On another Chinese-related topic, hopefully less contentious than romanization, herewith Danwei presenting a translation of Massage Milk’s In defence of Beijing’s dirty words:

Recently, some media have been worrying about jing ma [Beijing style swearing and the constant sound of profanities you hear if you walk around Beijing], saying that if spectators at the Olympic Games constantly hear Beijingers cursing, it will be very embarrasing. Therefore, there are people calling for an elimination to Beijing swearing before 2008….
Chinese has two slang expressions that I think are profound: one is “fuck! (wo cao, literally ‘I fuck’, sometimes closer in meaning to ‘fuck me!’), one is “stupid cunt” (sha bi).
There’s an old story about a world story-telling competition. The winner is the one who can use the fewest words to tell the most complicated story. In the end, the winner was a Chinese guy. This guy told a story about riding a bicycle up a mountain to look at the scenery, and then having an accident. The whole story only had two words “Fuck me!” (wo cao)…

Very funny stuff. (Thanks to Rupert Goodwins for the link.)


  1. marie-lucie says

    Several years ago I heard on the radio an interview with Chester Ronning (now deceased), who was born in China of missionary parents, spent many years there and was once Canadian Ambassador to China, where he was invited to come back to celebrate his 90th birthday. He said that the colloquial Chinese he spoke as a child – he was born in 1894 – was full of obscenities which children used without paying particular attention to them – it was just the way the language was spoken, but later when he held respectable positions he had to make a conscious effort to avoid them.
    Coming back to the present, I wonder how many of the visitors coming to Beijing for the Olympics will know enough Chinese to be able to recognize foul language when they hear it.

  2. That was my reaction. The only group of people I can think of who would be offended would be prudish Chinese. I would think they would derive more embarrassment from the presence of Engrish signage.

  3. I know that it’s in the same general area of meaning, but is ‘sha bi’ cognate with ‘chee bye’ (ʧi: bɑi), the favourite Hokkien expletive of my Singaporean Chinese friends at university?

  4. David Marjanović says

    <jumping with joy> I knew there had to be words beyond zāogāo*! Can someone tell me the tones? 🙂
    * That’s the textbook swearword, the one you allegedly say when you find out the cafeteria is already closed. Apparently comparable to the supposedly French zut.

  5. Can someone tell me the tones?
    Based on Google and how-to-swear-in-Chinese books, rather than actual native knowledge and so subject to correction:
    傻屄 shǎbī, but much more commonly written 傻逼. Has its own Wikipedia page.
    我肏 wǒcào, but again commonly written 我操. Also a slightly less offensive version, 我靠 wǒkào.
    Relevant to the long illiteracy thread, I’m not sure whether the substitutions are euphemisms or due to the “bad” character being less well known.

  6. This is wonderful, and I have linked to it: thanks.

  7. My first experience with the word cao was not in China but Malaysia. I was calling out the names of my students, and when I came to a student from China whose family name was Cao, I casually read it out and all the Chinese students in the class started giggling. Of course, I’d read it in the wrong tone.

  8. David Marjanović says

    Wow! Thanks!
    Interesting that the Chinese Wikipedia article for Pinyin is a redirect to an article that includes a list of… hm, the first item in that list is a pronunciation dictionary of American English, the last is apparently the explanation of a Middle Chinese rhyme table (with pinyin and zhuyin), and the third-to-last is an apparently interesting page that explains chat abbreviations based on English and pinyin and has a photo of a Taiwanese railway carriage with zhuyin on it.

  9. caffeind says

    All you need is ‘ta ma de’, already mentioned on Languagehat. Lu Xun’s essay on it:
    The substitutions for 肏 etc. might be because the offending characters may not be in computer input methods’ dictionaries. notes ‘The Mandarin Chinese equivalent is 说曹操,曹操到 (Pinyin: “shuō Cáo Cāo, Cáo Cāo dào”), which translates as “Speak of Cao Cao and Cao Cao arrives.”‘

  10. A vaguely related question:
    Does anyone know of a Cantonese swearword sounding something like “muckahoy”? I have never been able to find a good explanation for it…

  11. David Marjanović says notes ‘The Mandarin Chinese equivalent is 说曹操,曹操到 (Pinyin: “shuō Cáo Cāo, Cáo Cāo dào”), which translates as “Speak of Cao Cao and Cao Cao arrives.”‘

    Yesterday evening I leafed through a book called “The New Emperors — China in the era of Mao and Deng”. It mentions a Cao Cao who founded the Wei empire. (Of course, no tones anywhere in the book.) Is that the one…?
    Incidentally, the German version of the book (at least) is bound in imperial yellow and a bit of proletarian red.

  12. Adrienne Li says

    Yes, it’s the same Cao Cao. He lived during the late Han dynasty and was the founder of Wei during the Three Kingdom’s period. What a name to have!

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