‘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

Greed,_1924,_06_banchetto
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

Old lady with Taiwanese song sheet on the bus 方怡萍的「夢袂醒」

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Spotted this old lady practicing her Taiwanese song skills on the bus – I wonder if she was just getting her KTV on point or is planning get her man back? Before looking more closely at the lyrics I’ll admit that I thought it was a hymn sheet. Have you seen song sheets like this? There seems to be a cool notation system a little bit like TAB for the guitar.

The song is “Not yet awake from a dream” or 「夢袂醒」bāng bōe chhíⁿ  by Fang Yi-ping:

People in Mainland China can watch it here.

The lyrics are as below – it’s pretty easy as it’s just one section repeated over and over:

英暗的這杯酒 是咱最後的溫柔
This glass of alcohol tonight, is the last warmth we have
過去親像夢一場 明日咱變成朋友
The past seems like a dream, tomorrow we become friends
講要牽手天長地久 為何對我下毒手
We said we’d hold hands for eternity, why are you plotting against me
無論怎樣苦苦哀求 擱懇求返來這個巢
However miserably I beg and beseech you to return home

放你自由甭強求 我的心肝結歸球
I’ll set you free, there’s no point in forcing you, my heart is in a knot
叫我怎樣來接受
Making it hard for me to accept

英暗的這杯酒 是咱最後的溫柔
This glass of alcohol tonight, is the last warmth we have
過去親像夢一場 明日咱變成朋友
The past seems like a dream, tomorrow we become friends
講要牽手天長地久 為何對我下毒手
We said we’d hold hands for eternity, why are you plotting against me
無論怎樣苦苦哀求 擱懇求返來這個巢
However miserably I beg and beseech you to return home
放你自由甭強求 我的心肝結歸球
I’ll set you free, there’s no point in forcing you, my heart is in a knot
叫我怎樣來接受
Making it hard for me to accept

講要牽手天長地久 為何對我下毒手
We said we’d hold hands for eternity, why are you plotting against me
無論怎樣苦苦哀求 擱懇求返來這個巢
However miserably I beg and beseech you to return home
放你自由甭強求 我的心肝結歸球
I’ll set you free, there’s no point in forcing you, my heart is in a knot
叫我怎樣來接受
Making it hard for me to accept

Some useful words in case you need to shout at your boyfriend for breaking up with you:
英暗/盈暗 êng-àm (今晚/晚上) this evening/evening
過去 kòe-khì (過去) the past
親像 chhin-chhiūⁿ (好像) to seem as if
朋友 pêng-iú (朋友) friend
kóng (講) to say
下毒手  hē-to̍k-chhiú (下毒手) to plot against someone
自由  chū-iû (自由) free (as in liberty)
結歸球 kat-kui-khiû (糾成一團) to be tangled in a knot
怎樣  chóaⁿ-iūⁿ (怎麼樣) how
接受 chiap-siū (接受) to accept

It seems like a great simple song to start you learning Taiwanese if you don’t know it already!

Multiculturalism in Action: Fish Crackers from Malaysia

The sales manager at my company recently went on a short trip to Malaysia, and, as per Taiwanese custom, brought back a bunch of snacks for the whole office.

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Malaysian packaging is language overload:

First we have Malay:

“Muruku Ikan”

“Ikan” means fish in Malay, whereas “Muruku” is a borrowing from the Tamil language – “முறுக்கு” (Murukku) – a word that means “twisted” and which has been adopted as a word for the snack all over India and in Tamil diaspora countries. You can see why the word twisted is used to describe the snack once we open the bag:

13389203_10102538902842129_825311224_o It may not be the most twisted thing in the world, but there’s definitely some curvature there. So essentially it means “fish twirls”. That’s more or less what it tasted like too.

Next up is Arabic:

موروكو  ُيكن

More specifically, this is the traditional use of Arabic characters to write Malay words, known as Jawi script. I’m indebted to Penang local @SimTzeWei for this correction, he wrote:

The Arabic letters are actually Malay. The Malay language was written in the Arabic script before the arrival of the Europeans. This script is called the Jawi script.

It is pronounced “maruku uykn” in standard Arabic romanization, and Maruku Ikan in Jawi script, according to Sim Tze-Wei.

