"Sexual harassment dried bamboo shoot"

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Given the bevy of shamed politicians and celebrities who have been paraded before the public in recent weeks, it may be of interest that the word for "sexual harassment" in Chinese is quite a colorful one:


xián zhūshǒu sǔngān guōzǎi


"stewed salted pork trotters with dried bamboo shoots" < "salted pork trotters with dried bamboo shoots in [hot] pot"

That's when the first three characters are being used in their overt, Sinographic sense:  "salted pork trotters".  But, as often happens in Cantonese, the same three characters have an entirely different connotation that is partly (in some cases wholly) dependent on the transcriptional value of one (or more) of the characters for rendering the sound of a foreign word or a Cantonese morpheme for which there is no known Chinese character.  In this case, the C. haam4 / M. xián 鹹 / 咸 (lit., "salt[y/ed]") stands for "ham", but that doesn't have anything ostensible to do with "salt(y/ed)".  Rather, it supposedly comes from English "hamshop", which is Sinographically transcribed into Cantonese as C. haam4sap1 鹹濕 / 咸湿 (Sinographically literally "salty-moist", but transcriptionally "hamshop", i.e., "lecherous; lascivious").

I found the fascinating information in the latter part of the preceding paragraph at this website, which also has a lengthy list of other Cantonese terms said to be transcribed from foreign words.  More information on the alleged etymology of English "hamshop" here and here.

In sum, the key term in the mistranslated menu item at the top of this page, xián zhūshǒu 咸猪手 ("groper"), is actually a Mandarin borrowing from Cantonese haam4 zyu1sau2 咸猪手 (lit., "salty pig's hand / trotter"; "sexual pervert [esp. one who gropes women against their wishes or without their permission]").  It should have been translated more directly as "salted pork trotters".

Cf. German Eisbein ("pickled ham hock").

Previous posts on this topic:

It's simpler in Japanese:

sekuhara セクハラ < sekusharuharasumento セクシャルハラスメント .

Now, after Matt Lauer, the latest in the procession from Harvey Weinstein to Al Franken and too many others to name, who will be the next "salty pig's hand" to be called out before the American public?


  1. Keith Clarke said,

    December 1, 2017 @ 3:57 am

    Ham shop seems an excellent coinage, perhaps inspired by the British(?) English "cattle market".

    From https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/cattle

    1. A typically public place where one goes to find potential sexual partners. Almost always used in a negative way. Primarily heard in UK, Australia.

  2. Sean M said,

    December 1, 2017 @ 4:29 am

    Keith Clarke: The version which I encounter more often in Canada, the USA, and Estonia is "meat market: a public space where people go to find employers or lovers. 'This conference is a real meat market.'" I would have not recognized hamshop at all!

  3. quodlibet said,

    December 1, 2017 @ 10:15 am

    Sean M: I understood the "meat" in "meat market" as a pun on "meet", although of course the other meaning is apparent. I remember reading back in 1986 about a saloon near Central Park: "The bar is the meat market and the park is the grill." I must say I've never heard of a meat market as a place to get work.

  4. quodlibet said,

    December 1, 2017 @ 10:25 am

    Keith Clarke: The urban dictionary gives not only the same definitions but the same examples, mutatis mutandis, for "cattle market" and "meat market", except that "meat market" is primarily heard in US and not marked as negative, though I can't think of any possible positive connotation.

  5. Keith Clarke said,

    December 1, 2017 @ 11:07 am

    quodlibet: I'm not so familiar with "meat market". I thought a HK borrowing would more likely be from British English, although that would require "cattle market" to have some antiquity.

    re positive connotations: about forty years ago I lived near a dancehall/bar (in England) called "The Cattle Market". I remember admiring their candour.

  6. Su-Chong Lim said,

    December 1, 2017 @ 11:24 am

    My understanding is that when expressed in Hokkien (Amoy Fujien) it comes out as "kiam siap", which, in Singapore, at least, means "stingy". The meaning in Cantonese "haam sap" is understood in Singapore as described in this post, that is, "haam sap loh" would be a dirty old man.

  7. DaveK said,

    December 1, 2017 @ 5:34 pm

    I've always associated the term "meat market" with an image on people being eyed like sides of beef–being selected on their visible attributes. I can't see how it's anything but disparaging.
    "As salt as wolves in pride" is one of several places Shakespeare uses salt to refer to sexual lust. How much of a universal analogue is this? It seems a bit counterintuitive since salty food is generally dried out and not very fresh or spicy.

  8. Gwen Katz said,

    December 2, 2017 @ 3:16 am

    "As salt as wolves in pride" is one of several places Shakespeare uses salt to refer to sexual lust. How much of a universal analogue is this? It seems a bit counterintuitive since salty food is generally dried out and not very fresh or spicy.

    I'd imagine it comes from the days when salt was a valuable commodity.

  9. Frédéric Grosshans said,

    December 2, 2017 @ 5:16 am

    The connection with pork reminds a French reaction to the Weinstein affair : the hashtag #balancetonporc (throw away your pork / expose your pig), which connects pork/pig with sexual harrassers.

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