Pokémon GO Punny Cantonese Nicknames Explained!


Like it or not, Pokémon Go has taken the world by storm. At least where it’s available anyway. Even though in Hong Kong we’re still impatiently waiting for it to arrive, this album has gone viral among my friend circles. What it is is an ever-growing list of Cantonese-based puns on Pokémon, created by an Asian-American. Some of them are so culture-specific that learners or lovers of Cantonese might not get them! Since Pokémon and Cantonese are two of my biggest passions, I thought why not take the good stuff that’s there, and share the fun with more of you guys? You never know, you might learn some cultural fun facts 🙂

Disclaimer: these pics are used with permission from the owner Annie @pokemonyc. The game itself belongs to Nintento/Niantic.

As usual, I try to translate the terms character by character into English, before the more idiomatic translation, to give you better insight into its structure. If you see a symbol or notation you don’t understand, check out my own system. Now let’s give them a run-down!

13592741_3270498526302_5563350679670665696_n韭菜包 gau2 coi3 baau1 (chive vegetable bread):

a dim sum consisting of a bun with Chinese chives fillings. The resemblance is uncanny. (The number 9 is pronounced gau2)

13645082_3270498606304_8959319046919321848_n鹹魚 haam4 jyu2 (salty fish):

our beloved salted fish. Apart from Magikarp's posture looking pretty dead, we have a saying in pop culture that says, "what sets you apart from a salted fish if you don't have an ambition?" 90% Magikarps in a nutshell.

3鵪鶉蛋 am1 ceon1 daan2 (quail ~ egg):

quail eggs, another popular delicacy. They always come in a big batch - not unlike Exeggcute.

4炒麵 caau2 min6 (stir-fry noodles):

you know what this is.

5牛腩 ngau4 naam5 (cow stomach):

brisket. I guess someone just got hungry.

6*VULGAR* 撚樣 nan2/lan2 joeng2 (dick face):

a common insult, pretty translatable to English, and not too hard to associate with Diglett. What's hard is to unsee it.

7*relatively VULGAR* 蛋散 daan6 saan2 (egg spread):

another Cantonese deep-fried delicacy, made from eggs. It has developed into an insult for unimportant, useless people.

Similar terms for such people, originally referring to small characters in traditional performance arts, are 二打六 ji6 daa2 luk6 (two hit six) and 茄哩啡 ke1 le1 fe1 (transliteration of "carefree").

8肥螳螂 fei4 tong4 long4 (fat praying-mantis ~):

a probably derogatory nickname for a local pro-Beijing director Wong Jing. It came from a character he played himself, referencing a classic kung fu style called 螳螂拳 tong4 long4 kyun4 (praying-mantis ~ fist)...but obese.

9旺財 wong6 coi4 (make-properous fortune):

a clichéd dog name said to be very popular a few decades ago, in hopes of bringing fortune to a family. Now we usually see it on TV.

10蠱惑仔 gu2 waak6 zai2 (trickery ~ son):

few know that 蠱 used to mean a venomous bug in ancient China (hence the bug radical 虫), while 惑 means to confound. Nowadays we use the adjective 蠱惑 to describe people with cunning ideas. However, 蠱惑仔 is even more specific, and refers to triad members (again, now seldom seen outside TV). So...try to make the connection with the predator Pidgeot.

11香港先生 hoeng1 gong2 sin1 saang1 (Hong Kong earlier born -> mister):

Hong Kong's most well-known male beauty pageant Mr. Hong Kong, held by TVB. Unlike the female counterpart, the annual event was cancelled 4 years in a row, only to be held again this very month (Jul 2016) for all those muscles to get busted out again. Geodude should definitely give it a go!

12燒雞翼 siu1 gai1 jik6 (burn chicken wing):

barbequed chicken wings, yet another popular snack. We have a TV-quote-turned-nursery-rhyme from Fei-fei Shum: 燒雞翼,我鍾意食 siu1 gai1 jik6, ngo5 zong1 ji3 sik6 (burn chicken wing, I devote thought eat) "I love to eat BBQ chicken wings". To be honest though, this nickname probably suits Torchic better.

13鬍鬚佬 wu4 sou1 lou2 (beard facial-hair guy):

a light-hearted jab at someone with extraordinary facial hair, with 鬍鬚 as the compound word for facial hair in general. E.g. 你做乜搞到成個鬍鬚佬噉!nei5 zou6 mat1 gaau2 dou3 seng4 go3 wu4 sou1 lou2 gam2! (you do what mess until whole [counter] beard facial-hair guy ish) why the **** did you get that big beard on you?!

14龜苓膏 gwai1 ling4 gou1 (turtle some-herb fats):

turtle jelly, a Cantonese medicinal food made from turtle shell and that herb I linked to, among others. Honestly I rarely eat it, though it's got a pleasant jelly form and taste (especially with syrup on top). We usually just see them at the surprisingly ubiquitous turtle jelly shops. Naming Squirtle after this though, is just cruel.

15毛主席 mou4 zyu2 zik6 (fur main seat):

you know what this is. To protect the world from devastation, duh.

16鬼佬 gwai2 lou2 (ghost guy):

a colloquial way of addressing white guys. It used to be derogatory and xenophobic, but now it's mostly neutral and kinda endearing.
Variations of this word include 鬼婆 gwai2 po4 (ghost grandma) for (any) females, 鬼仔 gwai2 zai2 (ghost son) for young guys and 鬼妹 gwai2 mui1 (ghost younger-sister) for girls. We also used to use the adjective 紅鬚綠眼 hung4 sou1 luk6 ngaan5 (red facial-hair green eye) to describe white people in general - nowadays more jokingly.

17男仔 (roughly) naam4 doi1 (male son):

Toisan dialect / Taishanese for boy. In Hong Kong / Guangzhou Cantonese it'd be naam4 zai2. I think my grandma talks like that...?

18女仔 (roughly) neoi5 doi1 (female son):

same as above, but for girls! We say neoi5 zai2. Fits the gender gimmick of Nidoran well!

19老鼠 lou5 syu2 (old mouse):

simply mouse. Yeah...

20大老鼠 daai6 lou5 syu2 (big old mouse):

a bigger mouse I guess? We don't have a word for 'rat' - we think relatively straightfoward 😉

As you can see, while some of these are just simple vocabulary, others embed unique cultural information, especially from my parents’ generation. This might come in handy when you encounter them in the ‘golden age’ movies – or just want some laughs!

P.S. These are only the first 20, and as I mentioned, the creator keeps putting out new puns. Tell me if you want more of them explained!

P.S.2 Correct me if I’m wrong! I’m always open to suggestions and corrections.