Chutzpah in Mandarin

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Klaus Nuber stumbled upon this opinion piece in the Austrian newspaper Der Standard:

"Shoot 'em down – Ooops, einige Ballons waren doch keine chinesischen Spionageballons"

10 hours ago

Klaus says "It's about the downed balloons over Alaska. At the end the author asks a question":

"Ggibt es einen Ausdruck in Mandarin für "Chuzpe"?

Is there an expression In Mandarin for chutzpah?

Without checking anywhere or asking anyone, I immediately thought of dǎnzi dà 膽子大 ("have guts / courage / nerves; be brave"), but maybe that's not such a good Mandarin equivalent for "Chutzpah" after all, because those are mostly heroic, positive characteristics, whereas chutzpah is "nearly arrogant courage; utter / shameless audacity, effrontery or impudence; supreme self-confidence; exaggerated self-opinion".

Originated 1890–95 from Yiddish חוצפּה(khutspe), from Mishnaic Hebrew חוֹצְפָּה(ḥôṣǝpâ) (Sotah 9:15 in MSS Kaufmann A50), from חָצַף(ḥāṣap̄, to be insolent). Ultimately from Aramaic חֲצִיפָא(ḥăṣîp̄āʾ), חֲצַף(ḥăṣap̄, to be barefaced, insolent).


In contrast, dǎnzi 膽子 literally mans "gall bladder".

Fàngsì 放肆 ("presumptuous; wanton; impudent") or hòuyánwúchǐ de 厚颜无耻的 ("brazen; cheeky; impudent; as bold as brass; barefaced") would work better.

Still, the Oxford dictionary says that "chutzpah" is often approving and characterizes the behavior or attitude of a person that, while it may be rude or shocking, is so confident that people may feel compelled to admire it.  In Chinese, wú suǒ gùjì 无所顾忌 ("heedless") or gǎn zuò gǎn wéi 敢作敢为 ("dare to act").

For my first independent attempt to use DeepL, I asked it to translate "chutzpah" into Mandarin.  It yielded "hòuyánwúchǐ de 厚颜无耻的" ("brazen; cheeky; impudent; as bold as brass; barefaced"), "hòu liǎnpí 厚臉皮" ("cheeky; thick-skinned"), "hòuyánwúchǐ de 厚颜"), a short form of "hòuyánwúchǐ de 厚颜无耻的", and "lǔmǎng 魯莽" ("rash; reckless; impertinent") — all four of which are good renderings of "chutzpah".


Selected readings


  1. Jerry Packard said,

    February 18, 2023 @ 9:39 am

    I feel either liǎnpí hòu 臉皮厚 or dǎn(zi) dà 膽(子) 大 would work well.

  2. CuConnacht said,

    February 18, 2023 @ 10:13 am

    "Gall" in English can mean something pretty close to chutzpah, so it is interesting (to me anyway) that dǎn has a similar meaning.

  3. Victor Mair said,

    February 18, 2023 @ 11:20 am

    Two great comments right off the bat!

  4. mg said,

    February 18, 2023 @ 2:10 pm

    If you want to understand what chutzpah means, you don't go to the OED. You go to Leo Rosten's The Joys of Yiddish which ends with the classic definition.

    From its citation in Wikipedia:

    Leo Rosten in The Joys of Yiddish defines chutzpah as "gall, brazen nerve, effrontery, incredible 'guts', presumption plus arrogance such as no other word and no other language can do justice to". In this sense, chutzpah expresses both strong disapproval and condemnation. In the same work, Rosten also defines the term as "that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan."

  5. Hiroshi Kumamoto said,

    February 18, 2023 @ 7:42 pm

    The first word in Japanese that comes to mind is 鉄面皮 tetsumenpi, for which a Japanese-Chinese Dictionary

    gives 厚脸皮. This Japanese word must have a Classical Chinese origin, but 鐵面 or 鐵面無私 seems to mean a virtue of unyielding selflessness (汉语大词典 vol. 11, p. 1406).

  6. Chau said,

    February 18, 2023 @ 11:46 pm

    I thought of 膽大包天 dăn dà bāo tiān 'the gall is so big that it wraps around the heaven'.

