Chinese slang (俚语, Liyu)

Chinese slang

Like every other place on this planet, even in China there’s a recurring use of slang, or a series of expressions and words that make up a jargon in place of the common language.

Slang, in Chinese (俚语, liyu), covers a vast gamut of types: local dialect, jargon and also insults and curses (which we won’t cover here).

Slang represents that popular culture as it’s an informal way of speaking confined to a specific circle. It’s a language that’s rather vulgar,crass and simple but its intrinsic meaning can be quite profound and eloquent.

Slang has always been a part of life for the Chinese and anyone wishing to study this world must also immerse themselves in this type of language. To give an example, let’s use the word (折, she) that means “to break, break apart, to bend, to flex”.

In slang you can use “she” for another meaning, such as: 我的考试折了 (wo de kaoshi she le), which means: “my test went badly”.

In this article I’ll seek to list the most common slang expressions (in alphabetical order).

Here they are:

啊木林 (A mu lin), “stupid person” (literally a piece of wood)

他真是个啊木林 (Ta zhen shi ge a mu lin): “he is truly stupid”.

八九不离十 (Ba jiu bu li shi) “mostly correct”

他的估计都八九不离十 (Ta de gu ji dou ba jiu bu li shi) “their predictions are mostly corrrect”.

白搭 (bai da) “to be useless; futile; to do something in vain”

找她也白搭,她不爱你了 (zhaodao ta ye bai da, ta bu ai ni le) “even if you find her, it’s useless. She doesn’t love you anymore”.

白玩儿 (bai wanr) “a little game or joke”

对我来说,喝一瓶啤酒简直是白玩儿 (dui wo lai shuo, he yi ping pijiu jianzhi shi bai wanr) “for me, drinking a bottle of beer is just a little joke”.

煲电话粥 (bao dian hua zhou) “to boil the telephone in the soup” (metaphor for someone who talks a lot on the phone)

因为她爱煲电话粥,所以她的电话费每次都很高 (yinwei ta ai bao dian hua zhou, suoyi ta de dianhua fei mei ci dou hen gao) “ever since she started talking a long time on the phone, her telephone bills are higher each time”.

背 (bei) “to be very unfortunate”

最近我特别背 (zuijin wo tebie bei) “lately I am particularly unfortunate”.

备不住 (bei bu zhu) “maybe”

我的朋友备不住已经去过重庆 (wo de pengyou bei bu zhu yijing qu guo Chongqing) “Maybe my friend has been to Chongqing”.

长舌妇 (chang she fu) “flirt”

一件不起眼的事情能让长舌妇说半天 (yi jian bu qi yan de shiqing neng rang chang she fu shuo ban tian) “something minor can have the flirts talking about it for half the day”

炒冷饭 (chao leng fan) “repeat the same thing many times” (literally: fry cold rice)

经理在除夕夜的餐桌上每年添一道炒冷饭 (jingli zai chuxi ye de can zhuo shang tian yi dao chao leng fan) “the director always arranges the same thing for New Year’s Eve”.

炒鱿鱼 (chao you yu) “to be laid off”

他被公司炒鱿鱼了 (ta bei gongsi chao you yu le) “he was laid off by the company”.

吃错药了 (chi cuo yao le) “got their medicine wrong” (indicates that someone is acting strangely)

看起来他很奇怪,不是吃错药了吧?(kanqilai ta hen qiguai, bu shi chi cuo yao le ba?) “he seems strange, has he got his medicine wrong?”

村姑 (cun gu) “girl from the country”

在中国还有很多村姑 (zai Zhongguo hai you hen duo cun gu) “In China there are lots of girls from the country”.

搓麻 (cuo ma) “to play Majiang”

我不会搓麻 (wo bu hui cuo ma) “I don’t know how to play Majiang”.

打车 (da che) “to take a taxi”

在重庆的时候,我经常打车 (zai Chongqing de shihou, wo jingchang da che) “when I’m in Chongqing I often take a taxi”.

打一枪换一个地方 (da yi qiang huan yi ge difang) “to change frequently” (one’s work)

年轻人喜欢总喜欢打一枪换一个地方,寻找更好的工作 (nianqing ren xihuan zong xihuan da yi qiang huan yi ge difang, xunzhao geng hao de gongzuo) “young people like to always change and look for better jobs.

