The essay by Lu Xun on the Chinese national curse, mentioned in this post and the comments to this one, has been translated by Huichieh Loy of From a Singapore Angle; you can read it here. It begins:

Those who live in China will often have occasion to hear the swear: tamade (他妈的) and others like it. I think the geographical distribution of this phrase is probably as wide as the lands upon which the Chinese have set foot; and I’m afraid the frequency of its use may not be less than that of the polite nin hao ya (您好呀). If, as some have put it, the peony is China’s “national flower”, then this has to be considered China’s “national swear” (guoma 国骂).

It’s funny and interesting; Huichieh Loy says “The language used—earlier twentieth century (‘May Fourth’) Chinese, plus the many learned classical citations, make the piece not that easy for me to translate. I have not been literal in all instances, and suggestions for improvements are most welcome.”


  1. My apologies: there is a type–should be guoma, not huoma. Also editing “I’m afraid the frequency of its use may not be less frequent than the polite…” to “I’m afraid the frequency of its use may not be less than that of the polite…”

  2. Fixed it — thanks!

  3. David F. says

    Joss Whedon’s sci-fi western Firefly used Chinese insults extensively, to help portray a universe ruled by the ‘Anglo-Sino Alliance’ and also to get around network rules on swearing. Tamade was used several times — details are at the Firefly-Serenity Chinese Pinyinary. (I don’t speak a word of Chinese, so I can’t comment on the accuracy or lack thereof of the translations on that site.)

  4. I have wanted to ask someone this forever and maybe here there will be somone who can help – how is the Cantonese curse “ham ga chang” written? Is it used anywhere else in the country. It is may favorite curse in the world – such ruthless evil, so straightforward. It may be unique in that it seems never to be used jokingly. Maybe someone can confirm or deny that bit too.

  5. I always understood “ta ma de” as an abbreviation of cào ni tā mā de ge bī, which I won’t translate.

  6. See Wikipedia’s instructive page, Mandarin Chinese profanity.

  7. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    FWIW, at Danish (semi-)formal festivities (weddings, significant birthdays, …) someone who isn’t the organizer or the celebré(e)(s) will be charged with keeping track of speeches (always ending with a toast) and songs (ditto) and adding their own toasts if things are getting too calm. Now called by the well-pedigreed native term toastmaster, but magister bibendi was also a thing in the past (when people needing to keep track of toasts were probably learnèd [and drunk] enough for that word; of course the father of the bride vel sim, would make a speech no matter what the societal standing of the company, but a long list of speakers is a middle class thing. [And the Queen has her Master of Ceremonies, of course]).

  8. John Cowan says

    The Cantonese profanity page at WP says:

    Ham6 gaa1 caan2 (咸家鏟 or more commonly written as 冚家鏟; Jyutping: ham6 gaa1 caan2) is another common curse phrase in Cantonese that literally means ‘may your whole family be bulldozed.’ 鏟 caan2 means to be bulldozed, which possibly relates to a funeral and ultimately to the meaning of death. Like puk6 gaai1, the phrase can both be used to mean ‘prick (annoying person)’ or to express annoyance, but many find ham6 gaa1 caan2 much more offensive than puk gaai, since the phrase targets the listener’s whole family instead of just themself.

    咸家伶 or 冚家拎 Ham6 gaa1 ling1, 咸家富貴 or 冚家富貴 ham6 gaa1 fu3 gwai3 ‘may the whole family be rich’, 咸家祥 or 冚家祥 ham6 gaa1 ceong ‘may the whole family be fortunate’ are common variants but 拎 ling ‘to take/carry something’ has little logical relation to the original phrase. Adding the words ham6 gaa1 ‘whole family’ in front of a blessing can actually reverse the meaning. The appropriate word for the whole family is 全家 cyun gaa to avoid any negative meanings.

  9. Trond Engen says

    In Norwegian tradition the master of ceremonies was called kjøgemester/kjømester/kjøkemeister (in various degrees of danification). The first element must be Nyn. kjøken, Sw. kök < Lat. cucina “kitchen”, so I suppose it originated as a “master of servings”, planning and portioning out the speeches and other entertainment according to the needs of the kitchen.

  10. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    ODS indeed sv. Køgemester ~ “Master of Provisions” adduces MLG köke = ‘kitchen’, side form of kökene < L cucina.

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