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Cantonese Slang of the Week: Fried squid

By Jenny Leung 22 March 2019 | Last Updated 14 December 2020

Made-up vocabulary known only to locals, words that consist of a mix of both English and Chinese, and double-entendres that make absolutely no sense—these are just a few of the things that make Cantonese one of the hardest languages to learn. So, we thought it was about time we gave you folks a quick lesson on some funny terminology, common phrases, and the latest Internet slang. We guarantee it will score you a few extra points with the locals!

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Fried squid: 炒魷魚 (caau2 jau4 jyu4)

Here’s a tip: If anyone ever asks you in Cantonese if you want fried squid—say no. In Cantonese, “caau jau jyu” is more than just a dish you eat in a restaurant, it actually means to get fired from work. The story goes that back in the day, many employers would provide their staff with accommodation, especially those who came from out of town. This attracted many people to come to Hong Kong to find work, with nothing but a blanket and a few essentials.

If they ever got laid off or fired from the job, all they had to do was roll up their blankets, pack up their things, and go. Many people thought that these rolled-up blankets looked like pieces of squid, which curl and roll up when it gets cooked. And so people started replacing the words “laid off” and “fired” with “caau jau jyu,” so that it wouldn’t sound as harsh.

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Jenny Leung

Senior editor

Born in Hong Kong and raised in the UK, Jenny grew up with the best of both worlds. She loves just about anything to do with music and doesn’t shy away from belting out a tune or two when it comes to karaoke. If she’s not out and about exploring the city and practising her photography skills, she’s probably tucked up in bed with a book or glued to her laptop doing her online shopping.

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