大鼻子 (da bizi) “big noses” (metaphor for foreigners)

从那儿过来了一个大鼻子 (cong nar guolai le yi ge da bizi) “a big nose has come from there”.

发福 (fafu) “to get fat”

你又发福了 (ni you fafu le) “you got fat again”.

感冒 (ganmao) /不感冒 (bu ganmao) “to have / not have interest in something”

我对言情片不感冒,反而对恐怖片很感冒 (wo dui yanqing pian bu ganmao, fan’er dui kongbu pian hen ganmao) “I’m not interested in romance films; on the contrary I’m very interested in horror films”.

搞什么飞机 (gao shenme fei ji) “what the devil happened?” (it could also express a complaint about someone)

你昨天搞什么飞机? (ni zuotian gao shenme feiji?) “What the heck did you do yesterday?”

哥们儿 (ge menr) “bro”

嘿,哥们儿,小心点 (hei, ge menr, xiaoxin dian) “hey, bro, pay more attention”.

跟着感觉走 (gen zhe ganjue zou) “to do something without much thinking” (literally: to walk by following one’s perceptions)

不要想太多吧,跟着感觉走!(bu yao xiang tai duo ba, gen zhe ganjue zou!) “Don’t overthink it, follow your instincts!”

哈韩族 (ha han zu) /哈日族 (ha ri zu) “young Chinese who love Korean or Japanese pop music and TV series”

在中国有很多哈韩族和哈日族 (zai Zhongguo you hen duo ha han zu he ha ri zu) “In China there are lots of fans of Korea and Japan”.

鸡 (ji) “prostitute” (in reality it would be “chicken” but since it has the same phonetic sound as 妓女 ji nu “prostitute”, it’s used with this second meaning)

这条街上晚上有不少鸡 (zhe tiao jie shang wan shang you bu shao ji) “at night, there are lots of prostitutes on this road”.

急茬儿 (ji char) “urgent matters”

每次她来找我时,我就知道又是急茬儿 (mei ci ta lai zhao wo shi, wo jiu zhidao you shi ji char) “every time he gets in touch with me I know it once again is about urgent matters”.

叫座 (jiaozuo) “very popular”

真没想到Gotham会这么叫座 (zhen mei xiangdao Gotham zheme jiaozuo) “I never imagined that Gotham could become so popular”.

教头 (jiaotou) “coach”

重庆篮球队请了一位洋教头执教 (Chongqing lanqiu dui qing le yi wei yang jiaotou zhijiao) “Chongqing’s basketball team invited a foreign coach to handle training”.

姐们儿 (jie menr) “sister” (the opposite of 哥们儿)

你的姐们儿都很想你 (ni de jie menr dou hen xiang ni) “all your sisters miss you”.

卡哇依 (kawayi) Japanese for “cute” (corresponds with the Chinese 可爱 and Japanese 可愛い)

多么卡哇依 (duo me kawayi!) “so cute!”

侃大山 (kan da shan) “to chat/gab”

他整天不干事,只知道侃大山 (ta zheng tian bu gan shi, zhi zhidao kan da shan) “she doesn’t do anything all day, she only knows how to gab”.

砍价 (kan jia) “to cut the price”

上街买东西时最好带上她。她是砍价的好手 (shang jie mai dongxi shi ni zuihao dai shang ta. Ta shi kanjia de haoshou) “when you go shopping on the streets, bring her with you since she’s an expert at getting discounts”.

抠门儿 (kou menr) “stingy/cheap”

如果你需要钱,最好不问他,因为他真是个抠门人 (ruguo ni xuyao qian, zuihao bu wen ta, yinwei ta zhen shi ge kou menr) “if you need money, it’s best you don’t ask him because he’s a real cheapskate”.

磕蜜 (ke mi) “to chase girls / look for a fiance”

我的一个朋友之所以出门,是因为去磕蜜 (wo de yi ge pengyou zhi suo yi chu men, shi yinwei qu ke mi) “my friend goes out because he’s looking for a fiance”.

口碑 (kou bei) “reputation / fame”

这个餐厅的口碑怎么样?(zhe ge canting de koubei zenme yang?) “what’s this restaurant’s reputation?”

