Peking colloquialisms

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Here is a photograph of a paper placemat Tong Wang found in a restaurant serving Beijing dishes that is named "Sea Bowl Restaurant" (Hǎiwǎn jū 海碗居):

Printed on the placemat are numerous Pekingese colloquialisms that are mostly unintelligible to people who are not natives of the city.  With help from her friends in Beijing, Yijie Zhang figured all of them out and provides these simple translations:

quánxū quányǐr 全須全尾 healthy; safe and sound ("wěi 尾" is pronounced as yǐ and with an er sound)

bàngchuí 棒槌 idiot; people who think in a straightforward way

xià tàor 下套兒 trap; frame up someone

yī bēngzi 一繃子 a while, i.e., " yīhuǐr 一會兒"

dǐ'er diào 底兒掉 completely; thoroughly

Hǎde mén 哈德門, i.e., Chóngwén mén 崇文門, "Gate of Respectful Civility" ("hā 哈" is pronounced as hǎ, and  dé  德 is pronounced in a light tone)

yōuzhe diǎnr 悠著點兒  be careful; slow down

dòu yáqiānzi 逗牙籤子  be kidding; make a joke

máli'er 麻利兒  hurry up; doing something quickly

ná dàdǐng 拿大頂  handstand

fàxiǎo'ér 發小兒  good friend since childhood

júqì 局器 be generous and loyal to friends (or "júqì 局氣"); close friends

māozhe 貓著 stay; curl one's body [VHM:  I like this one — "act cattish"]

diǎnmǎo 點卯 present; show up

yìngchǎng 應場 attend certain event; behave accordingly in specific occasions

dōu quānzi 兜圈子 talk about other things before reaching one's real point [VHM:  beat around the bush]

dǎguà 打卦 practice divination ("打" is the stressed syllable rather than "卦")

mài cōng 賣蔥 play dumb [VHM:  lit., "sell onions", but perhaps the cōng 蔥 {onions} is standing for cōng 聪 {bright; clever; smart}, with the meaning inverted, which is common in Pekingese colloquial, for which see below]

niānrhuài 蔫兒壞 crafty and insidious; to describe people who do bad things but pretend to be nice

jiānguǒr 尖果兒 beautiful girls

diānrle 顛兒了 go away; run [VHM:  scram; skedaddle]

lāle kuà 拉了胯 surrender; admit one's weakness

ménr qīng 門兒清 completely know

yànmehǔ 燕麼虎 bat (the animal)

jiàntiān 見天 everyday; for the whole day; always

chě xiánpiān 扯閒篇 chat without talking about anything important

liào tiāozi 撂挑子 quit; stop doing one's job / assignment

hēi'er lóuzhe 嘿兒嘍著 give a kid a piggyback

bǎbùzhù biān 把不住邊 bragging a lot; saying things unreliable

zhóu 軸 stubborn

dàná 大拿 master / expert of a profession

niàn yāngr 念央兒 talk aloud on purpose (in order to indicate one's intention)

liàn jiāzǐ 練家子 people who practice wǔshù 武術 [VHM:  martial arts]

zhàle miào 炸了廟 extremely surprised / excited / angry [VHM:  blow up the temple]

tàocí 套磁 cotton up to someone

liù wānr 遛彎兒 go for a walk

yǎnlì jiànr 眼力見兒 the ability to notice something subtle and act accordingly

liàogāo'er dǎ yuǎnr 撂高兒打遠兒 look far into the distance

shuǎi piàn tānghuà 甩片湯話 say things unhelpful and meaningless

yūncài 暈菜 confused; dizzy

tián bù suōsuō de 甜不唆唆的 tasting sweet (but not too sweet "hōu 齁" [snore {loudly}; thirsty from salty food; very; extremely])

dǎ piāo'er 打漂兒 (unemployed people) hang around

Particularly, I found "duō xīnxiān ne 多新鮮呢" most interesting and tricky to translate among all these expressions, because "多" here basically means "NOT AT ALL" and "多新鮮呢" thus means "of course / it is too obvious to say / this is rather common". And this meaning largely relies on the tone in which people say it!

[VHM:  I have added the Pinyin Romanizations]

Yijie's final comment reminds me of the inverse meaning of déxíng 德行  ("virtuous conduct; moral honesty / behavior") when spoken by snarky Beijingers.  Depending on how they say it, déxíng 德行 can mean quite the opposite, viz., "disgusting; shameful"!

Here are translations into English of selected items on the placemat by Brendan O'Kane that convey a sense of the register and tone of the Pekingese expressions:

全須全尾 (quán xū quán yǐr): “in mint condition” (of people; I remember hearing that this was originally used of fighting crickets, though who knows how reliable that is)
棒槌 (bàngchui): “schmuck; chump”
下套兒 (xià tàor): “to lay a trap” (is this really specific to Beijing?)
一繃子 (yi bēngzi): “yonks”

Some of these don’t really strike me as being particular to Beijinghua —  門兒清 ménr qīng (“perfectly clear about sth.”), 貓著 māozhe (“low-key chilling”) and 遛彎兒 liù wānr (“to perambulate”) are common enough, I’d say. Then again, who knows; I’ve met young Beijing natives who didn’t know the term 顛兒了 diānr le (“to skedaddle”).

