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Colorful Taiwanese Idioms

Paul learned how to speak Taiwanese and use its idioms after he married a Taiwanese in the 1970s.

Political Map of Taiwan 1992

Political Map of Taiwan 1992

Learning to Speak Taiwanese in the 1970s

During the 1970s, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to live and work in 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. Luckily, the language I picked up has remained with me all my life. In this article, I will share some colorful Taiwanese expressions and idioms. I hope that you find them very interesting and useful.

Taiwanese Expressions With English Translations

The following is a listing of categories of different Taiwanese adjectives, idioms, colorful expressions, verbs, and other expressions that I heard and used often during my years in Taiwan.

When possible, I have included the literal translation of some expressions. I have not used any single romanization standard because many are in use in Taiwan today.

Colorful Taiwanese Adjectives

  • Ang gi-gi: bright or brilliant red
  • Beh shek-shek: very, very white
  • O so-so: extremely black
  • Dam di-di: extremely wet
  • Chio si: very, very funny
  • Sui dang-dang: extremely beautiful
  • Chingki lyu-lyu: extremely clean
  • Pai go-go: very ugly
  • Am mo-mo: very dark
  • Chi geng-geng: very bright
  • Sio hu-hu: extremely hot
  • Ling gi-gi: extremely cold
  • Gong tui-tui: very stupid
  • Bui sut-sut: very, very fat
  • Sang pi ba: very, very thin
  • Tsao go-go: very stinky
  • 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.

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Taiwanese Idioms

  • Gong lang gong hok: fool's luck; it means stupid luck (for) the stupid person
  • Thi gong thia gong lang: to be fortunate; it means God loves the stupid person.
  • Chit hun chit; Nng hun nng: be straightforward; Literally, it means one is one and two is two.
  • Ji oo si kha; lang oo nng kha: you can't get enough money; it means money has four legs, (but) people have two legs.
  • Mm bat chingki: to luck out in gambling; Literally, it means to have never been clean.
  • Than ji bo beng chiat: to be very poor; it means not making enough money to eat.
  • Mm bat ho phai: to be naïve; it means to have never known good or bad
  • Mm bat tai chi: to be naïve; it means to not be aware of things in the world.
  • Pha chew ching: to masturbate; it means to shoot the pistol.

Colorful Taiwanese Expressions

  • Tsuikhi thia e be hai hi: to have an extremely bad toothache
  • Wai ji tswa: to be crooked and not straightforward
  • Hoan e be hoan: to be very naughty
  • Jian si bo lang: to be very naughty
  • Bo boa jing: to have no common sense
  • Hoan lo e be si khi: to be worried to death
  • Bakjew oo sai go: to be blind; it means to have excrement in your eyes.
  • Hikang oo sai tak khi: to be deaf; it means to have excrement in your ears.
  • Hoahi e be hai hi: to be extremely happy
  • Yin cui yin ji: to talk back to a parent or a teacher
  • Tui bao zu: a very stupid person
  • Gong siao wei: to talk stupid
  • Boetsat gui tou: a liar
  • Sa mi boa mi: in the middle of the night
  • Bo boa sen: to be broke; to have no money at all
  • Cui dang cui sai: to look all over; it means to search east and search west.
  • Ho kha ho chiu: to be handy; it means to be good with feet and hands.
  • Bo kha bo chiu: to be clumsy; it means not to have legs or hands.
  • Bo lo eng hei: a useless person
  • Gao sang a: a very thin person; it means a skinny monkey.
  • Khao bei: a cry baby
  • Gei su a: a person living in a low-level shack
  • Ho tsui: good civilized talk; it means to (use) a good-sounding mouth.
  • Phai tsui: bad talk; scolding; literally, it means to use a bad-sounding mouth.
  • Gong boe thia: to not listen to someone
  • Siu li: to scold; to take to task; to settle a score with someone
  • Si thao lo: to get fired
  • Gwun thao gei: my husband; it means my head (boss)
  • Khan chiu: my wife; it means (the one you) hold hands with
  • Lanjiao kiel kiel: an erection; it means the penis is standing up
  • Pha za bo: chase women
  • Sho gan: to have sexual intercourse

Taiwanese Verbs

  • Chio ha-ha: to laugh
  • Sei li long: to turn and twirl around
  • Dao sa gang: to help
  • Dao kha chiu: to help; it means to use legs and hands.
  • Siu gia: to exorcise fear from a baby or child
  • Chua bo: to take a bride
  • Gei ang: to get married to the bride
  • Khia thi be: to ride a bicycle; it means to ride an iron horse.
  • Toe hoe a: to join a lending circle
  • He he haw haw: to be indecisive; not come to the point when speaking

Other Taiwanese Expressions

  • zo jio: a once-in-a-lifetime village celebration
  • Suai siao: an expression of being very upset
  • Sei i: a mistress; it means a minor wife.
  • Bu ni: a taxi dance hall girl
  • Diao dit: to be very honest and straightforward
  • Khi mo pai: be extremely angry
  • Boe gian siao: shame on you
  • Tswa jit diao: to be startled
  • A dok ga: a westerner; it means a person with a big nose.
  • Ang mo a: a westerner; it means a person with red hair.
  • Ang e a: an infant; baby
  • Iao Siu: Oh My God!

The above are just a few of the colorful expressions and idioms which I can recall. I hope to add to these lists in future articles and settle on a standard romanization system. Anyone traveling to Taiwan cannot help but hear these expressions and idioms.

Hokkien (Taiwanese) Conversation With Idioms

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Paul Richard Kuehn

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