Journalist Your Mom!

Mary Hui reports for Quartz on some linguistic aspects of the recent Hong Kong protests:

[…] One exchange that has since generated a long list of caustic variations (link in Chinese) involved a riot police officer who was caught on video swearing at a reporter (link in Chinese) who called out “Journalist! I’m a journalist!” during a police clearance operation at one of the protests on June 12.

Gei nei lou mou (記你老母)!” came the baton-wielding officer’s aggressive response. The phrase roughly translates as “journalist your mom!” The words nei lou mou (“your mom”) are widely-used as an insult in Hong Kong, and stems from diu nei lou mou, which ensures there is no ambiguity by adding diu, the Cantonese equivalent to “fuck.” […]

If the Umbrella Movement protests were defined by the character 傘 (san), meaning umbrella—but also homophonic with the word for disperse—then the fight against the extradition bill may be remembered for a single composite character combining the words 自由 (zi yau), or freedom, and 閪 (hai), a profanity describing female genitalia. The word comes from another insult used by the police against protesters, and was caught on camera (link in Chinese).

There is more detail about this (as well as images) at Victor Mair’s Log post Hong Kong protest puns; see also his more recent post Alice Mak Addresses the Hong Kong Chief Executive with Vulgar Language. (Thanks, Trevor!)


  1. Could this be the latest incarnation of Yo Mama insults?

  2. SFReader says

    That’s exactly what a Russian would say in such situation: “Zhurnalist, tvoyu mat’!”

  3. January First-of-May says

    Could this be the latest incarnation of Yo Mama insults?

    I think the Yo Mama (prototypically “so fat…”, though sexual promiscuity-based versions also exist) insults as used in English are a slightly different thing (if perhaps distantly related).

    This is more directly equivalent to Russian твою мать, or, depending on the register, perhaps its slightly more polite version вашу мать (either of those being the instrumental case of “your mother”, as in “f**k your mother”, with the latter using the polite V form of “your”).

    [EDIT: in other words, basically what SFReader said.]

    Энто как же, вашу мать,
    Извиняюсь, понимать?
    Мы ж не Хранция какая,
    Чтобы смуту подымать!

    (from a scene in the Tale of Fedot the Archer)

  4. Yes, I too thought immediately of Russian. And I love the Fedot quote.

  5. SFReader says

    At some point I think I had Fedot’s tale memorized. Enough quotes for a hundred movies.

    Linguistic one:

    Dobryy den’, vesely chas!
    Rady videt’ vas u nas!
    Beri gud, salam aleykum,
    Bona sera, vas ist das!

    Kto vy rodom?.. Skol’ vam let?..
    Vy zhenaty ali net?
    Ne khotite l’ s nashey froylen
    Pokalyakat’ tet-a-tet?

  6. John Cowan says

    Of course in English it would be “A journalist, my <body-part>!” I suppose my mother would pass, but not your mother, I don’t think. (We’re all about the first person here.)

    As I’ve said before in NYC-Spanish English, to refer to the listener’s mother you say your lady mother, a calque of su señora madre, to avoid insult.

  7. David Marjanović says

    “A journalist, my !”

    I thought of bringing that up, but I think it’s not the same thing. The American version expresses disbelief (“yeah, right”), while the Cantonese and the Russian versions seem unconcerned with that (“so what if you’re a journalist, I don’t care, I hate you anyway”).

    to avoid insult

    This was apparently normal in German, for mothers and fathers, until recently, even though the insult seems to have been unknown until even more recently.

    …and at least if taken literally, 老母 means “old mother”, which seems like a term of respect that has gone down the euphemism treadmill. I don’t know the first thing about Cantonese, though.

Speak Your Mind