Here is another collection of Mandarin slang expressions—some of the more commonly used expressions I’ve come across in chatting with and listening to native speakers, and in books like Eveline Chao’s Niubi! The Real Chinese You Were Never Taught in School, Zhou Yimin and James J. Wang’s Mutant Mandarin, James J. Wang’s Outrageous Chinese: A Guide to Chinese Street Language, and Li Shujuan and Yan Ligang’s Chinese-English Dictionary of Modern Slang of China.

For more Chinese slang expressions, read my previous post, Contemporary Chinese Slang Part 1. Comprehensive learning resources, advice, reviews, and links for people interested in Chinese can be found on our Chinese Language Resources for Travelers and Students page.

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Click on the pronunciation key for each expression to hear an MP3 recording of it. (Warning: Keep in mind that although my pronunciation is considered very good, I am not a native speaker of Chinese.)

Flirting and Dating Behavior, Compliments and Insults

调情 (tiáoqíng): to flirt

泡妞 (pàoniū): to pick up girls; to flirt with, hit on, or hook up with girls

辣妹 (làmèi): hot chick; sexy girl (literally, “spicy little sister”)

帅哥 (shuàigē): hunk; handsome guy (often used to address a man in a flattering way)

倍儿棒 (bèir bàng): northern Chinese slang for “really awesome”; one common use of this expression is to describe someone’s body

花瓶 (huāpíng): a beautiful person who is not intelligent, capable, or talented; eye candy (literally, “flower vase”)

绣花枕头 (xiùhuā zhěntou): synonym for 花瓶; someone (or something) beautiful but useless (literally, “embroidered pillow”)

撒娇 (sǎjiāo): [of females] to act like a spoiled child, speaking in the voice of a little girl, whining, pouting, acting clingy and dependent; such behavior on the part of a woman to her boyfriend or husband is considered charming in Chinese culture

女人小坏,男人疼爱 (nǚrén xiǎohuài, nánrén téng’ài): “If a woman behaves mischievously (more literally, “is a little bit bad” or “does little bad things”), a man will love her dearly.”

老牛吃嫩草 (lǎoniú chī nèncǎo): a relationship between two people with a large age gap (literally, “old cow eating tender grass”)

装嫩 (zhuāng nèn): to “pretend to be tender”; to act, speak, and/or dress much younger than one’s actual age

(huā): an adjective used to describe a player; horny, womanizing

花心 (huāxīn): to be fickle in love; to have a tendency to be unfaithful

花花公子 (huāhuā gōngzi): playboy; “player,” often one who dresses up like a dandy (literally, “flower prince”)

麦芽糖女人 (màiyátáng nǚrén): clingy, possessive woman (literally, “malt sugar woman,” as malt sugar is sticky)

约会 (yuēhuì): to have a date [with someone]; to make an appointment [with someone]; also, a date or appointment (noun)

网恋 (wǎngliàn): Internet dating

AA (AA zhì): “going Dutch”; each person paying his or her share (often used as just “AA” in sentences, e.g. 我们 AA 吧。)

有异性,没人性 (yǒu yìxìng, méi rénxìng): “Once you have a boyfriend or girlfriend, you forget your friends”; used to complain about a friend’s failure to spend time with you after starting to date someone new. (More literally, “Once you have someone of the opposite gender, you lose your humanity.”)

Romance

暗恋 (ànliàn): to have a crush (on); literally, “secretly love”

谈恋爱 (tán liàn’ài): to date; to “go steady” with; to have a relationship with

来电 (láidiàn): to have a romantic spark, feel electricity, have chemistry [with someone]

一见钟情 (yí jiàn zhōng qíng): love at first sight; to fall in love at first sight
(Note: The character “” takes the second tone when spoken before a fourth-tone character.)

宝贝 (bǎobèi): “baby” or “dear”; a term of endearment for a loved one

Marriage

老公 (lǎogōng): affectionate term for husband, originally from Cantonese but now in widespread use

老婆 (lǎopó): affectionate term for wife, originally from Cantonese but now in widespread use

私房钱 (sīfángqián): money kept secret from a wife or husband; e.g. for use after leaving one’s spouse or in case one is left by one’s spouse, or as personal spending money

床头儿柜 (chuángtóurguì): a hen-pecked husband (literally, “bedside cabinet”; 柜 is a homophone for 跪, suggesting a man who kneels beside the bed in deference to his wife)

Cheating and Heartbreak

吃醋 (chīcù): to be jealous (literally, “eat vinegar”)

醋坛子 (cù tánzi): jealous person (literally, “vinegar jar”)

三角恋 (sānjiǎo liàn): love triangle

(): girlfriend; lover; mistress (literally “honey”)

有一腿 (yǒu yì tuǐ): to have an affair (literally, “to have one leg,” suggesting the entwined legs of lovers)
(Note: The character “” takes the fourth tone when spoken before a third-tone character.)

戴绿帽子 (dài lǜ màozi): to be cuckolded (literally, “wear a green hat”)

包二奶 (bāo èrnǎi): to have a mistress (“二奶” is a term meaning “second wife” from the days when polygamy was practiced in China)

小老婆 (xiǎo lǎopó): mistress (literally, “little wife”)

外遇 (wàiyù): affair; extramarital relations (literally, “outside/external meeting”)

心碎 (xīnsuì): brokenhearted

One fascinating effect of China’s continuing growth and modernization on its popular culture is the explosion in slang expressions that has occurred in recent years, in large part because of the use of the Internet by ever-larger numbers of Chinese citizens. As in the United States, wildly creative, funny, and vulgar new slang expressions can become popular overnight as a result of mass exposure online. Posts tagged with “China” on the Schott’s Vocab blog in the New York Times will give you a brief taste of recent developments in Mandarin slang.