Below are photographs Chenfeng Wang took in "Sea Bowl Restaurant" (Hǎiwǎn jū 海碗居) when she was in Beijing. It seems that, despite its name, "Sea Bowl Restaurant" (Hǎiwǎn jū 海碗居) is not a place for seafood, but is famous for traditional Beijing dishes, such as zhájiàng miàn 炸酱面 ("fried soybean sauce noodles with minced meat").  The "hǎiwǎn 海碗" in the name refers to a "big bowl" or "extra-large bowl" (cf. "海量", lit., "sea capacity" [a large number; massive; magnanimity; used to describe a person who has a great capacity for liquor).
Here are pictures of some of the dishes they serve:

That should leave you drooling!


[Thanks to Xiuyuan Mi, Changxin Li, Jiayi Li, and Joel Martinsen]


  1. Jonathan Smith said,

    October 13, 2018 @ 5:57 pm

    Re: pinyin
    you1zhe dianr not zhuo2
    fa4xiao3 髮小 not fa1
    ying4chang3 not ying1

    [VHM: all fixed]

    Also why sometimes "'er" for erhua?

    [VHM: just the way they sound to my ear, but definitely not two syllables; the apostrophe is required between two vowels according to the official Hanyu Pinyin orthographical rules]

    Yes many are common across north China
    全须… don't know the expression but makes perfect sense if crickets since 'antennae' is so written in simplified script

  2. Jichang Lulu said,

    October 14, 2018 @ 9:18 am

    The popular name Hade men 哈德门 (which gave English and French ‘Hata’, Russian Хада Xada) dates to Yuan times: it was known as Hada men 哈达门, which according to the Yuan gazetteer Xijin zhi 析津志 referred to the nearby residence of a (Mongol?) prince Hada dawang 哈达大王. (The Xijin zhi is lost, although fragments have been compiled into a modern edition; some of them, including the one on the gate’s name, survived in the Qing Rixia jiuwen kao 日下旧闻考 (Investigations on the Accounts of the Past Heard in the Precincts of the Sun, as Duncan Campbell might call the work).) The Republican-era cigarette brand Hade men 哈德门 (old advertisements here, here and here; it was revived in the ‘90s) had the English name ‘Hatamen’.

    So that’s one possibly Mongolian-related item attested on that placemat. Manchu loans also exist. I’m not sure if they have been discussed on Language Log for the Pekingese case; see this 2013 post for Northeast Mandarin.

  3. Brendan said,

    October 14, 2018 @ 2:52 pm

    Register/tone notes on a few more of these:

    fàxiǎor 發小兒 (I hear this as erized 小, rather than as two distinct syllables 小兒) — "Friend since childhood" is correct, but my impression is that this is used much more by/of women than men.

    júqì 局器 (I've seen 局氣 more often recently) — I think this is more or less in the neighborhood of "keeping it real."

    niānrhuài 蔫兒壞 — I love this one. 蔫兒屁 niānrpì is the term used for a stealthy but pungent fart, so I'd translate both that and this as "S.B.D. — Silent But Deadly."

    jiānguǒr 尖果兒 is a bit more in the neighborhood of "hot chicks" than "beautiful girls," I'd say: 果兒 guǒr is a very male-gaze-y term as I hear it, rather than something a woman might apply to herself. I haven't got a copy of Dale Johnson's dictionary to check, but 果兒 guǒr" in this sense seems to be associated with demimonde usage going back at least as far as the novel 水滸傳, and was still common in the Beijing rock and punk scene a few years ago. (I could swear I'd also heard "色果兒 shǎiguǒr" used to mean "white chicks" in this scene, but that usage doesn't seem to have made it onto the internet.)

    hōu 齁 (mentioned in a note on the onomatopoetic tián busuosuō de 甜不唆唆的 above) — in my experience this is always erized when used to mean "cloying; overwhelmingly sweet" (齁兒甜 hōur tián de).

  4. Jonathan Smith said,

    October 14, 2018 @ 10:10 pm

    [VHM: just the way they sound to my ear, but definitely not two syllables; the apostrophe is required between two vowels according to the official Hanyu Pinyin orthographical rules]

    Interesting… I was looking again and you basically chose to write "-'er" after open syllables but just "-r" after -n/-ng (the one exception is the rime -uo + erhua, which is written "-uor".) So arguably you are perceiving conditioned phonetic realizations of retroflexion…

  5. Victor Mair said,

    October 15, 2018 @ 7:53 am

    More Peking colloquialisms, including “怹"

    (article in Chinese)

  6. liuyao said,

    October 15, 2018 @ 9:01 am

    多新鲜呢 when pronounced as duó xīnxian ne, does convey the opposite meaning than its face value. I won’t think of 多 as a negation here, but rather the whole phrase is meant as a sarcasm, as in “how strange, duh?”

  7. Victor Mair said,

    October 15, 2018 @ 3:19 pm

    Which is basically what Yijie said:


    "多新鮮呢" thus means "of course / it is too obvious to say / this is rather common". And this meaning largely relies on the tone in which people say it!


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