酷毙 (kubi) “the coolest”

成小龙长得真酷毙,难怪广告商都让他来做产品广告 (Cheng Xiaolong zhang de zhen kubi, nan guai guanggao shang dou rang ta lai zuo chanpin guanggao) “Cheng Xiaolong is truly the coolest. That’s no surprise if everyone who advertises lets him advertise his own products.

辣妹子 (lameizi) “an angry woman with a cutting tongue and strong as a hot pepper” (a term that’s used a lot!)

跟她打交道小心点,她被认为是个辣妹子 (gen ta da jiao dao xiaoxin dian, ta bei renwei shi ge lameizi) “watch out for her because she’s considered a lameizi.

老日 (lao ri) “Japanese Yen”

手上我还有一些老日 (shoushang wo hai you yi xie lao ri) “I still have a few Yen on hand”.

老头儿 (lao tour) “an older person”

在杭州的时候,我的邻居都是老头儿 (zai Hangzhou de shihou, wo de linju dou shi lao tour) “when I was in Hangzhou, all my neighbors were elderly”.

老外 (lao wai) “foreigners”

她嫁给一个老外 (ta jia gei yi ge lao wai) “she married a foreigner”.

粒豆 (li dou) “metaphor for Renminbi”

只要口袋里有粒豆,你想吃什么都能买得到 (zhiyao koudai li you li dou, ni xiang chi shenme dou neng mai de dao) so long as you have some RMB in your pocket, you can buy anything you want to eat.

靓 (liang) “beautiful” (used mainly in Hong Kong)

在香港有很多靓女生 (zai Xianggang you hen duo liang nu sheng) “in Hong Kong there are lots of beautiful women”.

靓仔 (liang zai) “good-looking man / handsome guy” (also used in Hong Kong)

在香港有靓仔吗?(zai Xianggang you liang zai ma?) “are there good-looking guys in Hong Kong?”

马大嫂 (ma da sao) “housewife or stay at home” (in the Shanghai dialect, these three words sound respectively like “to go shopping, to wash and to cook)

我的一个朋友自从结婚后就当上了马大嫂 (wo de yi ge pengyou zicong jiehun hou jiu dangshang le ma da sao) “when my friend got married she became a housewife”.

马仔 (mazai) “gangster”

昨天一个马仔被逮捕了 (zuotian yi ge maizai bei daibu le) “yesterday a gangster was arrested”.

码长城 (ma changcheng) “metaphor that indicates playing Majiang”

中国老头儿每天都码长城 (Zhongguo lao tour meitian dou ma changcheng) “the elderly Chinese play Majiang every day”.

蛮 (man) “rather”

他蛮能干的 (ta man nenggan de) “He is rather capable”.

满脸车道沟 (man lian che dao gou) “metaphor to describe someone with a wrinkled face, covered in lines”

你瞧他的脸,已经是满脸车道沟 (ni qiao ta de lian, yijing shi man lian che dao gou) “look at her face, it’s already covered in wrinkles”.

满世界 (man shijie) “everywhere”

麦当劳满世界都有 (Maidanglao man shijie dou you) “Mcdonalds are everywhere”.

没门儿 (mei menr) “nothing to do / no way of escape / not have an any idea”

没门儿,在意大利找到工作真难 (mei menr, zai Yidali zhaodao gongzuo zhen nan) “nothing you can do, finding work in Italy is very difficult.

没起子 (mei qizi) “good for nothing”

他真没起子 (ta zhen mei qizi) “He is really good for nothing”.

没主 (mei zhu) “not belonging to anyone” (literally; to not have/own)

我找到了一个没主的钱包 (wo zhaodao le yi ge mei zhu de qianbao) “I found a wallet that nobody has claimed”.

闷嘚儿蜜 (men der mi) “to enjoy something in private / to do something behind someone’s back”

他买了个西瓜,闷嘚儿蜜了 (ta mai le ge xigua, men der mi le) “He bought a watermelon and ate it alone”.

咪表 (mi biao) “parking meter”

在Caltanissetta市的广场刚安上了新的一个咪表 (zai Caltanissetta shi de guangchang gang an shang le xin de yi ge mi biao) “In Caltanissetta’s city square they just installed a new parking meter”.

门子 (menzi) “deep mystery / secret”

魔术有不少门子,一般人都弄不明白 (moshu you bu shao menzi, yiban ren dou nong bu mingbai) “Magic has many secrets, common people can’t understand them.