If you’re interested in learning much more about Chinese slang, either as part of a serious course of study or just for the hell of it, I highly recommend Eveline Chao’s book Niubi! The Real Chinese You Were Never Taught in School, which I’ve been enjoying lately. Many expressions I’ve heard my Chinese friends and in-laws use quite frequently (disclaimer: not the dirty ones!) but didn’t fully understand are given a clear and thorough explanation in the book. If you want to really speak like a native and have fun with the dynamic, living language that is contemporary Mandarin, this book is a great resource. Here is a selection of some widely used expressions, along with some of my personal favorites that I’ve come across so far, in both my own daily life and her book.

For more Chinese slang expressions, read my later post, Contemporary Chinese Slang Part 2: Flirting, Dating, Romance, Marriage, and Heartbreak. Comprehensive learning resources, advice, reviews, and links for people interested in Chinese can be found on our Chinese Language Resources for Travelers and Students page.

Like this post? Share it with your friends!


Click on the pronunciation key for each expression to hear an MP3 recording of it. (Warning: Keep in mind that although my pronunciation is considered very good, I am not a native speaker of Chinese.)

加油 (jiāyóu)
literal meaning: “add fuel” (add + fuel)
colloquial usage: “Go!” or “Let’s go!” (a way of offering encouragement, e.g. to players in a sporting event)

()
literal meaning: ruthless, strong (e.g. wine)
colloquial usage: “cool” (a loanword from English slang)

给力 (gěilì)
literal meaning: “give power” (give + power)
colloquial usage: “cool,” “awesome,” “exciting” (northern slang)

无聊 (wúliáo)
literal meaning: “nothing to chat (about)” (nothing/lacking + chat)
colloquial usage: “boring” or “bored”; also used to playfully scold someone who’s making a joke of questionable taste

郁闷 (yùmèn)
literal meaning: “melancholy,” “depressed” (melancholy + depressed)
colloquial usage: “boring”/“bored,” “depressing”/“depressed,” “(I’m) bored/depressed!”

白吃 (báichī)
literal meaning: “blank imbecile” (white/blank + stupid/imbecile)
colloquial usage: “idiot,” “dumbass”

笨蛋 (bèndàn)
literal meaning: “stupid egg” (stupid + egg)
colloquial usage: “dummy” (not necessarily harsh; often affectionate)

滚蛋 (gǔndàn), 滚开 (gǔnkāi)
literal meaning: “roll egg,” “roll away” (roll + egg, roll + away)
colloquial usage: “Go away!”, “Get out of here!”, “Get lost!”

(), 土包子 (tǔbāozi)
literal meaning: 土 = “dirt” or “earth”; 包子 = “steamed bun,” a common food in poor and rural areas (“dirt”; “dirt” + “steamed bun”)
colloquial usage: 土 = “ignorant,” “uncultured,” “rural,” “untrendy,” “out”; 土包子 = “yokel” or “bumpkin” (also, anyone out of touch with or ignorant about modern or trendy things)

土得掉渣 (tǔdediàozhā)
literal meaning: “so rural that [one is] shedding dirt”
colloquial usage: “What/Such a bumpkin!”, “So ignorant/untrendy!”

狗屁 (gǒupì)
literal meaning: “dog fart” (dog + fart/butt)
colloquial usage: “BS!”, “Nonsense!”

废话 (fèihuà)
literal meaning: “wasted words” (waste + words/speech)
colloquial usage: “Nonsense!” or “Duh!” (“Well, of course, you dummy!”, “Thank you, Captain Obvious!”)

瞎说 (xiāshuō)
literal meaning: “speak blindly” (blind + speak)
colloquial usage: “to speak nonsense,” “Nonsense!”

拜托 (bàituō), 帮帮忙 (bāngbāngmáng)
literal meaning: “please”; “help [me] out”
colloquial usage: “Oh, please!”, “Yeah, right!”, “Come on!”, “Gimme a break!” (sarcastic)

吹牛 (chuī niú) [from 吹牛皮 (chuī niúpí)]
literal meaning: “to blow up (inflate) a cow” [“blow up a cowhide”]
colloquial usage: “to brag” (especially when making exaggerated or false claims)

(niú)
literal meaning: cow, ox
colloquial usage: “awesome,” “badass” (For an explanation of the surprisingly vulgar origin of this widely used expression, see Eveline Chao’s book.)

拍马屁 (pāi mǎpì)
literal meaning: “pat the horse’s butt” (pat + horse + butt)
colloquial usage: “flatter” (especially to flatter someone in a position of authority or someone with the power to help you with something)

没劲 (méijìn)
literal meaning: “lacking strength” (lacking/no + strength)
colloquial usage: “lame”

(miàn), 面瓜 (miànguā)
literal meaning: “noodles”; “noodle melon” (noodles + melon)
colloquial usage: “wimpy,” “timid,” “weak”; “wimp,” “wuss,” “coward” (northern slang)

傻瓜 (shǎguā)
literal meaning: “foolish melon”
colloquial usage: “little fool,” “silly billy” (usually affectionate)

三八 (sānbā)
literal meaning: “three eight” (three + eight)
colloquial usage: “silly” (often used to describe feminine silliness), though it can have a stronger, more insulting meaning among some Mainland Chinese

书虫 (shūchóng), 书呆子 (shūdāizi)
literal meaning: “bookbug” (book + bug/insect), “bookish fool” (book + fool/idiot)
colloquial usage: “bookworm,” “nerd,” “a person with no social skills”

In her book, Eveline Chao doesn’t pull any punches; she includes a wide array of vulgar and extremely insulting expressions that I’ve elected to leave out of this post. So if you want to know when people are saying bad things about or to you (or want to be able to dish it out in return), you’ll find her book extremely useful.

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