If you ask people in Singapore (and possibly Southeast Asia) what they think about the Teochew language, their responses are likely to be,
“When people speak Teochew, they sound like they are singing!”
While the Teochew language sounds refined and has a melodious ring in general, it may be a different tune when Teochew speakers start hurling vulgarities (in Teochew, 骂粗话 mare cou ware).
Identifying and providing an in-depth explanation of uniquely Teochew swear words is a challenge. This is because Teochew profanities tend to overlap with those of Hokkien as both are derived from the same root language i.e., Southern Min or Minnan language. In addition, Teochew is an old language and over the years, different Chinese characters are used to represent the same. Modern literature on Teochew vulgarities also tends to use Chinese characters of similar Mandarin phonetics versus actual root words. Thus, this raises questions on what is the ‘proper’ character(s) to use.
As such, we hope this piece serves as an initial step to plug educational gaps within the space of Teochew swear words. It is not meant to be a comprehensive piece on all things vulgar in Teochew. Of course, while it is not intended for anyone’s daily use, it helps to know what some of these Teochew swear words mean.
Teochew Swear Word #1 – Pu (肏): Fuck
Top of our list is the swear word that is probably represented in every language known to mankind. The Chinese character used in Teochew is a compound word comprising of 入 and 肉 at the top and bottom, respectively. The former character means ‘to enter’ while the latter refers to ‘meat’ or ‘flesh’, thereby representing ‘fuck’ in Teochew.
We have observed that Singapore Teochew speakers tend not to use this word alone. Instead, it is typically uttered with reference to family members, especially one’s mother. In fact, due to culture, Teochews have multiple ways to address their mother but unfortunately, none of these variations are spared from such swearing. We have listed some ’Pu’-related swearing below, ordered based on observed popularity among Teochews:
Pu bor (bor 母, mother)
Pu nia* ai (‘nia‘ refers to ‘your’; ‘ai 𡟓’ refers to ‘mother’)
Pu nia* yee (yee 姨, how some Teochews address their mother)
Pu nia* pare (pare 父, father)
Pu nia* zare (zare 姐, elder sister)
*nia – This character is usually represented by 领 in modern Teochew literature. However, it is likely to be a collapsed pronunciation of ni 伲 and ah 阿. The former refers to the pronoun – you – in ancient China and the latter is a general particle used by Teochews for reference to a person.
Teochew Swear Word #2 – Lan jiao (卵鸟): Penis or dick
Having introduced Pu 肏, private parts are naturally next in line.
Referring to the male genitalia, lan jiao 卵鸟 is a swear word that is commonly used and pronounced similarly by both Singapore Teochews and Hokkiens. In fact, Cantonese speakers probably loaned the same word – lan2 撚 – from the Minnan language. To refer to an annoying person, Teochews use this as part of a swearing expression i.e., lan jiao ming 卵鸟面 that literally means dick-face.
Teochew Swear Word #3 – Ji (膣): Vagina or cunt
Referring to the female genitalia, ji 膣 is another word pronounced similarly across both Teochew and Hokkien. However, the latter tend to append the word – bai 屄 – when referencing the female genitals. Teochews, on the other hand, have an expletive that utilizes ji 膣 in a unique manner – nia nare gor ji 领奶块膣. This literally means, ‘your mother’s piece of vagina’.
The above profanity can be intensified by prepending the Teochew equivalent of ‘smelly’ i.e., cao 臭 to the vagina i.e., nia nare gor cao ji 领奶块臭膣. Thus, this literally means, ‘your mother’s piece of smelly vagina’. That said, while this definitely drives home the vulgar impact, we have observed that most Teochews omit cao 臭 when utilizing this swear phrase. This is possibly due to a subconscious attempt to retain some semblance of idiomaticness – the majority of Chinese idioms (成语) are composed of four words/characters – while swearing at someone at the top of your lungs!
Note: In Teochew, 膣 is sometimes written as 𡚦/腟. Contemporary Teochew media tend to use 鸡 as it sounds similar when pronounced in Mandarin.
Teochew Swear Word #4 – Jiak pare gia (食父囝): Wastrel/Good-for-nothing
While prior listings utilize vulgar words, jiak pare gia 食父囝 combines otherwise typical Teochew vocabulary. Literally, it means “eat father child”. The last word – gia – also refers to a smaller/lesser being.
When combined in the above sequence, it does not mean a father-eating child. That would be cannibalistic, wouldn’t it? Rather, it means a child who is living off his/her father.
Special mention has to be given to the word, gia 囝 (sometimes, also written as 仔). To understand gia as a smaller being, look no further to a type of noodle usually ordered by Singaporeans at hawker stalls – mee gia. Mee gia is thinner than the normal-sized yellow noodle, mee. When used as part of a swear phrase, it is typically appended at the end and confers a sense of superiority to the addressor, since the addressee is of a smaller/lesser being.
Teochew Swear Word #5 – Pwa pare gia (破病囝): Diseased/Sickly lesser being
Following the introduction of gia 囝 above, you may hear Teochews using the phrase – pwa pare gia 破病囝 – as a way to vent their frustration or to wish sickness/illness upon their target.
Pwa 破 means ‘broken/incomplete’ but can also refer to an outbreak.
Pare 病 refers to sickness or illness.
When used together with gia 囝, it is used to describe a person who is diseased/sickly. In our opinion, this phrase is one of the least aggressive, possibly because most diseases and illnesses can be treated with modern medical advances.
Teochew Swear Word #6 – Dum bai (髧眉): Fool/Retard/Idiot
Swearing often leads to personal attacks and you may often hear Teochews using dum bai 髧眉 to refer to someone else as a fool or an idiot.
Based on our research, dum 髧 means ‘sagging’ while bai 眉 means ‘eyebrows’. As such, dum bai 髧眉 refers to the shape of eyebrows, approximating this shape, 八. How then, does this link to the description of a fool or idiot?
The answer can be found by the characters portrayed in Chinese opera. Typically, Chinese opera has five main characters and one of them is the fool/clown, represented by the character 丑 in the image below. Looking at the eyebrow of the character, it is no wonder that Teochews link the words dum bai 髧眉 to refer to someone who is an idiot or a fool!
Teochew Swear Word #7 – Yao siu (夭寿) or Dor mia (短命) or Za si (早死): Variations to mean short life or early death
Swearing would be incomplete without curses and what better way than to start with death-related curses. Teochews achieve this effect via 3 different phrases – yao siu 夭寿, dor mia 短命 , and za si 早死.
Yao 夭 means tender. This word in itself can also mean ‘early death’.
Siu 寿 means longevity;
Dor 短 means short;
Mia 命 means life;
Za 早 means early; and last but not least,
Si 死 means die/death.
As such, you may observe that each of these 3 phrases – yao siu 夭寿, dor mia 短命, and za si 早死 – curses the target with premature death. Used as a combination, it does get quite lethal, doesn’t it?
There you go, 7 commonly heard Teochew swear words in Singapore. As we wrote this article with an educational perspective, so do note that they are not intended for your daily use. However, if you have to, please use them with caution!