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From Lisa Nichols:

I noticed on Twitter some HK protest folks last night talking about being a "handfoot", seemingly a newly coined (punned?) term playing with Chinese characters.  I can't seem to figure out much about it, though, but, in trying, came across your posts on Hong Kong protest language [see "Selected readings" below] and thought you might know, or be able to figure it out easily, or at least be interested.

Can you tell me more about it?  Some Cantonese play?  I take it the meaning is a person on the streets, on the frontlines, but maybe something more than that.

The Cantonese term is sau2zuk1 手足 ("hands and feet; brothers"); in Mandarin it would be pronounced shǒuzú and has the same meanings.

Another term meaning "hands and feet" is shǒujiǎo 手腳; in Cantonese, that is pronounced sau2goek3.  Aside from the literal meaning of "hands and feet", 手腳 also has the figurative meaning of "movement of limbs; action; trick".

Expressions derived from 手腳 are zou6 sau2goek3 做手腳 ("to resort to irregular practices, make secret arrangements; manipulation") and m4 hai6 sau2goek3 / MSM wú xì… shǒujiǎo  唔係…手腳 ("no match for…").

Here's the entry on sau2zuk1 手足 ("hands and feet; brothers") from a glossary of Hong Kong protest slang in Time:

Protestors refer to each other as “hands and feet.” The term conveys the idea of unity: when the hands and feet of a protestor are injured, other protestors feel his or her pain.

See "Hong Kong's Protestors Have Their Own Special Slang. Here's a Glossary of Some Common Terms", Time, by Hillary Leung (9/6/19).


Selected readings


  1. John Swindle said,

    August 1, 2020 @ 1:37 am

    Meanwhile BBC News reports a Taiwan video game pulled from market on the Mainland and its Hong Kong-based music director fired because, if I understand correctly, he included the best-known HK protest slogan in Morse code (Chinese telegraph code) in a musical piece he posted on the web.

  2. John Rohsenow said,

    August 3, 2020 @ 6:23 pm

    Y C Li comments:

    Always enjoy Victor’s interesting posts.
    His post here makes me think of S-Min usage:
    SMin doesn’t use 手足,which came from Classical Chinese 手足之情 and the like.
    手足 is similar to English limb/member, which extends to ‘sibling member of a family'.
    SMin’s variation to 手脚 is 脚手kha-tshiu, a typical reversing of morphemes between topolets in usages. This usage has similar meanings like ‘trick’, but nothing like ‘brothers’ in 手足. It has an additional meaning of ‘helpers, workers’, in phrases like 真好用 e (的)脚手 ‘very useful helper/worker’, not shared by Cantonese or Mandarin..

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