Vulgar Cantonese elegantly displayed

« previous post | next post »

This curious Cantonese couplet appeared on Weibo today:

The Weibo post says: "Zhǐyǒu huì Yuèyǔ cáinéng kàn dǒng de duìlián 只有会粤语才能看懂的对联" (“A couplet that only Cantonese speakers can understand”).

It’s even more intriguing given how the comments section explicitly expresses the "bù xiāngtōng 不相通-ness" ("mutual unintelligibility") between Cantonese and Mandarin.  (Cf. "Mutual unintelligibility among Sinitic lects" [10/5/14].)

Mandarin romanization, hanzi transcription, and glyph by glyph literal translation:

gān jiāo jú lí luó yòu
yàn jiù diāo lí shī fèi


“mandarin orange*, banana / plantain, tangerine*, pear, turnip**, pomelo”
“wild goose, vulture, eagle, fox***, lion, baboon****”

*The Sinitic terminology for "mandarin orange", "tangerine", and other citrus is extremely convoluted (see this post).

**Though I suspect that this may be short for bōluó 菠蘿 ("pineapple") or some other fruit whose full name includes this character, since all the other plants in this line are fruits.

***The character 狸 is part of the common disyllabic word 狐狸 ("fox"); by itself, 狸 can mean "leopard cat", "raccoon dog", etc., which are far less frequent than the two syllable word for fox.

****Abbreviated form of fèifèi 狒狒 (“baboon”), the etymology of which is uncertain.

Here are the Cantonese pronunciations of the twelve characters in the two lines of the couplet quoted above:

gam1 ziu1 gat1 lei4 lo4 jau2

ngaan6 zau6 diu1 lei4 si1 fat1

Chris Fraser, who provided the Cantonese romanization just above, quotes a Weibo user who offers the following rough explanation of the couplet:


Translating the parenthetical Mandarin glosses of the Cantonese into English, we have:

Morning — thrust / poke you — buttocks

Evening — f*ck you — buttocks

Bob Bauer explains it this way:

This couplet is a Cantonese expression I’ve never heard before. It appears to be a series of puns.

Here is what I’ve come up with:

柑 gam1 = gam2 ‘like that, in that way’

蕉 ziu1 = ‘banana, but also slang term for dick, cock, prick, willy, pecker, schlong, i.e., male sex organ’

桔 gat1 = gat1 ‘stab, pierce, prick, puncture’

梨 lei4 = lei5/nei5 ‘your’

蘿柚 lo4 jau6 = lo1 jau2 ‘buttocks, posterior, backside, bottom, behind, bum, butt, ass’

雁 ngaan6 = ?’later’?

鷲 zau6 = zau6 ?‘then’?

雕 diu1 = diu2 ‘f**k’

狸 lei4 = lei5/nei5 ‘your’

獅狒 si1 fat1 = si2 fat1 ‘ass, butt, buttocks, bottom, behind, bum, rear end of a person’

If you are fluent in spoken Cantonese and are familiar with the Cantonese pronunciation of the characters, it would be easy to come up with countless homophonic puns, even for expressions for which there are no Sinoglyphs.  The same is true of Taiwanese, Shanghainese, and all the other topolects, even for colloquial Mandarin.

Selected readings


  1. Victor Mair said,

    August 23, 2023 @ 10:50 pm

    For cognoscenti of Cantonese film, Zeyao Wu provides the following background:


    Thank you so much for sharing this!

    It actually comes from a very classical Hong Kong comedy movie called "The Kung-Fu Scholar (倫文敘老點柳先開)", and I love this movie! The link attached here is the cut related to this couplet:

    The background is that two students Lun Wenxu and Liu Xiankai are both late for school, but the principal wants to deal with them in a biased way because of Liu's family social standing. Therefore, Lun is not convinced. The principal then utters a couplet and the one who can reply neatly will be exempted from the penalty.

    So the first couplet is from the principal: "铣钱铲锂镒锅"
    All the characters have same metal radical, but it doesn't have much to do with the semantic meaning. It sounds like "先前鏟你一鍋," and could be explained as "先給你一個下馬威"(give an initial display of strength).

    And then Liu replies with six fruits: "柑蕉桔梨欏柚"
    "柑蕉" is the homophonic word of "今朝"(this morning)
    "桔梨”is the homophonic word of “扎你"(prick your)
    "欏柚"is the homophonic word of "屁股"(ass)
    So this couplet means "I will prick your ass this morning".

    Then Lun replies with six animals: "雁鹫雕狸狮狒"
    “雁鹫” is the homophonic word of “晏晝”(in the afternoon)
    “雕狸” is the homophonic word of “屌你”, this is really vulgar, and I do not know if “fuck” works here.
    “狮狒” is the homophonic word of “屎忽"(ass).

    So all these couplets are about “諧音梗”. This is why weibo says “只有會粵語才能看得懂的對聯”.


    VHM: A couple of annotations for Zeyao Wu's learned disquisition:

    xiéyīn 諧音 ("homophony or near-homophony; euphony")

    gěng 梗 ("stem: stalk; shtick; meme; punchline") — this character has many other meanings, but these are the ones most relevant for the couplet under discussion

    See "Chinese Buzzwords of the year 2019: plagiarism / stealing a shtick" (1/8/20)

  2. Demosthenes said,

    August 24, 2023 @ 12:13 am

    A more complete and idiomatic translation of the sentences' intended meaning, since none has been provided: "This morning [I] prick you[r] butt, in the afternoon [I] fuck you[r] ass".

    Translator's notes that are overly detailed for a "fuck you in the ass" joke:
    – This translation also preserves word order.
    – The word "扎" (punned in the original couplet as "桔", tangerine) is difficult to translate precisely because it means something approximately in between "prick" as with a needle and "poke" as with a stick, but it's closer to "prick" so that is what I use.
    – The latter part of the couplet, on the other hand, is very precisely translated.
    – In both parts of the couplet, the possessive markers and subject are omitted and thus are bracketed in the translation.
    – The word "籮柚" (punned in the original couplet as "蘿柚", differing only by the plant vs bamboo radical in the first character) is less vulgar than "屎忽" (punned in the original couplet as "狮狒") so I translate the former as "butt" and the latter as "ass". However, the former is still somewhat harder to say in polite company than "butt".

  3. Taylor, Philip said,

    August 24, 2023 @ 4:00 am

    I do like the calligraphy — formal but flowing.

  4. Chris Button said,

    August 24, 2023 @ 7:01 pm

    Presumably fèifèi 狒狒 (“baboon”) is onomatopoeic in origin? Much like "baboon" itself could be too?

RSS feed for comments on this post