Talk the talk - Hong Kong slang

19 Oct 2011

Hong Kong is a Cantonese-speaking city, but it has also developed a system of slang unique to it and not understood by people in Guangzhou – the birthplace of the dialect. English words are sometimes mixed in, a legacy of the city’s colonial past.  Here are some of the most commonly used colloquial phrases you are bound to encounter when in town:

Gwei-lo Western men (once an insulting term meaning “ghost men”, it has become neutralised and commonly used without derogatory meaning)

Gwei-por Western women (same as above; it literally means “ghost women”)

Gwei-jai  Western boys or young Western men (it literally means “ghost boys”)

Gwei-mui  Western girls or young Western women (it literally means “ghost girls”)

O-wor  It’s pretty good (used mostly by the younger generation)

K-lah  Okay (also used mostly by the younger generation)

Win-win  Mutually beneficial (used mostly by people in business)

Lei-dou  Here (you can’t go by a day in Hong Kong without hearing this phrase)

Gor-dou  There (same as above)

Ma faan  Trouble (depending on the tone, it can range from being affectionate to being hostile)

Gaau chor?  Are you kidding? (the best term to use when someone tries to overcharge you)

Mei-ar?  What? (usually used in annoyance)

Dim-seen?  So now what? (usually used to demand for a solution)

Chee-sin  Crazy (can be used to describe an incident or a person)

Ai-ya!  Oh, no! (meaning can range from a mild shock to losing a bet at the racecourse)

This list is by no means exhaustive so feel free to contribute in the comment box below.

Reggie Ho

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