I could have sworn I’d mentioned this pleasing Chinese curse etymology before, but apparently not, so I’ll quote the relevant post from Blood & Treasure (“Everything under heaven is in utter chaos; the situation is excellent”):
I offered [250 kuai a month for once-a-week cleaning] and she laughed and said that was fine, but could it be 260, because 250 was a swearword. And both my friend and I were “Huh?” Which wouldn’t be strange if it was just me, but said friend has really, really good Chinese.
Anyway, I asked a couple of people and they confirmed that yes, 250 was either “crazy” or “stupid.” So I assumed that it must sound like a similar phrase, but couldn’t think of it, and my Chinese friends said, nope, 250 just meant stupid and they had no idea why. My friend Baidu’d it up, and –
Apparently it comes from the custom of stringing copper cash into strings called diao in ancient china. And one diao had 1000 cash on it. So there evolved a humble term ban diaozi, ”half a diao,” that literary types would use self-deprecatingly. That’s not considered an insult now. But then the insult “250” emerged, because it’s half a half a diao, i.e., a guy who really is stupid.
That is one hell of a complex insult.
Not especially LH-relevant (except that I have a beard), but fun, so I’m tacking it on here: a 1939 appreciation of the beard. Thanks, Sven!