Then it’s English with “fish maruku”

The Chinese has a more complex name:

「香化美味魚肉豆餅」

“Fragrant tasty fish bean pastry”

The 「香化」 for fragrant is a little odd in Mandarin as pointed out by Weibo user 「守望者青年客栈」(watcherxm).

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This is because it means “fragranced” or “fragrancified”, which is a rather unnatural way of expressing it.

The other interesting thing about the packaging is that the company’s name 「天祥」 is romanized using Hokkien or Southern Min, more commonly known in Taiwan as Taiwanese. I posted previously about a piece of wall art in Malaysia featuring the language that my friend spotted on a trip there.

The 「天祥」 is romanized as “Thien Cheong”, which is likely meant to represent a similar sound to the Taiwanese romanization “Thian-siông“.  Most Malaysian Chinese speak Hokkien so it’s not overly surprisingly that it makes an appearance on the packaging. There are also many speakers of the language and its variants in Fujian province in China. In terms of definitions, it literally means “divinely auspicious”, but I could only find it listed as a place name in the MOE dictionary.

@SimTzeWei suggested, however, that it might be Cantonese or Hakka rather than Hokkien and that it was just non-standard Cantonese spelling. The Jyutping Cantonese romanization for 「天祥」 is tin1 coeng4.

He stated:

‘Thien Cheong’ is probably Cantonese. Some people like to alter the spellings of their names to prevent them from having an obvious meaning in another language (in this case English). Instead of spelling it as ‘Thin Cheong’, they insert an ‘e’. It could possibly be Hakka or another Chinese language.

Food is definitely one of the highlights of Malaysia, as there are many Indian expats there and no shortage of curry buffet gardens. I got chatting to one of the waiters that served us at a place near Petronas Towers where we were staying. He had quite a dim view of incumbent Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who belongs to the Hindu nationalist party the Bharatiya Janata Party. The party, and Modi himself, is seen as unfriendly to Muslims, and many of the Indians I met there expressed concerns about him, some were Muslims themselves, while others were simply concerned for their countrymen.

This post was updated from the original on 15th June, 2016 to reflect suggestions made on Twitter.

 

Revisiting an Old Post on 「莊腳面」(庄腳面) Taiwanese for “Country Bumpkin Face”

I noticed a spike in views of one of my old posts, looking at the use of the term 「莊腳面」 in Wu Nien-chen’s Human Condition series of plays, which were the topic of my master’s thesis. When I googled the word again, the following news story from yesterday came up several times, suggesting it might be the reason people were looking for a definition of the term:

zhuangjiaomian

The article is entitled “Chang Jung-fa explains that even if you look like a bumpkin, you can still be a flight attendant” and seems to be largely a puff-piece. I just pictured a group of country bumpkins eager to become flight attendants eagerly googling what the term means.

Here’s the definition I previously posted:

莊腳面 chng-khabīn (click for pronounciation) , basically means that someone’s face looks like they’re from the countryside, or a bumpkin. It’s not always used in the negative, as it can imply innocence or directness and honesty too, I guess it depends on what your opinion on people from the countryside is. I found an answer on Yahoo which gives quite a good explanation of 莊腳 and other terms, although I’m not sure if the first three are still used in Taiwanese:

莊頭 進入村莊前緣的地方 The beginning of the village
莊內 村莊中心的地方 The main part of the village
莊尾 村莊末端的地方 The tail end of the village
莊腳 chng-kha 村莊外圍偏遠的地方 The places on the outer margins of the village
(I know, inception-like quotations within quotations)

So, this would make 莊腳 the bumpkin of bumpkins, as even the people in the village think he’s a bit rustic.

You probably noticed too, that the Chinese article I cited uses the character 「庄」, not the 「莊」 I used in my original post. 「庄」 is actually a variant of 「莊」(village)  according to the Ministry of Education Dictionary. I thought this was interesting, as I think that CNA used the variant in order to be sure people knew to read it as Taiwanese. As with most of my theories, I’ve got little proof, but would be eager to find out if anyone knows of similar examples.

It’s relatively unusual for newspapers not to put the Chinese translation in brackets after a Taiwanese phrase is used unless it’s extremely common, which might explain why so many people were Googling the word. If you’re Taiwanese you can comment on how common this word is. On the other hand it could just have been lots of foreigners who came across the Chinese article and didn’t know what it meant.

