From 穿褲仔 to the 婆/T dichotomy Lesbians and putting on a spread in Taiwan

You have to respect a gay male podcast host for doing an entire episode on middle-aged and elderly lesbians! That’s exactly what the WetBoyRoom ( 「潤男的Room」) podcast host did this week, interviewing the contributors to a book about this subject called 《阿媽的女朋友》 (Grandma’s Girlfriends), lesbians from older generations in Taiwan.

If you’re not super familiar with the lesbian scene in Taiwan, many of them of about my generation (30s) tend to identify as either 「T」 (short for the English word “Tomboy”) or 「婆」 (lipstick lesbian). With time, the lines between these categories have blurred just as they have in the male gay community, and many people now consider these terms outdated and being a heteronormative way of perceiving gay relationships (i.e. trying to figure out who is “the man” and who is “the woman” in the relationship). It was interesting to hear in the podcast that this dichotomy was actually a more recent phenomenon in the lesbian community, but a Taiwanese term in the podcast really peaked my interest. At the 10:55 mark, one of the characters is described (in a Mandarin sentence) in Taiwanese as 「漂撇 ê 穿 仔」phiau-phiat ê chhēng khò͘ á (瀟灑的穿褲子/ dashing trouser-wearer). Although I think the host actually said 「穿褲ê」, 「穿褲仔」 or girls who wore trousers, could be identified more easily as lesbians (if they were in fact lesbians) back in the day. So, it can be considered as an older version of the concept of 「T」.

Another handy Taiwanese term in the podcast (which you could likely insert in a Mandarin sentence to compliment a dinner-party host, or, more likely, to mock your friend’s paltry offering of a packet of Lays as an hors d’oeuvre) is 「腥臊」 chhe-chhau (also pronounced chheⁿ-chhau or chhiⁿ-chhau), which is equivalent to the term 「豐盛」 in Mandarin, meaning “rich and sumptuous”:

那天同媽準備了很豐盛的食物,不只是麻油雞,我記得她準備了一整桌非常腥臊chhe-chhau click for audio) 的菜。

(That day, Aunty Tong prepared a bounty of food, not just sesame oil chicken, I remember she prepared an entire table of rich sumptuous food.)

Definitely looks like an interesting books to read, will have to add it to my list!

Penis Jokes Without Borders: Decoding Taiwanese

I heard this joke referenced on yesterday’s Commute for Me (臺通) podcast. The host didn’t actually tell the whole joke, but just the punchline:

「有兩個人一起生活 一個名叫詠蘭,另一個名叫貢九 詠蘭負責打獵,貢九則是負責在家煮飯做事 有一天,家裡發生大火,有人就趕快去通知在外打獵的詠蘭,要詠蘭快去叫貢九逃。 詠蘭叫貢九逃 用懶叫打石頭(台語)」 (I found the original joke on Dcard here).

(“There were once two people who lived together, one was called Yonglan (詠蘭) and the other was called Gongjiu (貢九). Yonglan took responsibility for hunting, while Gongjiu cooked at home and did the chores. One day there was a big fire in the house, so someone quickly went to find Yonglan, who was out hunting, to tell Gongjiu to flee. Yonglan told Gongjiu to flee.”)

Haha, right? (*smile, nod and no-one will notice you didn’t get it*). Yes, the joke doesn’t work in English because it plays on the differences between Mandarin and Taiwanese. So the phrase 「詠蘭叫貢九逃」(yǒnglán jiào gòngjiǔ táo / “Yonglan tells Gongjiu to flee”) in Mandarin, sounds like the Taiwanese 用 lān鳥 摃 石頭 iōng lān-chiáu  kòng chio̍h-thâu (“Using your penis to hit rocks”). Brings back the heady whiff of teenage angst and high school locker rooms, right?

You can listen to one of the hosts telling this joke on the podcast below from the 9:38 point:

「這故事我從頭到尾有點忘記了,然後呢,最後就是出現一句話。詠蘭,裡面有個角色,阿姨叫貢九,然後詠蘭叫貢九逃。是台語『用 lān鳥 摃 石頭』。」

(“I’ve forgotten the ins and outs of the story, but, there’s a sentence at the end. Yonglan is one of the characters, and her aunt is Gongjiu. And so, YongLan tells Gongjiu to flee. Which sounds like “Using your penis to hit rocks” in Taiwanese.

