Thick toast: another new Cantonese pun

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For the last few weeks, we have been pondering the ban on puns in the People's Republic of China: "When puns are outlawed …" (12/9/2014); "It's not just puns that are being banned in China" (12/7/14); "Punning banned in China"(11/29/14).

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, Cantonese speakers are coming up with new words, most of them involving puns, practically every day: "New Cantonese word" (12/8/14).

The following is a guest post by Bob Bauer, who introduces us to yet another clever Hong Kong Cantonese punning expression.

To introduce Bob's post, let me explain what a "trendy expression" ( ciu4jyu5 潮語) in Hong Kong language studies circles is.  The term is fairly self-evident, so — for those who want to learn more about it — I'll simply direct them to the following websites, which discuss various aspects of "trendy expressions:

Cantonese Every Day — a few examples with clear explanations and recordings; some of these have an almost koan-like Zen quality to them

video about cards for learning trendy expressions — this is cool

M.A. thesis — morphological, semantic and pragmatic analyses

Wikpedia article — fairly general article in Mandarin on liúxíngyǔ 流行語 ("buzzwords")

slanguage — with some useful links in the references at the end

an example of a popular trendy expression in HK with many connotations — "gap"

short definitions in Chinese

Now, on to Bob's guest post:

厚多士hau5 do1 si6/2: New Trendy Word
厚多士:  406,000 Google hits (as of 10/12/2014)

On December 5th, 2014 the Apple Daily 《蘋果日報》, which is one of HK’s most popular Chinese-language newspapers, published on page A24 an article entitled , “榴褳乜乜乜潮語 No.1, 雅虎搜尋榜 (literally, ‘Durian what what what is the No. 1 trendy word, Yahoo Search List). The article included “十大潮語搜尋榜” (literally, List of Top 10 Trendy Expressions). Number 2 on this Yahoo list was 厚多士 (literally, ‘thick toast’). Its origin can be traced to the contact between Cantonese and Mandarin in Hong Kong which has been the catalyst for creating sardonic puns by Cantonese-speakers.

A mainland woman and her child were riding the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) train and also eating and drinking, two activities which are not permitted by MTR regulations; a local woman passenger pointed this out to the mainlander who became highly offended and so rebuked her in Cantonese by saying (among a number of other very harsh things) “你好多事!” nĭ hăo duō shì, literally, You (concern yourself with) lots of matters!, i.e., You’re quite meddlesome!.

Some other passengers must have videoed this verbal exchange with their mobile phones and then uploaded the videos to YouTube, where it has been viewed by thousands of people. The Cantonese-speakers have punned the Putonghua pronunciation of the phrase “好多事 hăo duō shì” by representing it with the Chinese characters “厚多士” which are pronounced in Cantonese as hau5 do1 si6/2, i.e. 厚 ‘thick’ + 多士 do1 si6/2 ‘toast’ (which is a loanword from English), which exists only as a nonsensical and hence humorous expression.

By the way, 鳩嗚 gau1 wu1 ("shopping") was #7 on that Yahoo list of HK trendy words/expressions that was mentioned.

Bob added the following remarks a day after completing the above paragraphs:

I've been listening very carefully to the audio with this linked Youtube video for 厚多士:

In arguing with her fellow MTR train passengers the mainland woman — with dyed orange hair, no less! — can't control her temper and occasionlly flips out completely. I feel sorry for her young son sitting next to her; he obviously feels quite embarrassed by his mother's aggressively argumentative behavior and looks like he would like to hide under his seat

She is speaking in Cantonese and says 你好多事 many times in this video (for a Putonghua speaker one would expect 很多事).

Her speech is very fast, and her pronunciation of 好 seems to lie in between hou2 and hao2 which is apparently why some Hongkongers have heard it as 厚 hau5 'thick', thus giving rise to its humorous characterification as 厚多士 hao5 do1 si6/2 'thick toast'.


  1. yknt said,

    December 11, 2014 @ 1:08 pm


  2. Victor Mair said,

    December 11, 2014 @ 3:40 pm


    Since 腥港 does not occur in this post, why are you commenting on it?

  3. Simon P said,

    December 12, 2014 @ 2:08 am

    The "Mainlander eats on the MTR and yells about it" seems to be a thing. I've seen several videos of this on YouTube. This is far from the only one. The woman in question is clearly a native Cantonese speaker, but not from HK. I was also struck by the expression "mou4 ding1 ding1" where a HKer would surely have said "mou4 dyun1 dyun1" 無端端 (suddenly, for no reason; out of the blue). I wonder where she's from?

    It seems to me, after a cursory search, that 厚多士 is really used only to refer to two things. One is the incident in the video, and the other one is an actual kind of thick toast. See this Mainland article on where to find the best "thick toast" in Shanghai, for example: Apparently it's a HK specialty dish? "蜂蜜厚多士号称是世界上最好的港式美味". I have never encountered it in HK myself.

