Blindly busy

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Zhěngtiān xiābī máng, hái TM bù zhèngqián


"I'm busy the whole fucking day, but I don't earn any fucking money."

Xiābī 瞎逼 is a derivative of 牛逼, which is often translated as "awesome", but it literally means "cow cunt" (no kidding). We've mentioned this ubiquitous term quite a few times before on Language Log (see, for example, here, here, here, here, and here).  Among the more detailed and direct comments on niúbī 牛逼 are this one by Bob Violence and this one by bocaj (second paragraph).  Xiābī 瞎逼 literally means "blind [cow] cunt"; the "fucking" on the change purse is a close enough approximation.

TM is short for tāmāde 他妈的 ("his mother's"), China's "national swear word" (guómà 国骂) — Lu Xun (1881-1936) has a great essay about it. You can probably guess what "his mother's" is referring to and what is to be done to it.

So here we have two very common Mandarin imprecations, and both of them are inspired by the same female organ.

We've encountered similar change purses before:

"Beat of the person awarded" (6/12/14)

"Good good study; day day up" (1/14/14)

They generally seem to have whacky sayings and slogans written on them, so it would seem that they constitute a well-established genre of accessories in China.


  1. Peter B. Golden said,

    August 26, 2018 @ 7:38 pm

    In Russian, the expression ёб твою мать (go fuck your mother) is so ubiquitous that the term мат obviously deriving from мать (mother) is used simply to denote "cursing." Ёб твою мать can be used in a variety of situations (no shortage of them in Russian) to express everything ranging from its literal meaning to simply an expression of surprise, akin to the American English "no shit!" – obviously said among friends. Indeed, almost any word or words prefacing твою мать will accomplish the same thing. An amusing form is кредит твою мать because кредит (credit) sounds like едрить/едри твою мать which has the same meaning at ебать, ёб. Пизда (cunt) – one could fill a dictionary with verbal form and nouns derived from it, e.g. пиздёж (nonsense, bullshit), пиздельничать (to loaf around, be lazy, taken from бездельничать a more polite form), пиздец (the end of something, something messed up etc.). For computer lovers there is пиздося, a play on the words PC Dos.

  2. Andrew Usher said,

    August 26, 2018 @ 9:15 pm

    First thought is that this is a 'surreptitious' complaint by the person making this thing! But of course knowing anything about the Chinese destroys that, LOL.

    I actually don't think swearing it very interesting, linguistically, because it's so divorced from literal meaning. What the profanity originally meant is of little importance to its use as a profanity, and does not even determine very well its 'level of offensiveness'.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo.cpm

  3. Procopius said,

    August 27, 2018 @ 1:40 am

    Andrew, you don't find swear words interesting? I do because they vary so much. The only Mandarin swear word I knew before was "turtle's egg." I will treasure these additions. I learned the Russian one from a Latvian refugee kid I knew in high school. The most common one in Thai is a single syllable word that names a species of monitor lizard. You don't really hear it very often.

  4. Jonathan Smith said,

    August 27, 2018 @ 10:10 am

    Interesting that "fucking (adj/noun)" is the syntactic preference in English, whereas for the first Chinese case I think you would have to say that bi1 modifies the adverb xia1 'blindly' ( [[xia1 bi1] mang2], lit. "cunt-blindly busy"?), and in the second one ta1ma1 is applied in a "sentence adverb"/zhuangyu slot (lit. "still his-mom don't make money").

  5. Bathrobe said,

    August 27, 2018 @ 7:06 pm

    Surely this is 瞎忙 'blindly busy', with a 逼 added for emphasis, as it were. Also, Chinese has other expressions with 逼, such as 傻逼 sha bi 'stupid c***'; are these necessarily derived from 牛逼?

  6. Andrew Usher said,

    August 27, 2018 @ 7:13 pm

    No, I really don't. (That doesn't mean I don't swear, of course – those are completely unrelated! ) To me, profanity as such is outside of normal grammar, and its study really doesn't seem to offer any insight into anything but cursng itself (when even that). I'm willing to be proved wrong, though.

    In addition I suspect that some of the interest in it is motivated simply by its 'taboo' nature.

  7. Philip Taylor said,

    August 27, 2018 @ 11:49 pm

    I'm with Andrew on this one; I think he has summed up my feelings perfectly.

  8. Bathrobe said,

    August 28, 2018 @ 12:16 am

    Isn't the full expression 'cao ni tamade ge bi'? Or is that a later development?

  9. derek said,

    August 28, 2018 @ 5:59 am

    In English, "Your Mother" is understood as an allusion to swearing and insults. In many dialects of English "blind" and "blinding" is understood as a part of swearing for emphasis. Some of it is a euphemism for "bleeding" and some is a reference to being made disabled by something so bad. "To rob someone blind" for instance. Sometimes it flips to being a good thing, "That was a blinding performance"

  10. Mango said,

    August 28, 2018 @ 8:11 am

    "I am fucking busy – unfortunately, it's not the other way around"

  11. Philip Taylor said,

    August 28, 2018 @ 8:11 am

    'In English, "Your Mother" is understood as an allusion to swearing and insults'. Perhaps in some topolects/sociolects/whatever — not, to the best of my belief, in standard British English, where it would have no undesirable connotations whatsoever.

  12. Anthony said,

    August 28, 2018 @ 9:04 am

    I never found Maledicta to be of the slightest interest, but Jim McCawley's work is a whole different story.

  13. Reinhold {Rey} Aman said,

    August 29, 2018 @ 4:56 pm

    Anthony said:

    I never found Maledicta to be of the slightest interest, but Jim McCawley's work is a whole different story.

    (1) How many of the ca. 3,500 pages of Maledicta did you read?

    (2) Highlights from Maledicta vols. 1-10 are below.

    (3) Jim McCawley was a good friend of mine and a great admirer of Maledicta.

    (4) Most puzzling, what caused you to publicly embarrass yourself by revealing your well-frog mentality?

  14. Reinhold {Rey} Aman said,

    August 29, 2018 @ 5:48 pm

    Reinhold {Rey} Aman said:

    (2) Highlights from Maledicta vols. 1-10 are below.


    The link (URI) to the highlights is not below but in my name above. Sorry.

  15. cliff arroyo said,

    August 29, 2018 @ 11:10 pm

    Sort of OT but this is as good a place as any.
    Just the other day I was channel flipping and stopped for a moment on a channel called New Tang Dynasty.

    Anyway, there was a woman speaking in English (with a Chinese accent) and there were Chinese subtitles but I noticed that the hanzi for country (one of the 100 or so I regognize) was appearing in both the traditional and simpliefied forms seemingly and random and the classifier ge seemed to be only used in the simplified form (far superior to the traditional imho).
    Is this kind of mixing using different versions of the same character in the same (presumably professionally prepared) text?
    Is something else going on?

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