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#852Basics: A quick lesson on Hong Kong slang you need to know

By Jenny Leung 24 May 2018 | Last Updated 25 December 2020

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 known only 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.

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Peanut guy: 花生友 (faa1 saang1 jau5)

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 saang jau.” 

Originating from a popular Hong Kong forum, HKGolden, the term is given to someone who loves to 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 saang jau” loves to watch somewhat dramatic, yet entertaining situations unfold.

How to use:

“John is such a ‘faa saang jau’—he loves it whenever he sees a drunk girl screaming and throwing fries at her boyfriend in McDonald’s at 3 am.”

Blow water: 吹水 (ceoi1 seoi2)

“Blow water” is 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!

How to use:

“That middle-aged man is ‘chui sui’-ing so loudly on the phone, it’s getting on everyone’s nerves.”

A poisonous guy: 毒男 (duk6 naam4)

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.

How to use:

“I saw Ivan buying a bunch of comic books and anime figures in Mong Kok yesterday. Haha, what a ‘duk naam!’”

Keep scrolling for the rest of the list 👇

Diving under water: 潛水 (cim4 seoi2)

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 term literally translates to “diving under water,” it also has another meaning that is commonly used online.

For someone to dive under water, it means they disappear for a long time, whether they are preoccupied with something or embarrassed by something they said or did. The word means that they have to “dive” down way below water, where they cannot be seen or ridiculed—see, it makes total sense! When applying the term to real-life situations, many lovebirds would “cim seoi” when they spend a lot of time with each other, while those with busy work schedules may sometimes be forced to dive under water for a while.

How to use:

“Dave says he’s going to ‘cim seoi’ for a while because he wants to save up for one of those ridiculous vanity plates on his car.”

Laze: Hea

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 “to hang around” or “to lounge around,” but some people claim it actually developed from the Hakka Chinese language. This is also one of the many local terms that does not actually have a Chinese character and is completely made up, making it even more confusing!

How to use:

“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.”

Release the sparkle bomb: 放閃彈 (fong3 sim2 daan6)

Imagine you’re scrolling through your Instagram feed and you’ve already seen about a hundred photos of your friend kissing their new partner—well, that’s called “fong sim daan” in Cantonese slang. “Fong” means “to 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 shines in your face as if a bomb just exploded.

You can think of it as excessive public displays 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 cannot keep their hands off each other on the MTR, there is no avoiding them.

How to use:

“You should be careful when going on Facebook or Instagram on Valentine’s Day—there’s a whole load of icky lovebirds ready to ‘fong sim daan’ all over your feed.”

Keep scrolling for the rest of the list 👇

Release the aeroplane: 放飛機 (fong3 fei1 gei1)

Now, 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 third day came after the show had been re-scheduled, 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 fei gei” 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!

How to use:

“Lucas had to ‘fong fei gei’ again because he’s too busy playing video games with that ‘duk naam’ Ivan!”

Primary school chicken: 小學雞 (siu2 hok6 gai1)

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 imagery of small primary school children running around the playground or lining up in the canteen for food, just like little chicks on a farm. It is also frequently used to describe people who are immature, petty, and go out of their way to pick fights, so this is one insult that can be applied to anyone, regardless of their age.

How to use:

“Brett ghosted me over the weekend after six months of dating—he’s such a ‘primary school chicken.’”

Collect skin: 收皮 (sau1 pei4)

Now you might want to be careful with this one. Telling someone to “sau pei” means to tell a certain person to shut up —in a 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 the piece of wooden mat or board they use to display their products, so when you put 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. For emphasis, you can always try adding on a “la” on the end to really get your message across.

How to use:

“Alice needs to ‘sau pei’ and stop going on about how much money she spends on her dog—no one cares!”

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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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