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.


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:


“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).


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.


Misappropriating money in Taiwan – 挨錢 or A錢?


A completely unrelated photo from wiki commons

A錢 e chîⁿ (click syllable to hear) means to steal or misappropriate money, but there has been debate online about what the “A,” pronounced “e” (click to hear) actually stands for, with some people attributing it to an abbreviation of an English word and others assuming that it represents a Chinese character. After looking online I found around three theories in total.

1. The first I found pretty unconvincing, essentially that this is an abbreviation of the English word “abuse”. Why this word would come to Taiwan when it isn’t really used in this context in English is anyone’s guess, maybe “appropriate” would be more convincing. I don’t think that verbs like this would be adapted from English however, not to mention that “A” means “adult” or “porn-related” in Mandarin Chinese in Taiwan.

2. The second two examples posited two separate characters as the Taiwanese for “A.” One was a random poster on Forumosa in English, who said:

It is a false adaption from Taiwanese. “A錢” should be “挈錢”(qie4 qian2).

The Taiwanese for 挈 (to lift/ to raise) is kho̍eh though, so it doesn’t really fit.
The second was on the comments section of a messaging board for UCPenn which stated it was 掖:

From what I have found, A錢 originally comes from 掖錢 (pronounced as yē qián in Mandarin), 掖 means “to hide under armpits and take away.”

But 掖 is pronounced  (click to hear) in Taiwanese, so this doesn’t seem to fit either.

3. The third and most convincing argument is from the Taiwan Language Blog which posits 挨 or the now defunct ae98ca21-1  – both of which can mean “to meet with” or “to push,” to pull” or “to grind.” The blog states that the use of the term in the sense of misappropriation and specifically in the verb-object phrase A錢 began to appear in newspapers at around the end of 1999. The blog owner suggests that in this context means to pull, and by extension to shift about or to take a bit from this to make up for that, which can by turn be extended to misappropriation of money:

“e(挨)”有“拉”的意義(如前述的挨弦仔,e-hien´-na`,拉胡琴),e-lai´-sak-k‘iʟ 也就有拉過來推過去的意思,也就是“挪東補西”,把那邊的錢挪過來補這邊的坑洞的意思了。

All in all I have the most faith in the third solution. If anyone else has a clearer idea let me know in the comments section. Feel free to contact me with any cool Taiwanese words or phrases you hear and want featured on the blog.

Guide to Taiwanese tones – pitch reference 台語語調

Was flicking through some notes yesterday and found this handy pitch guide for the different tones in Taiwanese – handy in the sense that it may be of use to some people other than pitch deaf me. The first line is the character; the second line is the romanization; the third line is the linguistic description of the kind of tone it is in Chinese along with the number commonly attributed to the tone in superscript (note that fourth tone changes when it ends in a glottal stop or with p t or k); the fifth line represents how the tone changes when used before the final character in a clause. Continue reading

Taiwanese word of the day: to fall off your motorbike (but forget to let go of the handles) 犁田 (雷殘) lê-chhân

I was discussing Taiwanese expressions that are quite hard to translate today with my coworkers over lunch, and one word they mentioned really stayed with me because it evokes a very comic picture in your mind. The phrase is 「犁田」lê-chhân and is often rendered phonetically into Mandarin as 「雷殘」. It’s original meaning is to plough fields, but it has been extended to mean when people fall off the back of their motorbikes but keep holding on to the handles so that they get dragged behind, like a man driving a plough, although it can be applied to falling off your bike or motorbike in general. It is a jokey term, so only really appropriate for minor scrapes. It is another of these Taiwanese terms that you can use in Mandarin, the equivalent (but without the comic image) is 「摔車」. Drive safe people!

The Ministry of Education’s Taiwanese dictionary provides this example:

伊昨暗車騎無好勢,犁田矣。I cha-àm chhia khiâ bô hó-sè, lê-chhânah. (他昨晚車子沒騎好,就摔車了) Last night he wasn’t driving carefully, and fell off his bike.

Feel free to contact me with any cool Taiwanese words or phrases you hear and want featured on the blog.

Taiwanese word of the day: Fail to hit the mark/to muck up 脫箠(凸垂) thut-chhôe

脫箠(凸垂) thut-chhôe to make a mistake, to muck up; Mando: 出差錯
One of my friends used this word in a message he sent me today. The message read as follows:

我怕我講英文惠[sic. should be 會]凸垂

I’m working… a client is coming to see the factory [so] I’m really busy>_<

I’m worried I’ll make a mistake with my English


Continue reading

Taiwanese phrase of the day: You can tell if people are stupid by looking at their faces 人若呆,看面就知 lâng nā gōng khòaⁿ bīn tio̍h chai