Feel free to comment below or message me with any strange or startling Taiwanese phrases you come across or even with sketches the typical 「莊腳面」.

 

Waiting on Tenterhooks:「剉哩等」 chhoah leh tán

Stop Fast Track rally in D.C.

I found this Taiwanese phrase in the CNA article ‘The Legislative Challenge: Can Taiwan Keep Up with the TPP‘ from March:

cchoalehtan

「從TPP智慧財產權專章觀察,加強維護原廠藥權利,對於國內研發型藥廠無非增添保護羽翼,但國內學名藥廠卻「剉哩等」。」

Observing the TPP chapters dedicated to intellectual property rights, strengthening protection for the rights of original drug producers  will undoubtedly increase protection for domestic drug producers who engage in research and development, but domestic generic drug producers will be waiting on tenterhooks.

Unusually for a Taiwanese phrase used in a Mandarin sentence, there was no explanation in brackets afterwards, which suggests it’s pretty commonly used and understood. The first two characters used are just rendered phonetically with similar Mandarin characters:

Mandarin pronounciation: Cuo4li5deng3      Taiwanese pronounciation: chhoah leh tán

One Chinese-language blog I found suggested that the original Taiwanese character for 「剉」 is 「瘛」(chi4), a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) term for “clonic convulsion”, but here it means to shake or shiver (with nerves). The leh is sometimes represented by 哩 or 咧 in written form, but the original Taiwanese character is unknown. It is used in a similar way to 「著」 in the phrase 「坐著看」,i.e. Verb A 著 Verb B (to do Verb A continuously while doing Verb B). 「等」is the original Taiwanese character.

Photo by AFGE [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

If you’re going to say anything bad about someone… Say it in Taiwanese 「輸尬ㄊㄧㄢㄊㄧㄢ」 和 「小確幸」

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「輸尬ㄊㄧㄢㄊㄧㄢ」 (Su kah thiám-thiám) which can also be written 「輸到添添」 means “to have been defeated by a large margin” or 「被打敗了」 or 「輸得很慘」 in Mandarin. You can leave out the 到 (kah) which is equivalent to the Mandarin 「得」, leaving you with Su thiám-thiám .

I thought this was an amusing use of Taiwanese, as it came at the end of an article which is pretty critical of the ability of Taiwanese students to compete with the drive of Chinese students. The author has to assert her identity as a Taiwanese person to show that she’s not an outsider making criticism, but rather an insider pushing for reform. You’ve no doubt seen this before with the awkward Taiwanese stumbling of waisheng (families which came from China with the KMT around 1949) politicians or foreigners trying to criticize Taiwanese culture without putting people’s backs up too much. Of course, you can put this to your own advantage by blunting any criticism you make of your friends by saying it in Taiwanese. Here’s the phrase in the context of the original article:

「說個小故事,我在台大原本只收五十位學生,但有一位來自北京清華大學的交換生,因為錯過我在清華的課程,因此要求加入,他是典型的成就動機很強、求知若渴的清大人。他在台灣時,台大這群學生,沒人討論他;他離開後,大家面面相覷。是的,大家都有一個相同的感覺,我們,輸尬ㄊㄧㄢㄊㄧㄢ(台語,輸很慘)!」

I’ll tell you a story. At first when I was at National Taiwan University (NTU) I only taught 50 students, but one of them was an exchange student from Tsinghua University in Beijing, because he’d missed the classes I gave there, he requested to join the class. He was a classic example of a Tsinghua student, with a real drive for achievement and a thirst for knowledge. When he was in Taiwan, the students from NTU didn’t really talk about him; when he left, they looked at each other uneasily. That’s right, everyone had the same feeling: “We can’t even compete!”

The education system in Taiwan has been the topic of a ream of articles recently, most of it criticism that it has not produced enough qualified professionals for industry here. In similar articles on Taiwanese students, I’ve seen a lot of criticism of the Taiwanese hipster concept of 「小確幸」 – which translates roughly to “little things in life that make it worth living”. The term originates from a collection of essays by writer Haruki Murakami entitled ‘Ways of Looking for A Vortex Cat’ or 「うずまき猫のみつけかた」 in Japanese.