Lost in Translation: ‘A Boy Name Flora A’

Recently I’ve been getting into a Netflix adaptation of 《花甲男孩》, a book written by Yang Fu-min (楊富閔). The author was in the younger year of my graduate institute while I was studying at NTU and I previously interviewed him (awkwardness all round) here. The series is called ‘A Boy Name Flora A’ in English (not quite sure how that got past the editors). I’ve just started, but so far it’s quite funny. As a lot of the humor in the show involves wordplay, however, I have to wonder how much of it comes across in English.

One example is in the first episode, where you can see the difficulty in trying to translate a dad joke:

-欸,你懂易經嗎?
我只知道易經他媽是誰
-誰?
液*晶(yìjīng)螢幕 (易經in(他)母())

液 is normally pronounced yì in Mandarin in Taiwan, although elsewhere you’ll find it listed as yè

-Oi, do you understand the Book of Changes?
– I only know who the Book of Changes mother is
– Who?
– An LCD screen (homophone for “the mother of the Book of Changes” in Taiwanese)

So in, Taiwanese, “in ” means 「他媽」 or 「他母」. The in is sometimes written using the following character (a combination of 亻 and 因):

Alternatively 怹 can be used.

The translation on the Netflix series, understandably maybe, gives up on trying to show where the humour is:
– Hey, do you know what I-Ching is?
– I only know its mother.
– Who is it?
– It’s I-Ching as in an LCD screen.

It brought me back to my days hanging around with a crowd from Pingtung where all the punchlines of the jokes were in Taiwanese – and just didn’t sound funny when they “explained the joke” in Mandarin after the fact.

I imagine those translating it also struggled to make a distinction between the “feel” of the Taiwanese and the Chinese in the English translation.

Anyway – lunch-break is almost over, so I’ll leave you with another bit of slang the show taught me today:

「蛇」(snake) here is short for 「魯蛇」 which is a transliteration of “loser”:

「我一生下來也沒有這麼蛇啊」
(I didn’t start out a loser.)

I’d never heard 蛇 used independently of the 「魯」 in this way before.

Podcast Code Switching: 好命囝 hó-miā-kiáⁿ Born with a silver spoon in your mouth

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.

Yesterday they used the term 好命囝 hó-miā-kiáⁿ

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):

It’s time to start talking about sex

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? mài ma-ma pián eh。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.

Slang from Taiwan: 很「派」 Very Pie = Fierce

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:

What the f.ck are you talking about?

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.

A more obvious example, is here, as used on ptt:

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」:

大膽起用次文化用語,扭轉刻板印象

而臉書上討論度最高的、最受歡迎的,是「很派」(台語諧音,意指很兇)、動不動就罵人「88-1」(88-1=87,白癡的諧音)的中和新蘆線。人物設定參考三重、蘆洲許多重義氣的宮廟兄弟形象。在和網友互動過程中,鮮明性格吸引多網友排隊「討罵」。

(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:

Vocab List:
88-1
討罵
魯妹
腐女
很派
到底咧工三小

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:

20200312_111904

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”.

 

An Overbearing Duck? 「鴨霸」

ducks-3826244_1920Ko Chih-en (柯志恩), a KMT legislator-at-large, is another regular on TVBS’s political panel show ‘The Situation Room’.

In an interesting discussion on the long delay to Kuan Chung-Ming’s inauguration as President of National Taiwan University, she used the Taiwanese term 「鴨霸」(ah-pà) in the middle of a Mandarin sentence on political panel show ‘The Situation Room’, as follows (from roughly 5:29):

他為什麼會被卡

Why was the inauguration unable to proceed?

就是因為全面執政太鴨霸

Because the ruling party has been too overbearing about it all

 

According to the information I can find, it’s unlikely that 「鴨」(ah)  is the original character in the expression, and it’s likely used as a stand-in for either 「」(a) (as the original form of 「惡」 or「」(ah) (according to the Ministry of Education dictionary). The nearest Mandarin equivalent is probably 「霸道」, although 「鴨霸」 can also be used in Mandarin.

For another duck-related phrase, you might want to check out my previous post here.

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.