There’s really no better way to learn about a foreign culture than picking up its language – especially in Hong Kong. With creative slangs, made-up vocabulary only known to locals, and words that often mix both English and Chinese, it’s no surprise that Cantonese is one of the hardest languages to learn. So, we thought it was about time we gave you a quick lesson on Hong Kong slangs and how to say it phonetically.
“Faa Sang Yau” 花生友
Direct Translation: Peanut guy
Meaning: Ever seen a couple arguing loudly on the street? Angry passengers fighting on the MTR? You don’t want to get involved, but you just can’t stop looking to see what happens next, right? Well congratulations, you have officially become a Faa Sang Yau! Originating from a popular local forum, HKGolden, the term is given to someone who observes some sort of argument as it unravels in front of them. Similar to the popular GIF of someone smugly eating popcorn as they watch the Facebook trolls let loose in the comments section, a Faa Sang Yau loves to watch somewhat dramatic, yet entertaining situations unfold.
Example: “John is such a Faa Sang Yau, he loves it whenever he sees a drunk girl screaming and throwing fries at her boyfriend in McDonald’s at 3am.” (it happens!)
“Chui Sui” 吹水
Direct Translation: To blow water
Meaning: Chui Sui, the Chinese equivalent of chit-chatting. Whether it’s catching up with an old friend, or gossiping with your colleagues by the water cooler, we’ve all been in one of those conversations where time flies by and before you know it, you’ve spent the whole day yakking away. It might be difficult to connect its direct translation to its actual meaning, but if you think about it, your mouth dries up after you’ve been talking for a long time, right? As if all the “water” in your mouth has been “blown out”? Sounds silly we know, but it also makes so much sense!
Example: “That balding middle-aged man is Chui Sui-ing so loudly on the phone, it’s getting on everyone’s nerves.”
“Duk Naam” 毒男
Direct Translation: A toxic / poisonous guy
Meaning: Used as a word to describe the ultimate nerd, a Duk Naam is into everything from Japanese anime and superhero movies, to online gaming and action figures. This term actually comes from Japan, where the word “lonely man” has a similar pronunciation as Duk Naam. Eventually, it became a popular term used by many locals to describe introverted men who lack self confidence, are unattractive, and love to stay at home on their computer more than seeing daylight or having to interact with another human being.
Example: “I saw Ivan buying a bunch of comic books and anime figures in Mong Kok yesterday. Haha, what a Duk Naam!”
“Chim Sui” 潛水
Direct Translation: To dive under water
Meaning: Do you dive? No, we’re not talking about scuba diving on your holiday, or jumping off the deep end of the pool. Although the word Chim Sui literally translates to “diving under water”, it also has another meaning that is popularly used online. For someone to Chim Sui, it means they disappear for a long time, whether they are preoccupied with something or embarrassed by something they said or did, which led them to “dive” down below where they can’t be seen or ridiculed. When applying the term to real-life situations, many lovebirds would Chim Sui when they spend a lot of time with each other, those with busy work schedules may sometimes be forced to Chim Sui for a while, and if you’re a Duk Naam – well, Chim Sui is just a given!
Example: “Dave says he’s going to Chim Sui for a while because he wants to save up for one of those ridiculous vanity plates on his car.”
Direct Translation: To laze
Meaning: To put it in the simplest of terms, to Hea means to procrastinate, be lazy, and basically try to kill time. When using Hea to describe a person, the meaning would slightly alter to indicate that a person may be unproductive, or that their work is not up to standard. It is said that the word Hea originates from the English phrase “hang around” or “lounge around”, but some people claim it actually developed from the Hakka Chinese language. This is also one of the many local terms that doesn’t actually have a Chinese character, and is completely made up!
Example: “Eric’s been queuing outside this restaurant for ages, let’s just Hea at the Starbucks across the road until he gets to the front of the line.”
“Tiu Saai Zai” 跳哂掣
Direct Translation: To jump the switch / fuse
Meaning: Fed up of rude people walking into you on the street? Or is your annoying colleague getting on your nerves? Then Tiu Saai Zai is the perfect phrase to describe your frustration. Directly translated to “jumping the switch or fuse”, the expression is used by many locals when they’ve simply had enough, and are about to blow up with rage – similar to how a fuse or circuit may blow when it breaks capacity. There is no specific explanation as to where the term comes from, but living in Hong Kong, we’re sure it’s easy to Tiu Saai Zai a lot of the time.
Example: “An old women bumped into me, spilled coffee all over my new dress, and shouted at me to be careful – I swear I’m about to Tai Saai Zai right now!”
“Fong Sim Daan” 放閃彈
Direct Translation: Release the sparkle bomb
Meaning: So you’re scrolling down your Instagram feed and you’ve already seen about a hundred photos of your friend kissing their new boyfriend / girlfriend – well, that’s called Fong Sim Daan. Fong, means “release”, Sim is to “sparkle or shine”, and Daan is “bomb”. Basically, this means that their love for each other is so strong and overbearing that it’s shining in your face like a bomb just exploded. You can think of it as Public Display of Affection (PDA), but couples in Hong Kong take this to a whole new level. They are everywhere. Whether they are strolling around in matching t-shirts, posting cutesy photos of them feeding each other, or can’t keep their hands off each other on the MTR, there’s no avoiding them.
Example: “You should be careful when you go on Facebook or Instagram on Valentine’s Day, there’s a whole load of icky lovebirds ready to Fong Sim Daan.”
“Fong Fay Gay” 放飛機
Direct Translation: Release the airplane
Meaning: This is an interesting one. The story goes that when the first ever air show was due to perform in Hong Kong many years ago, the show was cancelled on the first day because of bad weather conditions. On the second day, the weather was perfect, but the pilot was sick and unable to fly. Then when the third day came, everything was ready to go … until the engine broke down! And so, after these unfortunate three days, the whole performance was cancelled, no one got to see any planes doing tricks in the sky, and well, that was that. From then on, the term Fong Fay Gay was used to describe the act of bailing on plans, failing to show up, or breaking a promise. Basically, the worst crimes known to man!
Example: “Lucas had to Fong Fay Gay again because he’s too busy playing video games with that Duk Naam Ivan!”
“Siu Hok Gaai” 小學雞
Direct Translation: Primary school chicken
Meaning: If silly jokes about farts and private parts appeal to your sense of humour, then don’t blame us for calling you a Siu Hok Gai! Literally translated to “primary school chicken”, the term came about from the image of small primary school children running around the playground, or lining up in the canteen for food, just like little chicks on a farm. Used to describe people who are immature, petty, or even less intelligent, this is one insult that can be applied to anyone, regardless of their age.
Example: “It’s so funny when people literally fight for a seat on the MTR, it’s so Siu Hok Gai.”
“Sau Pei” 收皮
Direct Translation: Collect skin
Meaning: Now you might want to be careful with this one. To tell someone to Sau Pei means to tell a certain person to shut up – in a very rude manner. The word Sau means to “collect”, while the word Pei means “skin”. It is said that some street vendors use the word Pei to describe a piece of wooden mat or board they use to display their products. Putting the two words together, the term Sau Pei became a phrase for them to use whenever they had to pack up their things and go. Over time, the phrase broadened its meaning, and was used by many to tell someone to save it and stop talking, usually when the other person is bragging or talking about something that sounds made up.
Example: “Alice needs to Sau Pei and stop going on about how much time and money she spends pampering her dog – nobody cares!”
Read more! Check out 10 Things You Will Only See in Hong Kong, or find out about Hong Kong’s Best Street Food and Where to Find them.