  7. Bloix said,

    February 19, 2023 @ 12:04 am

    your quote from Rosten puts me in mind of Lincoln's Cooper Union speech, which contains a similar example and shows that mid-19th c American slang used "cool" as the adjective for chutzpah:

    "But you ['the Southern people'] will not abide the election of a Republican president! In that supposed event, you say, you will destroy the Union; and then, you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us! That is cool. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, "Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!"

  8. martin schwartz said,

    February 19, 2023 @ 1:18 am

    I'm glad to see Klaus Nuber spells the Yiddish word correctly,
    albeit in German orthography, as Chuzpe. Indeed, as the
    (in this instance) excellent Wiktionary entry indicates, the Yiddish
    khutspe (xutspe) has final -e, as do all words with unstressed final vowel, e.g (bar) mitsve, matse, etc. etc. The etymology of the word, which Wiktionary has quite correctly, prompts me to offer a pseudology: Gr, hubris with metahesis and velarization to *xusbri dissimilated > *xutspi > xutspe, i.e. khutspe. What etymology could be more khutspedik than that? I suggest it as the first item in Khutspedia.

  9. Lucas Christopoulos said,

    February 19, 2023 @ 2:26 am

    @Martin Schwartz

    ὑπέρβιον ὕβριν, or the tragic cycle of hubris, ate and nemesis…

    μητρὸς ἐμῆς μνηστῆρες ὑπέρβιον ὕβριν ἔχοντες, νῦν μὲν δαινύμενοι τερπώμεθα, μηδὲ βοητὺς ἔστω…

  10. Lucas Christopoulos said,

    February 19, 2023 @ 4:29 am

    ὑπέρβιον ὕβριν, or the tragic cycle of hubris, hate and nemesis

  11. Rodger C said,

    February 19, 2023 @ 11:20 am

    I thought you meant Ate.

  12. Lucas Christopoulos said,

    February 19, 2023 @ 4:10 pm

    Ate (Atë), yes too, though they ate at the banquet…watched by hatred Telemachus

  13. Guyh said,

    February 20, 2023 @ 1:34 am

    In addition to the suggestions above, 膽大妄為 (dan da wang wei) also comes to mind (meaning bold and rash).

    大膽 (da dan) or 膽子大 (dan zi da) is probably the most widely used expression of all the suggestions and I don't think it necessarily has a positive connotation. You could easily use it to tell someone off (similar to saying how dare you, what a nerve etc).

  14. Lucas Christopoulos said,

    February 20, 2023 @ 7:23 am

    For the Wei dynasty times, it would be Xiaomeng (驍猛).

  15. Phil H said,

    February 20, 2023 @ 11:53 am

    To capture the duality of chutzpah, you could very well just use 牛逼 – the obscene cow word that this blog has commented on before ( It captures both a sort of respect and disdain for the action/person described.
    I feel like there must be a word with 精 that would get close as well, though I can't think of exactly the right one. 精 (spirit) is often used to combine respect for the quality something shows with moral disapproval.

  16. KeithB said,

    February 20, 2023 @ 4:17 pm

    I think the idea of a positive connotation for chutzpah comes from stories like the Parable of the Shrewd Manager in Luke 16.
    While his actions are wrong, he is praised for being shrewd.

  17. Taylor, Philip said,

    February 20, 2023 @ 6:47 pm

    I too have always viewed chutzpah as a commendable/admirable attribute, but I have never before heard of the Parable of the Shrewd Manager, so I consulted the KJV to see how he was traditionally referred to. And I see that in the KJV he is not shrewd but wise —

    And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.

  18. Mark S. said,

    February 21, 2023 @ 9:16 am

    I suspect that, at least in Taiwan, in most situations where someone was getting called out for chutzpah, people wouldn't use a straightforward noun but instead say "bùyào liǎn" (不要臉/不要脸 — "shameless"), with the same lian as "hòu liǎnpí" given above.

  19. Tami Blumenfield said,

    February 22, 2023 @ 9:55 am

    No, it's definitely not the same as say "bùyào liǎn" (不要臉/不要脸 — "shameless). That has a negative connotation. Chutzpah is more of a, wow, look how daring that person was! In part because they have no shame, but that's something to be respected (mostly), not denigrated. Like – That really took a lot of guts! So I would probably vote for something like 胆子好大 (Dan zi hao da). This too is not necessarily a good thing.
    The longer terms are too long, it's the sound of the word also that is important. So on that note, perhaps – 和特似怕 – he te si pa – would be the best way of all to approximate chutzpah in Chinese!

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