Justin Muirhead writes articles on learning languages like Chinese, especially how to curse in a different language.
Cursing in Chinese
Recently, a friend who understands a little Chinese commented to me: "Hey Justin, you know I don't think the Chinese use curse words. I'm not even sure if they have them."
I promptly said: "My poor, hearing-impaired friend. You simply do not know what to listen for."
True, I am an American foreigner who only spent two years (mostly) in China's northeast regions. However, during my stay, I had the pleasure of being accompanied by some of the most foul-mouthed, outlandish native speakers a hapless waiguoren (外国人 - foreigner) could ask for.
So for your edification, I have compiled a list of common and not-so-common Chinese swears, curses, and insults. You will find that with only a few exceptions, the Chinese curse and carry on just like the rest of the world.
Alright, let's start off strong by teaching you some of the Chinese swears and curses that will definitely get you a fist fight (hence the use of the Bruce Lee picture).
肏 - cào -
This is the general vulgar term for the word "fuck." In general, it has the equivalent meaning and connotation as the English word. However, there are possibly more situations in Chinese where the word is used in expressions of excitement and/or amazement.
Example: 我 肏 (Wo cào), pronunciation: "wo-tsoa"—I fuck. A very common statement for a variety of occasions where the speaker feels pissed, excited, amazed, enraged, etc. Note: This statement is also the reason many Chinese find it so funny when English speakers use the word "wassup." The two terms sound kind of similar if you think about it.
狗崽子 - gǒu zǎizi
Colloquially, this literally means puppy. However, the common (most preferred term) for puppy is 小狗 (Xiǎo gǒu, lit. little dog). The derogatory definition of this term is the most preferred usage (that' 's why I have included it.) It literally means "son of a bitch." Its usage is also very similar to the English usage of the term. You might utter this when mad or when seeking to be mean or a little nasty to someone else.
牛屄 - niú bī
The meaning most coincides with "fucking great" or "fucking awesome" in English. This term literally translates to "cow p@$$y" and apparently may have some connection to rural China.
However, the most interesting thing about this term comes from the fact that (屄 - bī) the character of this phrase that actually means p@$$y, has been officially banned by government teaching and literary authorities for being too vulgar. (bī is composed of two other Chinese characters that mean "body" and "hole," respectively.) Within the past 15 years, the character bi has disappeared from Chinese keyboard settings.
However, young people are super smart. So more often than not, you will see the English characters "NB" used in place of the characters themselves on Chinese blogs and forums.
Variations include: 太牛屄 - tài niú bī – "too fucking awesome"
牛 – niú - "great", "awesome"
泼妇 - pōfù
Simply put, this term means "bitch”, "shrew," or simply implies "crazy woman." Although there are literally dozens of other Chinese characters to describe the same exact Chinese swear / Chinese curse word, I've tried to present the one that is commonly used.
哇塞 - Wasāi
This is most often used as a general term of excitement. The best English translations are probably related to the phrases "holy cow," "wow," or "oh my God." However, on some occasions, it is uttered as a mild swear when something upsets the utterer. In these cases, the translation is probably closer to "shoot," "darn," or "damn." Lastly, the phrase is apparently Taiwanese in origin and is especially popular with Chinese women.
白痴 - báichī
Very common and oft-used term meaning "idiot." It can be really insulting or a little endearing, depending on the usage.
二百五 - Èrbǎiwǔ
Simply put, this phrase means "stupid," "buffoon," "simpleton," or "idiot" (at its meanest intent). Mostly used in a half-joking kind of way, the phrase has its origin story dating back to China's Qing dynasty (~two centuries ago).
However, because it has been around for so long, it is generally considered an old and dated phrase by many younger Chinese. However, if you are interested in learning the history behind it, click here.
Variation Include: 你二啊 - Nǐ Èr A - "You're so stupid." Literally, you are a number 2.
丑八怪 - chǒubāguài
A straightforward insulting term that describes an extremely ugly person. Akin to the English word hideous, with possibly stronger connotations. The literal English translation is "ugly and all-around weird." Apparently, there is also a very popular Chinese song by the same name by the artist Jackie Xue.
垃圾 - lājī
To round out our short list of mild Chinese swears and curses, I bring you lājī (pronounced: laa - jee). It simply means "trash." And just like in English, trash can refer to people in an insulting way (i.e., "You look like trash and smell like poop."), or it can refer to actual trash that you put in a landfill. See, our cultures are not so different.
Special Note: In Taiwan, the same word is (lèsè). pronounced (luh-suh).
As a bonus, I have included a video below of how some mild (slightly funny) Chinese swears can be used in everyday speech.
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Words for Teasing and Naughty Banter
书呆子 - shū dāi zi
Means "bookworm" or "bookish fool." The Chinese characters themselves translate directly to "book idiot."
懒虫 - lǎn chóng
This is a term used to describe someone who is lazy, a slob. It's generally considered an insult and can be combined with various other Chinese swear words for greater effect. However, there are times when it can be used affectionately (i.e., a family member refers to you are "lazy bones" for watching TV all day). The literal translation is "lazy bug."
吃软饭 - chī ruǎn fàn
This is a phrase that originated in Southern China and is still mainly used in that region. It's generally considered negative; it is a term that describes a man who depends on his girlfriend or wife for a living/ sustenance. The literal translation is: "One who eats soft rice."
戴绿帽子 - dài lǜ mào zǐ
Probably one of the most interesting Chinese swear words and curse phrases. It literally translates to "to wear a green hat," and it describes a cuckold . . . a man whose wife has cheated on him. The reason this specific phrase is rooted in history. Apparently, there was a period during the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368 AD) when the relatives of prostitutes were forced to wear green hats and other green attire to identify themselves.
Cultural Notes on the Use of Chinese Swears and Curses
There are a few key differences between the ways that Chinese use swearing and the way the average western person does. For example, while the West has a long history of using vulgar and harsh language to deride and discriminate against homosexuals (think faggot, fag, fruitcake, etc.), the Chinese really don't have such a harsh vocabulary for members of the LBGTQ community.
The main reason for this appears to be the atheism of the Chinese culture. While homosexuality has been demonized for years based on religious arguments in western countries, the Chinese have (historically speaking) largely ignored its presence in their society.
Moreover, since China is largely an atheist society, insults that reference God or Heaven either do not exist or do not carry the same kind of "emotional weight" as they do in the West.
Louis on April 16, 2019:
Look you've gotta go for the most hardcore stuff, like 艹你妈了个逼. So far as I know those milder curses do not really carry that social taboo-ish meaning like those ones you say it with force, like 真他妈操蛋 etc. And much of those that show up in that video can be used for flirting, honesty, if you say it with the right intonation.
Justin Muirhead (author) from New York on February 04, 2018:
Thanks Shyron. And since we're on the topic of animals, don't forget about sheep (Lamb Chop) "'Baaa - stard".
Shyron E Shenko from Texas on February 04, 2018:
Hello Justin, thanks for the education in Chinese crap. Even cats (yes I mean felines curse) you can hear them on the backyard fence: male (Tom) "Oooo -lord," female (Kitty) "dam-mew."
Blessings and stay cool
Paul Richard Kuehn from Udorn City, Thailand on February 01, 2018:
Thanks for sharing a very interesting hub. I lived in Taiwan for many years and have heard almost all of these curse words in both Mandarin and Taiwanese.
AYOOLA RASAQ on February 01, 2018:
Happy New Year.