  4. Simon P said,

    December 12, 2014 @ 2:23 am

    Also, the Wikipedia page linked to in the post isn't to Cantonese Wikipedia. Cantonese Wikipedia doesn't seem to have a page on 潮語 (it's not a very big Wikipedia), but here's the Cantonese Wikipedia page on Hong Kong:

    Note, though, that the language of Cantonese Wikipedia is generally pretty formal, and thus relatively close to written Mandarin. The more colloquial the language, the more different the two languages are in grammar and vocabulary.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    December 12, 2014 @ 8:26 am

    @Simon P

    "the Wikipedia page linked to in the post isn't to Cantonese Wikipedia"

    Fixed now.

    Everything that Simon P says about Cantonese in his second comment is true. In my numerous Language Log posts and comments on Cantonese over the years, I've always stressed how great a range of written Cantonese there is, from formal prose with just a sprinkling of Cantonese expressions to highly colloquial writing that is unintelligible to people who don't speak Cantonese. These distinctions are covered well by Donald Snow in his book entitled Cantonese as Written Language: The Growth of a Written Chinese Vernacular.

    Simon P mentions the Cantonese Wikipedia page on Hong Kong. I should note that this article includes a section devoted to language:

    The latter has a link to this very short article on language and script in Hong Kong:

    This little article includes a very interesting photograph with cartoon balloons illustrating the Babel of tongues that can be heard in Hong Kong:

  6. cameron said,

    December 12, 2014 @ 10:39 am

    From Simon P's comments above it seems that in this case the Hong Kong crowd isn't mocking the speech of Mandarin-speakers, but the speech of someone who speaks what comes across as a country-bumpkin variety of Cantonese.

  7. JQ said,

    December 12, 2014 @ 12:38 pm

    She's just speaking Cantonese with a Mandarin native speaker's accent, so the pronunciation is slightly off given that certain diphthongs? / vowel sounds are not found in Mandarin.

  8. Victor Mair said,

    December 12, 2014 @ 12:50 pm


    How common is it for Mandarin speakers to command Cantonese as a second language? From what regions of China so they come? Do they sometimes gain fairly high levels of fluency? How do they learn Cantonese? Formally? On the street? Through media? Through intermarriage?

  9. Simon P said,

    December 12, 2014 @ 2:04 pm

    If she's not a native speaker of Cantonese, color me very impressed. She speaks fast, fluent Cantonese, including colloquial expressions (你食錯藥) and swears (屌你老母). Not once does she let slip Mandarin grammar or vocabulary, as far as I can tell. I'd certainly put my money on her being from Guangdong or Guangxi, though I'm not skilled enough to pick out her accent. Most likely she's a native speaker of both languages. Cantonese has lots of different dialects, some of which are on the edge of being separate languages (Toisanwa). Remember, Hong Kongers are angry about and making fun of the behavior of Mainland visitors, many of which are Cantonese speakers. The in-group/out-group line is not linguistic, but cultural, political, geographical.

  10. Jeff W said,

    December 12, 2014 @ 6:47 pm

    Apparently it's a HK specialty dish?…I have never encountered it in HK myself.

    I'm pretty sure Tsui Wah, the ubiquitous local Hong Kong “cha chaan teng,” has it—in fact, this CNN article mentions it as “surefire” cha chaan teng food. It’s Hong Kong-style Western food. You can find it in Hong Kong-style places in the US and Canada as well.

  11. Victor Mair said,

    December 13, 2014 @ 9:45 pm

    From a colleague:


    Many thanks for the very interesting post — indeed, such a stark contrast with Hong Kongers' freedom to use language as they please (ironically, despite Beijing saying that this is "contrary to the spirit of traditional Chinese culture", it seems to me that people are simply playing with language in a way that is steeped in tradition)….

    It is indeed such a chilling, Orwellian development. It seems to me that China is cracking down on creativity in many forms – as in this decision to send artists to the countryside to form a "correct" view of art. Creativity appears to be being linked with subversion in the government's thinking.

    Yet it seems to me that it is impossible to enforce a ban on puns when so many are embedded in the language. And even if you can cleanse TV or radio adverts of wordplay, the kind of symbolic, sentimental puns that netizens love to pass around on Weibo or Wechat, e.g. the "day of romance" last January 4 that sparked a flood of weddings (2013-1-4 = 爱你一生一世) are unlikely to go away.


    Cf. "Thick toast: another new Cantonese pun"

  12. Fluxor said,

    December 17, 2014 @ 2:06 pm

    I agree with Simon P that the agitated woman in question appears to be a native Cantonese speaker. She is extremely fluent and shows a good command of Cantonese vocabulary. To my ears, it sounds like she's speaking a southern Guangdong 廣東/广东 variety of Cantonese, in the areas of Zhongshan 中山, Jiangmen 江門/江门, and Zhuhai 珠海. These areas are directly south of Guangzhou 廣州/广州 (home of the "standard" Cantonese accent) and east/northeast of Hong Kong (home of the other "standard" accent).

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