Classical Chinese vulgarisms

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[This is a guest post by Ken Hilton]

I came across this Facebook post and I thought it might be worth sharing on Language Log.

These are several Cantonese swearing/otherwise rude expressions, each translated (roughly) into Classical Chinese.

Breakdown of each is as follows.†

  • 我頂你個肺 (ngo5 deng2 nei5 go3 fai3) – “I stab your lungs”
    = 吾欲擊汝肺 (ng4 yuk6 gik1 yu5 fai3) – “I wish to attack your lungs”
    = “I wanna stab your lungs”
    Used as a general threat of violence.
  • 食屎啦你 (sik6 si2 la1 nei5) – “eat shit, you”
    = 望君嚐糞 (mong6 gwan1 seung4 fan3) – “hope you taste feces”
    = “Eat shit”
    No further explanation needed for this one… Note that these are valid complete sentences in both languages, not just sentence fragments.
  • 正廢柴! (jeng3 fai3 chaai4) – “pure useless firewood!”
    = 朽木是也! (nau2 muk6 si6 ya5) – “rotten wood, this is!”
    = “Complete idiocy!”
    “useless firewood” is used to mean “idiot”.
  • 我想同你隻抽 (ngo5 seung2 tung4 nei5 jek3 chau1) – “I want to with you alone fight”
    = 吾欲與君一戰 (ng4 yuk6 yu5 gwan1 yat1 jin3) – “I want to with you one fight”
    = “I want to fight you alone”
    Sort of means “fight me yourself”. Interesting that this is pretty much one to one.
  • 你係咪想死? (nei5 hai6 mai6 seung2 sei2) – “you yes/no want to die?”
    = 汝欲往生哉? (yu5 yuk6 wong5 sang1 joi1) – “you want to leave life [confirmation particle]?”
    = “You wanna die?”
  • 打爆你個頭 (da2 baau3 nei5 go3 tau4) – “hit burst your head”
    = 迎君頭而痛擊之 (ying4 gwan1 tau4 yi4 tung3 gik1 ji1) – “look up at your head and painfully attack it”
    = “blow up your head”
    Another generic threat of violence.
  • 你係咪有病? (nei5 hai6 mai6 yau5 beng6) – “you yes/no have disease?”
    = 汝抱恙乎? (yu5 pou5 yeung6 fu4) – “you have disease [confirmation particle]?”
    = “Are you diseased?”
    “disease” is of the head – pretty much means “are you stupid?” In Classical Chinese, 乎 is almost 100% equivalent to modern Mandarin 嗎 (mā) when used at the end of a sentence.

† Disclaimer: I am not a linguist, this is just how I understand and express these sentences. Transcription system is Yale because that was the first result for “jyutping generator”.


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