The year of the Golden Monkey is truly excellent

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Time for Chinese New Year celebrations.  This is the year of the Monkey.  In this article from the online China Times, the customary couplet (it's more of a singlet in this case) on red paper features an interlingual pun: the characters 金猴 ("golden monkey"), when read in Mandarin, are pronounced jīn hóu, which is a near homophone for the Taiwanese chin-hó 真好 ("truly good", i.e., "excellent").  Thus roughly the "peaceful golden monkey" becomes "peace is wonderful".

Reading the whole thing — 平安金猴 — in Taiwanese would give you pêng-an kim kâu, leading to loss of the wordplay. So, in order to understand the pun, the reader has to speak both Mandarin and Taiwanese.

T. pêng-an kim kâu / M. p íng'ān jīn hóu 平安金猴 ("peaceful golden monkey")


T. pêng-an chin-hó / M. p íng'ān zhēn hǎo 平安真好 ("peace is wonderful")

Interlingual punning is second nature to Taiwanese, as also evidenced by the previous post on "More sound-loan Taiwanese" (2/3/16).

[Thanks to Michael Cannings]


  1. Kai Carver said,

    February 4, 2016 @ 3:17 pm

    Also seen on a Taiwanese red envelope (for the customary New Year's gift of money):
    hóu ài nǐ a
    I asked, that means "Monkey loves you ah"?

    Answer: Yes, but also sounds like
    hǎo ài nǐ a
    "I love you a lot".

  2. Rubrick said,

    February 4, 2016 @ 4:54 pm

    I think I've asked this here before, but I'm still curious: Does punning receive the same mild disapprobation in the Sinosphere as it does in (much of?) the English-speaking world? That is to say, do people groan? Is "inveterate punster" a thing?

  3. Michael Watts said,

    February 4, 2016 @ 5:11 pm

    After seeing a new year's decoration with the phrase 玉兔闹春 (my best attempt at translating this would be something like "jade rabbit rings in the new year"), I assumed it was a reference to the moon rabbit (玉兔). Two people I asked about it gave me the following information:

    – that's not the moon rabbit, just a rabbit for year of the rabbit. It's "玉兔" because rabbits are white, like jade. ("当然也有灰兔子和黑兔子,不过我们偏爱小白兔子" [of course gray and black rabbits also exist, but we particularly like white ones])

    – year of the rabbit and year of the monkey are the only (?) zodiac years with a traditional expression of this kind attached, the monkey's being 金猴闹春, because monkeys are golden in color

    So 金猴 as a concept seems to have been fairly well established outside of any tendency to pun off Taiwanese. This makes me curious about a few things:

    Might the traditional 金猴 have originated in a pun like this?

    Do envelopes with sayings that seem to rely on knowledge of Taiwanese sell well on the mainland? I could imagine someone with no knowledge of Taiwanese picking up on 猴爱你 / 好爱你 anyway. 平安金猴 strikes me as more strange, but my judgment isn't worth much here.

    Do sayings of the form 平安XX occur with other entities?

  4. Michael Cannings said,

    February 4, 2016 @ 5:25 pm

    Apropos of not very much, but members of the Presbyterian church in Taiwan (and maybe other religious adherents, I don't know) often greet each other with pêng-an (peace) rather than chia̍h-pá–boē? (have you eaten?)

  5. Michael Watts said,

    February 5, 2016 @ 3:28 am

    Followup: I asked someone from Shanghai if they'd ever seen a 红包 saying 猴爱你啊, and whether they thought it would be an appropriate blessing. Responses were: (1) No, never seen it; (2) It sounds like it must be a reference to Cantonese, homophonous with 很爱你 or 好爱你. So the idea of a pun is there, but it doesn't seem to appeal to people purely on the strength of sound similarity in Mandarin.

  6. Josep Folta said,

    February 6, 2016 @ 12:18 am

    The name of this new year is extremely funny/rather unfortunate in Korean. 丙申猴年。丙申 is pronounced 병신 which is most all of the time used to mean idiot (literally, handicapped person [病身]).

    Also, I remember when I was little, my friends and I always would laugh at the name of the famous Chinese poet 冰心。 Even in Chinese, the name seems to have a potential negative meaning ("frozen heart"). In Korean these two syllables are once again pronounced as 병신, idiot. >~<.

  7. Josep Folta said,

    February 6, 2016 @ 12:22 am

    The full name 丙申年 can actually mean Stupid Year or even Crazy Woman (actually probably more like crazy b**** >~<).

  8. Victor Mair said,

    February 7, 2016 @ 8:09 am

    I'm surprised by how many "Year of the Ape" greetings I've been receiving, especially (but by no means exclusively) from people in the martial arts (one type of kung fu is called "ape-style boxing").

  9. Stephan Stiller said,

    February 8, 2016 @ 10:42 am

    [greeting witnessed on WhatsApp]

  10. Jongseong Park said,

    February 8, 2016 @ 4:36 pm

    @Josep Folta, to clarify, the Chinese name Bīngxīn 冰心 is rendered in Korean according to the Mandarin pronunciation as 빙신 Bingsin, which is not quite 병신 byeongsin but is a nonstandard, dialectal pronunciation thereof. If we used the Sino-Korean readings for the characters, we would get 빙심 Bingsim. Chinese names are rendered according to the Sino-Korean readings for historical figures, roughly speaking anyone from before the 20th century, while figures from the modern period are rendered according to the Mandarin pronunciations. Since we are talking about a 20th-century poet, 빙신 Bingsin is the correct though unfortunate rendering.

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