Bovine / friggin' toilet

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One corner of a gigantic public toilet at the Yangren Street theme park in Chongqing, Southwest China:

Source: "Castle-style toilet gives new meaning to 'throne room'", China Daily (9/4/18)

The above photograph is one of five in the article.  The scale of the toilet is breathtaking:  it can accommodate two thousand people.  Its style reminds one of Antonio Gaudi's home, gardens, and museum in Barcelona.

The banner on top reads:

zuì niú de cèsuǒ 最牛的廁所 ("the most awesome toilet")

Fair enough, simple enough, right?  But the word I translated as "awesome", written with a four-stroke character (pictographic in its earliest form, but not recognizable as such now) that everybody learns early on in their efforts to master the Chinese script, literally means "cow; bull; ox; buffalo", i.e., "bovine".

So how do we get from "bovine" to "awesome"?  It's not because bovines are big.  Rather, we have to detour through the very vulgar expression "niúbī 牛屄", which means — I kid you not — "cow cunt".

See:

Here are some sample sentences illustrating the usage of "niúbī 牛屄" ("cow cunt") (from Wiktionary):

(slang, vulgar) freaking awesome

小說牛屄 [MSCtrad.]
小说牛屄 [MSCsimp.]
Tā xiǎoshuō xiě de tài niúbī le. [Pinyin]
The novels he writes are fucking awesome.

哥們兒美國英國牛屄美國超級大國 [MSCtrad.]
哥们儿美国英国牛屄美国超级大国 [MSCsimp.]
Gēmenr, bié xiā shuō, Měiguó bǐ Yīngguó niúbī, Měiguó shì chāojí dàguó! [Pinyin]
Dude, don't talk shit. America's heaps stronger than Britain – U.S.A. is the superpower!

摩托車牛屄這麼 [MSCtrad.]
摩托车牛屄这么 [MSCsimp.]
Zhè liàng mótuōchē zhēn niúbī, zài le sān ge rén hái kāi zhème kuài. [Pinyin]
This motorbike's frigging awesome. Even with three people it still goes pretty fast.

In all of these instances, one can be less explicit by simply omitting the "bī 屄" ("cunt"), but it is still implicit.

One of my students reminded me that nowadays niú 牛 sometimes can even have a pretty good connotation.  People will refer to an excellent or outstanding person in a certain field as a "dà niú 大牛" ("big bovine"). Unlike the expression "niúrén 牛人" ("bovine person"), which can sometimes be sarcastic, "dà niú 大牛" ("big bovine") is a perfectly good term for calling attention to a person's extraordinary qualities.  Indeed, college students use this expression when referring to their favorite professors, and they do so with full respect.

Perhaps there is some blending between niú 牛 in the sense of "awesome" and the classical idiom "zhíniú'ěr 執牛耳" ("holding bovine ears" — see below for full meaning), because the expression "dà niú 大牛" ("big bovine") refers to those who "zhíniú'ěr 執牛耳" ("hold [the plate of] bovine ears"), or it could be just a coincidence.

zhíniú'ěr 執牛耳: (originally referring to the prince presiding over the ceremony at the conclusion of an alliance) hold the plate containing the ears of a sacrificial bull – be the acknowledged leader; hold a leading position; head.
— Pleco Dictionary

Readings

[Thanks to James Fanell and Xinchang Li]



5 Comments

  1. Stephen Bōden said,

    September 6, 2018 @ 2:35 pm

    C'est vachement incroyable…

  2. Lewis A Leavitt said,

    September 6, 2018 @ 2:59 pm

    Ahhh: so in Qiu Xiaolong's novels powerful officials and business moguls are referred to as " big bucks" —-is this translating the description—da4 niu2 ?

  3. Victor Mair said,

    September 6, 2018 @ 4:34 pm

    Qiu Xiaolong writes his novels directly in English.

  4. Bathrobe said,

    September 6, 2018 @ 7:20 pm

    I've heard fans at a rock concert calling out "Niú!"

  5. derek said,

    September 7, 2018 @ 10:07 am

    It's the dog's bollocks.

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