面包会有的 (mianbao hui you de) “to have a bright future, better”

她总是安慰自己说面包会有的 (ta zongshi anwei ziji shuo mianbao hui you de) “She always consoles herself by saying that the future will be better.

命门 (ming men) “Achilles heel / point of strength”

每个人都有自己的命门 (mei ge ren dou you ziji de ming men) “everyone has their own Achilles heel”.

嫩 (nen) “young and without experience”

他太嫩了,不能处理这件事 (ta tai nen le, bu neng chuli zhe jian shi) “he is too young and inexperienced, he can’t handle this matter”.

蔫坏 (nian huai) “to secretly do bad things”

他看上去很老实,实际上蔫坏 (ta kan shang qu hen laoshi, shiji shang nian huai) “It would seem as if he was very honest but he secretly does bad things”.

呕叶 (ou ye) “oh yeah”

一片呕叶声 (yi pian ou ye sheng) “the sound of an oh yeah”

泡妞 (pao niu) “flirt with the girls”

下班以后很多人都去酒吧泡妞 (xiaban yi hou hen duo ren dou qu jiuba pao niu) “Many people after work go to the bar to flirt with girls”.

青一色 (qing yi se) “a unique color / entirely”

我妈妈喜欢青一色的红裙子 (wo mama xihuan qing yi se de hong qunzi ) “my mom likes skirts that are entirely red”.

弱智 (ruozhi) “stupid / idiot”

弱智,什么都不会做 (ruozhi, shenme dou bu hui zuo) “idiot, you don’t know how to do anything”.

飒 (sa) “elegant / fascinating / graceful” (only for women)

那个女儿看上去够飒的 (nage nu er kan shang qu gou sa de) “that woman seems elegant enough”.

三孙子 (san sunzi) “a person that always says yes and lowers their head”

他怕老板会炒他的鱿鱼,所以他像一个三孙子一样总是听老板说的话 (ta pa laoban hui chao ta de youyu, suoyi ta xiang yi ge san sunzi yi yang zongshi ting laoban shuo de hua) “he’s very afraid that his boss will fire him, so like a san sunzi he always goes along with what the boss says”.

烧钱 (shao qian) “spend money rapidly” (literally; burn money)

月光族喜欢烧钱 (yueguang zu xihuan shao qian) “big spenders like to burn money”.

刷课 (shua ke) “to skip school”

如果你赢了奖学金的话,最好不刷课 (ruguo ni ying le jiangxuejin de hua, zui hao bu shua ke) “if you won a scholarship it’s best that you don’t skip your lessons”.

逃票 (taopiao) “to take the bus without paying for a ticket”

公共汽车拥挤时他总是逃票 (gong gong qi che yongji shi ta zongshi taopiao) “when the bus is crowded he always takes it without paying for a ticket”.

挑工 (tiao gong) “to quit a job”

因为他不喜欢自己的工作,所以很快就挑工了 (yinwei ta bu xihuan ziji de gongzuo, suoyi ta hen kuai jiu tiao gong le) “because he didn’t like his job, he quit right away”.

铁哥们儿 (tie ge menr) “intimate friend”

他是我的好铁哥们儿 (ta shi wo de hao tie ge menr) “he is one of my most dearest, intimate friends”.

哇塞 (wa sai) “oh, wow” (a term that expresses surprise at something, used mostly in a sporting setting)

哇塞,这个地方太漂亮了 (wa sai, zhe ge difang tai piaoliang le) “wow, this place is too beautiful”.

外活 (wai huo) “extra work”

今天我有外活要做 (jintian wo you wai huo yao zuo) “today I had extra work to do”.

网虫 (wang chong) “internet fan”

最近网虫越来越多 (zuijin wang chong yue lai yue duo) “lately there are more and more internet fans”.

网友 (wang you) online friend”

今年我认识了很多网友 (jinnian wo renshi le hen duo wang you) “this year I met many online friends”.

I hope you enjoyed this lesson!

We at Sapore di Cina expect to learn many new slang expressions, so we ask you to leave as many as possible in the comments.

Thanks and happy studies!

Photo Credits: Creative Commons License Jackie Chan Gymnasium by David Woo

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