According to a blog entry I read, the term in Japanese is an abbreviation of 「小さいけれども、確かな幸福」, which means “small but concrete feeling of happiness” and comes from a collection of essays entitled ‘Ways of Looking for A Vortex Cat’ or 「うずまき猫のみつけかた」, as follows:

生活の中に個人的な「小確幸」(小さいけれども、確かな幸福)を見出すためには、多かれ少なかれ自己規制みたいなものが必要とされる。(P.126)

If you want to find small but concrete feelings of happiness in everyday life, you at least need some personal rules to respect.

He then cites the following example:

たとえば我慢して激しく運動した後に飲むきりきり冷えたビールみたいなもので

Like the sensation of having an ice cold beer, after biding your time through a vigorous bout of exercise.

This term really caught on in Taiwan and has become synonymous with lowering your expectations of life, and enjoying the little moments of pleasure that consumerism can offer – ie Instagram pics with a coffee at Starbucks after a long day shopping and the phrase 「小確幸」. What kind of numpty would buy into that kind of thing?

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Presidential candidate, now president-elect Tsai Ing-wen used this term in one of the debates, attacking the Ma Ying-jeou administration and the KMT for encouraging young people to buy into 「小確幸」 as a replacement for real economic policy:

Here’s the sentence in which she uses it, (a larger section of the speech in Chinese can be found here):

政府沒有領導大方向的能力,只好搞一些對經濟低迷的時候起不了多少作用的「小確幸」。

在這裡,我也想請教朱主席,國民黨對台灣經濟的長期規畫到底在哪裡?人民可以追求小確幸,不過,當一個政府,每天想著「小確幸」,人民只會陷入不幸。

When the government doesn’t have the capability to lead in a clear direction in the face of an economic slump, they can only put in effect some opportunities for the people to experience small pleasures, which are really limited in their effect.

I want to ask [KMT] Chair [Eric] Chu, where the KMT’s long-term economic plan for Taiwan is? People can pursue small pleasures, but whenever a government is only thinking about these small pleasures, the people will fall into grave misfortune.

The translation doesn’t really do her wordplay with the term any justice – 「幸」 also goes to make up the second part of the word for “misfortune” – but you get the gist.

In other news, I found this Chinese-language blog on Taiwanese language for anyone who wants to check it out.

Lead photo credit: Jessie Yang

Taiwanese Phrase: ‘Washing your Trousers while You’re Picking Clams’ 摸蜊仔兼洗褲 bong lâ-á kiam sé khòo

1280px-Nuns_clamming_-_Toni_Frissell_LC-F9-04-5709-012-17I found the Taiwanese equivalent for the phrase ‘catching two birds with one stone’  in the book I’m reading at the minute:

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The phrase, which literally means ‘washing your trousers while you’re picking clams’ varies slightly from the written form in the Ministry of Education Taiwanese dictionary, which lists it as 「一兼二顧,摸蜊仔兼洗褲」 pronounced “It kiam jī kòo, bong lâ-á kiam sé khòo” (Click through link and press green button). You can see that the 「蜊」is rendered here with a 「蛤」, but this is just an attempt to find a stand in Mandarin character to render the Taiwanese word. The book also only uses the second half of the phrase as listed by the dictionary – bong lâ-á kiam sé khòo – this is as common in Chinese and Taiwanese as it is in English, in that you don’t have to state a whole phrase to get your point across.

I thought the image of people standing in the sea thinking they’re washing their trousers while they’re picking clams was quite amusing.

I also came across a Taiwanese word that is extremely common in Taiwanese Mandarin and is usually rendered using zhuyin (注音):

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The word 「ㄍㄧㄥ」 has a variety of uses – but it generally means to tense up, either emotionally or physically. Here it is physical  – “You have to tense up all the muscles in your body.” In emotional terms, it can be seen as an equivalent to “clamming up”, or can be used to describe someone’s personality to mean that they’re unable to express themselves or express emotion normally, like repressed.

If you’ve learned any new Taiwanese expressions that you’d like to share with me over the Lunar New Year break or have any questions you can comment below or contact me.

Photo of nuns picking clams by Toni Frissell