Colorful Taiwanese Idioms
Political Map of Taiwan
Acquiring Taiwanese in the 1970s
During the 1970s, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to live and work on Taiwan. In that decade I was living in the southwestern port city of Kaohsiung in a predominantly Taiwanese speaking neighborhood. When I arrived I only knew Chinese Mandarin, but by the time I left in 1979 to return to the States I had already picked up spoken Taiwanese from my family and neighbors which has remained with me all my life. In this article I will share with you some colorful Taiwanese expressions and idioms which I hope you find very interesting and useful.
Taiwanese Expressions With English Translations
The following is a listing by categories of different Taiwanese adjectives, idioms, colorful expressions, verbs, and other expressions which I heard and used often during my years on Taiwan. If possible, I have included the literal translation of some expressions. I have not used any one Romanization standard because many are in use on Taiwan today.
Colorful Taiwanese Adjectives:
1. Ang gi-gi - bright or brilliant red
2. Beh shek-shek - very, very white
3. O so-so - extremely black
4. Dam di-di - extremely wet
5. Chio si - very, very funny
6. Sui dang-dang - extremely beautiful
7. Chingki lyu-lyu - extremely clean
8. Pai go-go - very ugly
9. Am mo-mo - very dark
10. Chi geng-geng - very bright
11. Sio hu-hu - extremely hot
12. Ling gi-gi - extremely cold
13. Gong tui-tui - very stupid
14. Bui sut-sut - very, very fat
15. Sang pi ba - very, very thin
16. Tsao go-go - very stinky
17. Phang gong-gong - very fragrant
The first syllable of each expression is the adjective. For all but two expressions, the last two syllables are reduplicated. The reduplication of the syllables puts the adjective into the superlative degree or approaching the superlative.
1. Gong lang gong hok - fool's luck; Literally it means stupid luck (for) the stupid person
2. Thi gong thia gong lang - to be fortunate; Literally it means God loves the stupid person.
3. Chit hun chit; Nng hun nng - be straight forward; Literally it means one is one and two is two.
4. Ji oo si kha; lang oo nng kha - You can't get enough money; Literally it means money has four legs, (but) people have two legs.
5. Mm bat chingki - to luck out in gambling; Literally it means to have never been clean.
6. Than ji bo beng chiat - to be very poor; Literally it means to not make enough money to eat.
7. Mm bat ho phai - to be naïve; Literally it means to have never known good or bad
8. Mm bat tai chi - to be naïve; Literally it means to not be aware of things in the world.
Colorful Taiwanese Expressions:
1. Tsuikhi thia e be hai hi - to have an extremely bad toothache
2. Wai ji tswa - to be crooked and not straight forward
3. Hoan e be hoan - to be very naughty
4. Jian si bo lang - to be very naughty
5. Bo boa jing - to have no common sense
6. Hoan lo e be si khi - to be worried to death
7. Bakjew oo sai go - to be blind; Literally it means to have excrement in your eyes.
8. Hikang oo sai tak khi - to be deaf; Literally it means to have excrement in your ears.
9. Hoahi e be hai hi - to be extremely happy
10. Yin cui yin ji - to talk back to a parent or a teacher
11. Tui bao zu - a very stupid person
12. Gong siao wei - to talk stupid
13. Boetsat gui tou - a liar
14. Sa mi boa mi - in the middle of the night
15. Bo boa sen - to be broke; to have no money at all
16. Cui dang cui sai - to look all over; Literally it means to search east and search west.
17. Ho kha ho chiu - to be handy; Literally it means to be good with feet and hands.
18. Bo kha bo chiu - to be clumsy; Literally it means not to have legs or hands.
19. Bo lo eng hei - a useless person
20. Gao sang a - a very thin person; Literally it means a skinny monkey.
21. Khao bei - a cry baby
22. Gei su a - a person living in a low level shack
23. Ho tsui - good civilized talk; Literally it means to (use) a good sounding mouth.
24. Phai tsui - bad talk; scolding; Literally it means to use a bad sounding mouth.
25. Gong boe thia - to not listen to someone
26. Siu li - to scold; to take to task; to settle a score with someone
27. Si thao lo - to get fired
28. Gwun thao gei - my husband; Literally it means my head (boss)
29. Khan chiu - my wife; Literally it means (the one you) hold hands with
1. Chio ha-ha - to laugh
2. Sei li long - to turn and twirl around
3. Dao sa gang - to help
4. Dao kha chiu - to help; Literally it means to use legs and hands.
5. Siu gia - to exorcise fear from a baby or child
6. Chua bo - to take a bride
7. Gei ang - to get married to the bride
8. Khia thi be - to ride a bicycle; Literally it means to ride an iron horse.
9. Toe hoe a - to join a lending circle
10. He he haw haw - to be indecisive; not come to the point when speaking
Other Taiwanese Expressions:
1. zo jio - a once in a lifetime village celebration
2. Suai siao - an expression of being very upset
3. Sei i - a mistress; Literally it means a minor wife.
4. Bu ni - a taxi dance hall girl
5. Diao dit - to be very honest and straight forward
6. Khi mo pai - be extremely angry
7. Boe gian siao - shame on you
8. Tswa jit diao - to be startled
9. A dok ga - a westerner; Literally it means a person with a big nose.
10. Ang mo a - a westerner; Literally it means a person with red hair.
11. Ang e a - an infant; baby
12. Iao Siu - Oh My God!
The above are just a few of the colorful expressions and idioms which I can recall. In future articles I hope to add to these lists and also settle on a standard Romanization system. Anyone travelling to Taiwan cannot help but hear these expressions and idioms.
Hokkien (Taiwanese) Conversation with Idioms
© 2011 Paul Richard Kuehn