I seem to have learned mostly offensive Taiwanese so far, but hopefully that will change as I slowly run out of offensive material. This is still one of my favourite phrases in Taiwanese, because it’s so cutting. The photo above (not mine, found on Facebook, but originally posted to ptt) had me laughing for a while during the Sunflower movement. Cabinet member Hsiao Chiachi (蕭家淇 Xiao Jiaqi) remonstrated with the press that someone ate his taiyangbings (太陽餅 a flat pastry filled with stuffing, like a moon cake) during the brief occupation of the Executive Yuan by students – obviously his major concern at a time when the Legislative Yuan was still occupied by students. The caption reads: “The ones I was going to give my colleagues were eaten too!” His words and his despair have spawned many a meme, but this one has to be my favorite. I don’t agree with the premise of the phrase, as it’s pretty offensive to call anyone stupid, and I don’t think Mr Hsiao is stupid either, his comments were just comically ill-timed. He was probably attempting to portray the students, who were being deified in the pan-green press at the time, as vandals (stealing, damaging property etc), and therefore undermine the support in Taiwan for the protest in the Legislative Yuan. This came across, however, as a passionate love for sun cakes, and utter disappointment that someone else had gotten to them first. Continue reading

Taiwanese word of the day: sông (俗) (Did you buy that at Walmart?) sông


This is an amusing term, as it describes the Walmart-esque fashion often showcased on 9gag, and the Taiwanese equivalent of it – the red tint to the hair, the blue and white flip flops, leopard prints, teeth stained by betelnut, pretty much the calling card of the 台客 – and is generally considered the broader version of the phrase 你很台 (You’re very into Taiwan style – puzzling enough this is not a compliment, it’s kind of like calling someone a chav (痞子pízi in Mandarin) in the UK).

This word is really common, and you’ll often hear it (with Taiwanese pronounciation) in Mandarin. It’s often written using the character 俗, but I don’t think that this is the actual character that it’s derived from, as the dictionary lists the romanization sông, and 俗 is pronounced sio̍h and sio̍k and means cheap when used in isolation. The other character I found it listed under – 倯 – appears just to be a phonetic rendering into Mandarin, as it doesn’t appear in any dictionaries – although I could be wrong.

This phrase is pretty useful as it can be used in Mandarin in phrases like 他很sông, to indicate your disapproval at someone dressing like they’re from Kaohsiung (only joking Kaohsiung, most Kaohsiungers are really well dressed – I’ve just been living up north for too long to have sense). The Taiwanese equivalent to that phrase would be:

伊足sông i chiok sông
伊真sông i chin sông

伊 i he/she 他/她
足 chiok 很*
真 chin really 真
sông out of touch/unfashionable

*There are also other ways to say 真 or 很 in Taiwanese.

A word of warning, although you may be eager to try out your Taiwanese on people, make sure that you don’t offend anyone. This may be alright to joke about with friends, but might not be appreciated if said to strangers or people you don’t know very well.

Feel free to contact me with any cool Taiwanese words or phrases you hear and want featured on the blog.

Taiwanese phrase of the day: Taiwanese people are up to their ankles in money (throwback) 台灣錢,淹腳目 Tâi-ôan chîⁿ im kha-ba̍k

10_Custom_Gold_Units_1930台灣錢,淹腳目  Tâi-ôan chîⁿ im kha-ba̍k In Taiwan, they’re rolling in money (lit.Taiwanese money floods your ankles)

If you buy Ma Ying-jeou’s line on the cross-strait trade-in-services and trade-in-goods pact, though many don’t, the end is nigh for Taiwan if it doesn’t sign. So the idea of Taiwanese swimming in money might seem slightly incredulous, but it wasn’t always this way – back in the 1980s, the “economic miracle” was in full swing, and in the words of Li Ang in her new book 《路邊甘蔗眾人啃》 (Everybody nibbles on the sugar cane at the side of the road):


It wasn’t until years later, when Taiwan’s economy began to take off in the 1980s that the Taiwanese were really rolling in money, and swept through boutiques in Europe loaded with cash, saying: “I’ll take this, and this, I don’t want that, but can you bag up everything else for me”.

台灣 Tâi-ôan Taiwan

錢 chîⁿ money

淹 im flood or drown

腳目 kha-ba̍k ankles

Feel free to contact me with any cool Taiwanese words or phrases you hear and want featured on the blog.

Taiwanese word(s) of the day: country bumpkin face 莊腳面 chng-kha bīn ; ‘Ancient meaning’=earnest 古意 kó͘-ì

I was flicking through one of Wu Nien-zhen’s plays the other day, called Human Condition 2 (《人間條件2》) and came across two phrases that I thought sounded rather funny. The first was 莊腳面 chng-kha bīn (click for pronounciation) , basically meaning that someone’s face looks like they’re from the countryside, or a bumpkin – which got me wondering what this kind of face looks like. 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: Continue reading

Taiwanese word of the day: the bed god 床母 chhn̂g-bó

床母 chhn̂g-bó  A bed deity in Taiwanese folk religion, who protects children and ensures they grow up safely.

Found this in Li Ang’s 《路邊甘蔗眾人啃》 (Everybody nibbles on the sugar cane at the side of the road), the context is below:



Chen Junying would say this kind of thing from time to time:

“When I was little I heard about the bed deity, with people saying that it was a god.” He recovered his normal composure: “It was great, even the bed I slept in had a god, I always felt that someone was holding me while I slept, I felt really safe, like someone was looking after me.”

Quick update: the book is as sexually explicit as the 18+ label suggests.