Catchphrases, mantras, and verbal tics

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David Marjanović mentioned Ramzan Kadyrov's verbal tic [dɔːn] (a contraction of the Chechen filler /duj huna/, literally "there is for you"), no matter if he's speaking Chechen or Russian.  That made me wonder what the equivalent would be in other languages?  Something like "ya know" in English?

The common Mandarin word for this type of expression is kǒutóuchán 口頭禪 / 口头禅 ("catchphrase; favorite expression; stock phrase; pet phrase; mantra", where kǒutóu 口頭 ["on the mouth / lips; oral"] is the disyllabic modifier of the head noun).  The three constituent morphemes mean "mouth / oral", "head", and "Zen / Chan (< Skt. dhyāna ["meditation"]), i.e., a meditative mantra (from Sanskrit मन्त्र (mantra, literally “instrument of thought”), from Proto-Indo-Aryan *mántram, from Proto-Indo-Iranian *mántram, from Proto-Indo-European *mén-tro-m, from *men- (“to think”). Doublet of mind) that is always on one's lips.

A synonym for kǒutóuchán 口頭禪 / 口头禅 is kǒupǐ 口癖, a slang neologism ("one's favorite expression; stock phrase; pet phrase", where pǐ 癖 means "craving; disposition; addiction; weakness for; habit"), which is an orthographic borrowing from Japanese kuchiguse 口癖 ("phrase that one uses regularly").

Shortly after I began studying Mandarin over half a century ago, I quickly developed a pet phrase "lǎoshí shuō 老實說 / 老实说" ("to tell the truth; honestly").

I also adopted a pet phrase in Nepali:  "bāphre bāph!", or just one or the other of the two words, "bāphre!" or "bāph!".  I've never been sure how to spell this expression, whether in Devanagari or in Roman letters, and I don't really know what it means.  For me, and I also think for Nepalese, it's simply an all-purpose exclamation, one that can express dismay, delight, astonishment, commiseration, and so forth.  In the whole universe of words in all the languages I know, I think this is my very favorite.  I love the way it just rolls forth out of my mouth and conveys so may different ideas and emotions.

Following in the footsteps of my friend, Pinkie Wu, granddaughter of Wang Jingwei / Wang Ching-wei / Wong1 Zing1-wai6 汪精衞 / 汪精卫 (1883-1944), I became inordinately fond of Cantonese "wah!".  Like Nepali "bāphre bāph!", Cantonese "wah!" can signify amazement, surprise, disappointment, chagrin, and so on.

Bùdéliǎo 不得了 ("desperately (serious); disastrous; blamed; bloody; exceedingly; extremely; terrible; terribly; horrible; horribly; awful(ly); terrific; awesome")!


Selected readings


  1. Neil said,

    November 16, 2022 @ 5:54 pm

    Re: the Nepalese expression, it’s counterpart in Hindi is baap re baap, or simply baap re.

    Baap is a familiar word for father, and re is an interjection.

    It surprises me that baap in Nepali apparently has an aspirated ph at the end of the word instead of p. But it really shouldn’t as I don’t know anything about Nepali.

  2. DSZ said,

    November 17, 2022 @ 7:09 pm

    I know an Assamese girl whose catchphrase is “Aaaani”. I have to say that is the cutest and most versatile catchphrase I have ever heard. Depending on the context, the same phrase, uttered in different tones, may mean completely distinct things. Talking about the expressiveness of Indians! I was just wondering what my own 口头禅 was and being asked whether most Chinese had 口头禅, what would be the most common Chinese catchphrase when I see this LL post on the exact same topic.

    PS: Aaani, just like “WAH”, doesn’t have a meaning of its own. It’s just an expression of mood. I find it super lovely perhaps because it sounds like “ai ni” (“love you”) in Chinese. :)

  3. CuConnacht said,

    November 18, 2022 @ 4:14 pm

    In Arabic it's ya'ni (يعني) = "it means,” pretty close to the English filler "I mean."

    I find it interesting that it has been borrowed into Turkish (as "yani"). I had a conversation in English once with a Turk who used it in English, like Kadyrov and [dɔːn].

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