‘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

Adventure Time in Taiwan

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Amused that the Ice King and Lemongrab speak 台灣國語 (Taiwanese influenced Mandarin) in Adventure Time in Chinese and use lots of Taiwanese words, whereas Jake speaks Cantonese influenced Chinese. Heard the Ice King use lots of Taiwanese expressions, like 跟他切(che̍h)了 for 跟他分手. Finn said around two words the whole episode, so couldn’t really tell how he speaks, but it seemed to be normal Chinese with a little bit of Taiwanese too. Interesting though. I know baddies in old films in Taiwan normally spoke Taiwanese, but think that it’s likely just coincidence here, and an attempt to replicate the crazy English voices in the original, as Lady Rainicorn, who speaks only Korean in the original only speaks Taiwanese in the Taiwan version.

UPDATE:

Thanks to Keith Menconi (@KeithMenconi) at ICRT (@ICRTnews) for providing a link to an interview he did with April Chang, the woman in charge of dubbing for Cartoon Network in Taiwan, which is totally cool.

 

When I asked what a 「莊腳面」 looks like…

So after yesterday’s post on the Taiwanese term 「莊腳面」 ‘country bumpkin face’  chng-khabīn – I got inundated (read: I got like two comments) by information from Taiwanese friends trying to explain what kind of faces they are.

One 天龍人* friend used two alternative ways of representing the term in Chinese: 「增咖面」(phonetic rendering) and 「樁腳面」. He suggested any of the actors from shows in the 8pm slot on TV, like 《娘家》(Mom’s House), 《世間情》(Love) and 《嫁妝》(Dowry):

Niangjia

ordinary-love

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He also said it could be applied to non-Taiwanese people, and put forth Susan Boyle and Adele!? as two examples from the UK. He said that it’s because they look “dated”.

Another friend said it was a synonym for the expressions 「土」 (rustic) and 「台」 (folksy with Taiwanese characteristics).

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*「天龍人」 is a term generally used in Taiwan to refer to people from Taipei, suggesting that they are elitist and look down on others. It takes its origins in the term “World Nobles” (Japanese: 天竜人 Tenryūbito) from Japanese manga One Piece and literally means “Heavenly Dragon Folk”, snobby arrogant elites who serve as the world government in the manga (hmm, snobby, arrogant, who would that remind you of…). 

Let me just note here that I don’t endorse judging people on the basis of whether they are from an urban or rural environment and this is all meant in a lighthearted way.

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」.

 

Shamelessly Ashamed: 「不恥」or 「不齒」 Part 3

I previously posted two blog posts  looking at how 「不恥」 and 「不齒」 are used as homonyms to mean “shame” in Ruan Ching-yue’s short story ‘The Conman’ (translation available here) and in A Dictionary of Maqiao by Han Shaogong (review available here), despite the former actually meaning “unashamed”. This suggested that most Taiwanese now use 「不恥」 rather than 「不齒」 , while reading 《斷代》 by writer Kuo Chiang-sheng however, I discovered a counterexample:

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In this sentence, 「不齒」 is used as follows:

…展現的仍是令開放的同類不齒的無知與無奈…

… showing still the ignorance and helplessness that is such a source of shame for those gay people who are open…

The book is really good so far and I’d definitely recommend it.

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

MRT Poetry: ‘Flower’ by Bi Guo 捷運詩句:碧果的〈花〉

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I found this poem entitled Flower (花) by Taiwanese poet Bi Guo (碧果) on the MRT:

僅差一步

就是

 

脫去衣裳可以走了

 

Flower

Just one more step

Is

 

The

Beyond

One can leave after shedding one’s garb

I also liked the stylized way the author’s name was written on the poster.

Bi Guo was born in 1932 and is the author of several poetry collections, including A Heartbeat AfternoonA Changing and Unchanging Canary, Corporeal Awareness and Poetry Belongs to Eve. He has also published a collection of essays, a novel and a play. You can hear him reading some of his poems in Chinese below in a video by the Culture Bureau of the Taipei City Government: