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Hong Kong’s top 10 Cantonese colloquialisms

Written by
Holly Graham

1 Da bin lo 打邊爐
We all love colloquialisms but Hong Kong Cantonese is one of the richest languages in the world when it comes to unique local phrases. Take ‘da bin lo’. For those not up on their culinary Canto, this means Chinese hot pot, a simmering broth in which people sit around and cook their own food. But, on the streets, it can refer to smoking around a rubbish bin. You’ve probably seen a bin looking like a steaming hot pot, in fact. Genius.

2 Sing leh 升呢
To ‘sing leh’ literally means to ‘raise to another level’. It origininates from RPG games like Final Fantasy and it’s used in many ways to refer to bettering yourself or bettering something, such as receiving a promotion, achieving a goal or just generally winning at life. We hope this article on colloquialisms will ‘sing leh’ your knowledge of Hong Kong colloquialisms, for example.

3 MK 
‘MK’ normally stands for Mong Kok, that most densly populated part of town. But MK can also be used in derogatory reference to a style reminiscent of the area’s markets. It’s a pejorative term for someone whose style is cheap and trashy. Think cheap rip-offs, bargain jewellery, fake brandname clothes or badly dyed hair. Maybe even a dodgy manicure and just all round tackiness. Everything needed for a basic bitch starter pack, essentially.

4 Kennedy 堅離地
‘Geen lei dei’ is the Cantonese phonetic translation of Kennedy. ‘Geen’ literally means solid and has become slang for ‘very’. ‘Lei dei’ literally means away from the ground and thus the opposite of ‘down to Earth’. This pun is used to describe middle and upper class snobs making archaic comments that are not relevant to contemporary society any more, highlighting the fact that they are frozen in the era they grew up in. Stuck up old dinousaurs.

5 Siu sin yuk 小鮮肉
Literally meaning ‘small fresh meat’, this term is used to describe young, lithe muscular males in their early 20s. Good looking ones at that. Maybe they’re celebrities or just that hot dude eyeing you across the bar but, either way, you’ll want to sink your teeth into this piece of fresh meat.

6 Mei mo lui 美魔女
Literally meaning ‘beautiful witch’, these hot older ladies are essentially Hong Kong cougars. And they’re definitely on the prowl for some ‘siu sin yuk’. Don’t expect them to look ‘MK’ either. They’re a classy bunch.

Sau bing 收兵
‘Sau’, in this sense, means to hire or recruit and ‘bing’ means soldiers. Legend proclaims that the Buddhist goddess Guanyin had many men who worked as her minions. Now the phrase’s meaning has been adapted to apply to girls who command many admirers who carry out her wishes. No doubt there are mei mo lui making many siu sin yuk do their bidding, for example.

Maan tsui 晚吹
‘Tsui’ is to blow and ‘maan’ is nighttime. Put together, though, it colloquially means to informally chat. Evening talk show Maan Tsui on ViuTV cleverly chose the phrase as its name. So, who’s looking to get blown tonight?

9 Sik ho sai 食好西
This is a mutation of the normal phrase ‘sik ho dung sai’, which means to ‘eat good things’. However, TVB star Ng Yip-kwan mistakenly wrote ‘sik ho sai’ in an article and the expression went viral. ‘Sai’ is a slang word for a vagina, so ‘sik ho sai’ suddenly took on a much naughtier meaning. Although it’s still used by some as to ‘eat good things’, it will often evoke giggles as the meaning is a little too close to cunnilingus.

10 Doot
Ah, the Octopus card. The key to Hong Kong. From taking transport to paying taxes, the Octopus’ infamous bleep has its own noise: ‘doot’. This ubiquitous sound resounds through our MTR stations, shops, libraries and sports centres. Colloquially, if you ‘doot’ something, then you’re just using it. Like an Octopus card.

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