Bel Canton: Hong Kong Slang for Romantic Relationships

Israel

Pianist-composer, polyglot, Hongkonger, explorer, ex-programmer, ex-author-to-be, son and brother. Discovering myself through discovering the world. Blogging my language adventures and spreading the Cantonese joy.

At the time of writing, it’s the Chinese Lantern Festival, i.e. the 15th day of the first lunar month, also known as the Chinese Valentine’s Day. And a mere 3 days after that, it’s a day that many Hongkongers either relish or fret about: the western Valentine’s Day! Among local teenagers, being single is a thing often poked fun at, to say the least. So, to celebrate my 21st single Valentine’s in a row, here’s a rapid-fire list of local/Internet Cantonese slang related to love and relationships – so you can save your 我愛你 ngo5 oi3 nei5 (I love you) for your significant other and joke light-heartedly about him/her with your friends afterwards 😉

Single life

superdry brand logo

Superdry – single life in a nutshell.

Sometimes I look back on single life, which felt so dry (thirsty for romance). Whenever people with 愛情嘅滋潤 oi3 cing4 ge3 zi1 jeon6 (the “moistening” of romance) took to the Internet to 曬命 saai3 meng6 (to “sun-dry” life) i.e. brag, or poke fun at me, all I could respond with was 首先…… sau2 sin (first…), which is a shorthand for 首先,你要有個女朋友 sau2 sin1, nei5 jiu3 jau5 go3 neoi5 pang4 jau5 (…but before that, you must have a girlfriend), a self-deprecating joke that’s gotten so overused on the Internet that the first part alone is understood to imply the entire sentence.

Despite all the feelings of grape / 葡萄 pou4 tou4 (envious/to envy, a slang term that originated in the fable of the fox and the grapes), I never plucked up the courage to 溝女 kau1 neoi2 (mix girls), or pursue girls. Until that day.

Courtship

It was the second day of the semester when I went to a class and noticed a newcomer…her. I never expected a clichéd case of 一見鍾情 jat1 gin3 zung1 cing4 (once see devote feeling) or love at first sight, but that was how I began my journey of 追女仔 zeoi1 neoi5 zai2 (chasing girl ~), pursuing a girl. After a few months of relentless texting and wooing with my 女神 neoi5 san4 (female god -> goddess) (originally referred to ‘unobtainable’ girls, but then extended to refer to the target that one fancies and idealises), it was finally my time to 出pool ceot1 pu1 (out pool, referring to an imaginary pool of singles).

In addition to 拖手仔 to1 sau2 zai2 (take little hands) and 行街 haang4 gaai1 (walk street) i.e. going out, there’s a lot of “fun stuff” to do during 拍拖 paak3 to1, or engaging in a romantic relationship. On 14 February, there’s always a lot of 放閃/閃光彈 fong3 sim2 / sim2 gwong1 daan2 (release flash/flashbang) going on on Facebook, i.e. ‘single-shaming’ by posting couple pictures so sweet that nobody can stand looking at. So whenever you see jokes in the comments about maang4 (blind/blindness), 太陽眼鏡 taai3 joeng4 ngaan5 geng2 (sun ~ eye glasses) or seeing an eye doctor, you know what the spite is about.

Crises

On the opposite side of things, our sweet, sweet dates could be disrupted by the overly attached friend…the 電燈膽 din3 dang1 daam2 (electric light bulb), or third wheel, who’ll caang4 (shine so strongly that it hurts, continuing the light bulb metaphor) us all the time. But as the saying goes, 朋友妻不可窺 pang4 jau5 cai1 bat1 ho2 kwai1 (friend ~ wife not allowed peek), so he’d better not be ogling his 阿嫂 aa3 sou2 (sister-in-law, extended to mean a friend’s girlfriend, because friends are brothers) anytime soon. Or maybe it’s just me who 吃醋 haap3 cou3 (eat vinegar, being jealous of a romantic rival) (notice the peculiar pronunciation) a bit too early.

Last but definitely not least…

If you haven’t figured it out by now, the entirety of the scenario above is…well, FF (noun/verb/adj imaginary, comes from the game Final Fantasy). Since every tells me FF傷身 FF soeng1 san1 (having unrealistic fantasies hurts the body), it’s best to keep my nose to the grindstone.

Happy Valentine’s Day, my fortunate friends.

This was a short but packed article aimed at…well, to keep it simple, helping you understand my “Facebook language”. Tell me in the comments what you think about it or if I should do more!

  • hkfun

    I know this is an old post, but thanks! I really like this style of blog post, and it has a lot of great slang. 🙂

    • Israel Lai

      Thanks so much! We’ll technically this is one of my newest posts.
      I was worried this style wouldn’t appeal to readers, or the target audience would be too niche. I’m just hoping someone gets something out of this.

      • hkfun

        For sure. Please continue!