Hong Kong protest puns

« previous post | next post »

A truly amazing chain of Cantonese puns has sprung up from last Wednesday's protests in Hong Kong.

As police were about to shoot tear gas at them (virtually point blank), Hong Kong reporters shouted out, "gei3ze2 記者!" ("Press! [Don't shoot!]).

Applying the norm that you can insert virtually anything into the initial slot in the phrase "diu2 lei5 lou5 mou5*2 屌你老母" ("fuck your mother") to mean, roughly, "fuckin' X" or "X my ass," one of the police shouted back "gei3 lei5 lou5 mou5*2 記你老母" ("fucking journalists," "fuck you / fuck your mother, journalists," or "journalists my arse").

Here's a newspaper account. Mary Hui explains here.

Of course, in Canto as in written "standard" Chinese, the same phrase can also be interpreted as "remember your mom."

So now we have an endless chain of puns on "diu2 lei5 lou5 mou5*2 屌你老母" ("fuck your mother").

Journalists are putting it on their helmets. There's a helmet out there with "bou2 lei5 nou5 mou 6*2 保你腦帽" ("protect your noggin hat") on it. Sunday's follow-up protest was being called the "zaam6 lei5 lou5 mou5*2 暫你老母" ("'temporary' your mom") protest, because people want the bill withdrawn, not "paused."

Since the date of the march (Sunday) was Father's Day, there were also people saying "gei3 lei5 lou5 dau6 記你老豆" (" journo your father / dad / the male protector of a prostitute") and calling on fathers to "stand erect" for HK.   See this tweet by Yuen Chen.

The hashtag #記你老母 gets all kinds of fun results.

Another impressive bit of slang on banners in Sunday's march was "zi6 jau4 自由 hi" ("freedom hi"), which sounds innocent enough (this is a hashtag too).  On Wednesday, police chased protesters into the Pacific Place shopping mall and at the door allegedly shouted that those inside were "zi6 jau4 hai1 自由閪 ("freedom cunts"). (Hai1 閪 is pretty much the foulest of the foul in Canto profanity.)

So on Sunday numerous protesters were carrying signs that say "Freedom Hi" in English. a bilingual pun. Here are a couple of the most creative Chinese variants, combining three Sinographs into one:

Incidentally, some armed police deployed against the protestors in Hong Kong seem not to be able to speak Cantonese (see here). This small incident seems to tell a lot about the identification of the police in the demonstration.  Consequently, it prompted Professor He Xinhan 何信翰 to write this letter to the Liberty Times.


"New Cantonese word" (12/8/14)

"Thick toast: another new Cantonese pun " (12/11/14)

"The perils of '7' and '9' in Cantonese " (9/28/16)

"A new polysyllabic character" (4/3/16)

"Polysyllabic characters in Chinese writing " (8/2/11)

"Polysyllabic characters revisited " (6/18/15)

[h.t. James Millward; thanks to Chris Fraser]


  1. Joshua K. said,

    June 20, 2019 @ 10:53 pm

    "gei3 lei5 lou5 dau6 記你老豆" (" journo your father / dad / the male protector of a prostitute")

    Why translate the word as "the male protector of a prostitute" rather than as "pimp"?

  2. DBMG said,

    June 21, 2019 @ 4:03 am

    I was going to ask what that intricate character rhyming with 閪 is but then realized it has a head, shell, tail and legs.

  3. Michael Watts said,

    June 21, 2019 @ 4:31 am

    There's a helmet out there with "bou2 lei5 nou5 mou 6*2 保你腦帽" ("protect your noggin hat") on it.

    My trivia-level knowledge of Cantonese says that [n] and [l] are the same sound. That would handily explain why "nou5" is a good substitute for "lou5"… but it falls flat at explaining why there's a syllable "nou" at all. What's the difference supposed to be?

  4. Lai Ka Yau said,

    June 21, 2019 @ 9:12 am

    @Michael Watts: 老 is pronounced lou5 by everyone*, while 腦 is pronounced nou5 in conservative varieties (e.g. what you hear on news reports on TV) and lou5 in innovative ones. So the usual innovative pronunciation of the phrase would be bou2 lei5 lou5 mou2 and the usual conservative pronunciation that you hear in news reports etc. would be bou2 nei5 nou5 mou2. I'm not aware of any lect in HK which has merged the sounds for some words but not for others, but Prof Mair probably wanted to emphasise that 腦 and 老 are different morphemes.

    *Actually there are varieties that use [n] for everything instead of using [l] for everything, but it's not common in Hong Kong. I think I've read about such a variety being present in fishing villages.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    June 23, 2019 @ 8:25 pm

    From Bob Bauer:

    For me Cantonese puns make the language sparkle. Its speakers seem to have a penchant to pun at every opportunity. Punning in Cantonese is one linguistic phenomenon that has particularly fascinated me from the early days of my Cantonese study. I'm happy to say that you will discover Cantonese puns feature prominently in the forthcoming ABC Cantonese-English Comprehensive Dictionary.

  6. Victor Mair said,

    June 24, 2019 @ 6:30 am

    "Memes, cartoons and caustic Cantonese: the language of Hong Kong's protests", Jerome Taylor, Elaine Yu, AFP (6/24/19) — with five must-see photographs and excellent text.


    Freedom-Hi & #ProtestToo
    Hong Kong Apostasy

    by Geremie Barmé


RSS feed for comments on this post