Better said in Cantonese

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A banner carried in the streets of Hong Kong on July 1:


The banner reads:

ngo5 dei2 zan1 hai6 hou2 nan2 zung1 ji3 Hoeng1 gong2

Chris Fraser observes:

It's a distinctive use of Canto profanity to express affection or sincerity. It translates to English quite well: "We really fuckin' love Hong Kong."

These are heart-breaking days, but our young people will never give up.

The artist who painted the picture remarks:
jau5 di1 je5 zau6 hai6 jiu3 jung6 Gwong2 dung1 waa6 gong2 sin1 dak1
yǒu de shì jiù xūyào yòng Guǎngdōnghuà shuō cái kěyǐ


"Some things you just have to use Cantonese to say."


Selected readings:


  1. Mark Metcalf said,

    July 4, 2020 @ 9:31 am

    Undoubtedly nothing to do with this posting, but when I read the
    "We really f***ing love Hong Kong!" it brought to mind a fairly common saying in the USN during the 1970s – "I love the f***ing Navy because the Navy loves f***ing me!"
    Obviously a different, yet similarly creative, use of the well-worn obscenity.

  2. David said,

    July 4, 2020 @ 10:53 pm

    I’d note here that 撚 in this case is a phonetic borrowing (假借) of the Cantonese profanity meaning penis (there is debate about what is the character for the word). 撚手小菜 was not an uncommon sign outside Hong Kong restaurants, meaning roughly chef’s specialities, and literally small dishes (made from) able hands. 撚 here has the sense of kneading, manipulating or moving around small objects. The Mandarin equivalent is 拿手小菜. The expression has gone out of fashion given the pun with the profanity (some chuckle quietly seeing it). The usage of the actual profanity, however, has become more open in recent years.

  3. Roger Depledge said,

    July 6, 2020 @ 12:58 am

    Thank you, Professor Mair, for these two successive posts on expressions that happen to be sympathetic to Hong Kong people. I note over 60 comments on the issues of form involved. Is the absence of any comment even alluding to the substance a sign of 撚 indifference or 撚 timidity?

  4. Philip Taylor said,

    July 6, 2020 @ 5:02 am

    I don't actually know what "撚" is (or are), and Google is no help, but in the absence of that vital information I would nonetheless suggest that the ratio of discussion on issues of form to issues of substance is more a reflection of the single common factor that unites contributors to this forum — a shared interest in language and linguistics rather than a shared interest in politics. I would very much suspect that the vast majority of contributors (99.5%+) share your unspoken concern for the plight of the people of Hong Kong; it is just that they do not view this forum as the place in which to discuss those views.

  5. Calvin said,

    July 6, 2020 @ 7:49 pm

    When meaning kneading/holding/twisting, "撚" is common with "捻". Both are pronounced as niǎn in MSM.

    But there were some twists and turns in its treatment in Simplified Chinese:
    1. It was supposed to be simplified to "拈" in the first publication of Simplified Chinese in 1956.
    2. That was then reverted in 1978, recognized as an alternative to "捻".
    3. It was finally eliminated and replaced by "捻" in 2012, i.e. no longer treated as a recognized alternative to "捻", nor as a standard character.

    Here is a more detailed recap of these events:

    I did a bit of search on the web for the famous Tang poem 琵琶行 (by 白居易), and unsurprisingly, found all three variations:
    1. "輕攏慢撚抹復挑" (
    2. "轻拢慢捻抹复挑" (
    3. "轻拢慢拈抹复挑" (

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