (0:40:56).

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*.

Many Shrimp: Thanks in Taiwanese! To-siā/多謝/多蝦

So previously we learned that 蝦 xiā (shrimp) in Mandarin can be slang for guy with a hot body but an ugly face (not you, you’re beautiful!). We also learned to pun with shrimp in Mandarin here, and learned the Taiwanese phrase 「無魚,蝦嘛好」 (bô hî, hê mā ho) here. Today, however, we’re going to mix it all up, with a Mandarin/Taiwanese/pun crossover:

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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.

 

The Control Yuan vs Getting 3 Meals a Day 「逐工就是顧三頓」

shabu-shabu-foodTVBS’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:

老百姓(in Mandarin) 逐工著是顧三頓爾(in Taiwanese)

逐工 ta̍k-kang 就是 tiō sī 顧三頓  kòo-sann-tǹg 爾爾 niā-niā*

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’ muí tsi̍tkang (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”.

 

Gone to sh*t! 走鐘(精)

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:

 

(Mandarin: 我的身材在生完第七胎以後
After having my seventh (child),
Taiwanese: 著(就)規個(整個)走鐘(精)去啊啦
My whole figure has gone to shit.

著規個走精去了 tio̍h kui-ê tsáu-tsing khì ah lah

Xi Jinping Breaks his Bowl: ‘More speed less haste’「食緊挵破碗」

3203291222_c0fe41d465_oOne 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.

 

‘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.