Phrase of the Day – Duck hears thunder 鴨仔聽雷

 鴨仔聽雷 ah-á thiaⁿ lûi

A very apt description for the way some people have looked at me when I try to speak Taiwanese to them, somewhat equivalent to “like a deer in the headlights”, but in reference to hearing something that you can make neither head nor tail of. It’s nice that it conjures up a very specific image in your head. Suggested use – if you can get it out and be understood – is to use it to break the ice after a Taiwanese friend looks at you like a duck hearing thunder.

I will update the google doc soon. Feel free to contribute phrases you’ve heard, songs you can sing in Taiwanese, or recordings of you speaking Taiwanese.

(No ducks were harmed in the making of this post)

Phrase of the Day – Watermelons rest on the largest side 西瓜倚大傍

西瓜倚大傍 si-koe óa tōa-pêng (Click syllable to hear pronunciation)

I like this phrase quite a lot as I always picture a watermelon rolling and then falling on its heaviest side. It’s used as a metaphor to say that people generally tend to side with those who will benefit them (as opposed to choosing through justice or impartiality), it can also suggest populism or going with the crowd. Below I’ve compiled two super short clips of Wu Nien-zhen’s Human Condition (《人間條件》)in which this phrase is mentioned. I don’t own the copyright to the video and am using the clips for purely educational purposes. Here the woman speaking uses a variation of the phrase: 吃西瓜倚大傍 ﹣ although the 倚 is commonly rendered phonetically as 挖 – which sounds closer to the Taiwanese pronunciation of 倚, which is pronounced “yǐ” in Mandarin. The 旁 is also commonly written as 邊, because it’s closer to the meaning of the phrase in Mandarin. In both cases the whole phrase is used as an adjective.

In the first clip she says: (吃)西瓜倚大旁的個性lóng(攏/都)無改變呢啊!chia̍h si-koe óa tōa-pêng ê kò-sèng lóng  kái-piàn nih ah   and in the second she says 按呢(這麼)吃西瓜大án-ne chia̍h si-koe óa tōa-pêng?

Again, be careful how you use this phrase, as careless use can offend strangers.

I’ve updated the google doc, for those interested


Phrase of the day – Dead man’s bones 這是什麼死人骨頭?


這是啥物死人骨頭? chit sī siánn-mih sí-lâng kut-thâu?

Note: 啥物, sometimes written phonetically as “蝦米” means 什麼 in Mandarin or “what” in English

My coworker told me about this phrase recently, meaning “What the heck is this?”, or “What’s this nonsense?”, though it literally means “What kind of dead man’s bones are these?” – kind of equivalent to “這是什麼鬼?” in Mandarin. It can be used for comic effect, when someone does, has, wears or says something weird:

For example when looking at the “Retrospective tea” advertised on a sign at a Gongguan teashop featured above, one might ask one’s friend: “這是啥物死人骨頭?”

Beware though, it can be offensive if you use it on strangers.

Here’s the updated Google doc, noting patterns between Mandarin and Taiwanese or lack thereof.