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7 Cantonese phrases that should be in the Oxford English Dictionary

Be sure to credit us when these get added into the dictionary

Written by
Time Out Hong Kong

After the phrase 'add oil' was added to the Oxford English Dictionary back in 2018, we've been patiently waiting for the next big recognition of our city's colloquial language. After all, we do have some unique Cantonese slangs. Well, we're done waiting! Here's a list of commonly used Hong Kong slangs and Cantonese phrases that we think should be in the English dictionary. Consider this a submission list – you can thank us later.

RECOMMENDED: Of course, there's more to our city than cool slangs. Check out some of Hong Kong's oldest buildings and structures, and read about 8 of the most influential Hongkongers in history.

7 Cantonese phrases that should be in the OED

Aiya | 哎呀


Broken a vase, ate something dodgy for lunch, ruined a relationship, or just left your keys at home? While this phrase doesn’t mean anything overt, this expression is a key part of any local’s vocabulary to express frustration or surprise.

Collect Skin | 收皮


How does one 'collect skin', you ask? Well, have you ever done something so embarrassing that you just want to dig yourself a hole and hide in it forever? That's basically how you 'collect skin'. Alternatively, you can also use this phrase to tell someone to stop talking and just shut it. 


Eat lemons | 食檸檬


When life gives you lemons, translate them into Cantonese. The term ‘sik ling mung’ is like rubbing salt, or in this case, lemons into an open wound. This is said when someone gets rejected, typically romantically. 

Blowing water | 吹水


This is the Cantonese equivalent to the English phrase ‘shooting the breeze’. It means to talk about nothing, but also everything at the same time. Blowing water can also be used to describe someone who's obviously BS-ing and have no idea what they're talking about.


People mountain people sea | 人山人海


This phrase perfectly describes annual CNY flower markets, a Hong Kong beach on a sunny summer's day, or even Admiralty MTR station's interchange platform during rush hour. It basically means something along the lines of ‘people as far as the eye can see’ (from the mountain to the sea).

Princess disease | 公主病


Ever feel like your significant other wants to talk, hang out, check up on your whereabouts, and ask you to do things for them 24 hours a day? Your amour may have what we call ‘princess disease’, symptoms of which include the need for constant texting, eating together, whining about being apart, and an incessant stream of ‘buy me [blank]!’ 


Raining dog shit | 落狗屎


No, this isn’t something you say when you want your mutt to do his or her business. Instead, this expression is the Canto equivalent of ‘raining cats and dogs’. Brevity is indeed the soul of wit, and the Cantonese phrase has fewer syllables than its English counterpart. 

Want to flex your canto skills?

Cantonese slang you need to know right now
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Looking to impress your Cantonese-speaking friends? Or do you just want to get down with the kids and show off your knowledge of the latest popular sayings? Get started with this handy guide featuring our pick of Cantonese slangs you should know right now.

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