• Mon
  • Dec 22, 2014
  • Updated: 6:23am
My Take
PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 February, 2013, 4:04am

If you must curse, at least get it right

Legislators should not curse in public, especially not in English. If nothing else, they don't know how to do it properly.

Take the case of Lawrence Ma Yan-kwok, the barrister and Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong lawmaker, who denounced pan-democratic lawmaker "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung as "not a f**king Chinese" in the Legislative Council this week.

It is not that I disapprove of the word. Like any self-respecting reporter, I can't imagine a work day without cursing in its Cantonese and English variants. They say "curse like a sailor" but I suspect we journalists are worse.

The F-word is arguably the most versatile in the English language. Used as a verb, noun or adjective, it can be deployed in myriad situations and expressions - to curse, to convey exuberance or frustration, to provoke, amuse and, as originally intended, to pleasure. It works equally effectively as a modifier and standalone.

That may be why it is usually one of the first English words we Chinese learn inadvertently. The thing is, English is not only a beautiful but also convenient language, and has a word for practically everything under the sun. Excessive use of the F-word might limit your vocabulary.

Now, "a f**king Chinese" is a phrase more likely to be uttered by an ignorant sinophobic foreigner or racist. Presumably, Ma is trying to say he is a proud Chinese, rather than a f**king one.

Let us take a look at the full sentence which he shouted out, strangely, in English: "I am a Chinese, you are not. You are not even a f**king Chinese!" Did Ma think there are normal Chinese and then f**king ones? I suggest he is linguistically confused.

You see, Lawrence, even cursing has its own grammar. Perhaps no one taught you how to curse properly as you were too busy learning multi-syllabic legalese in law school.

Ma was berating Leung for being without education and proper qualifications, unlike him, while they debated civil liberties. Leung could hardly complain, since he long since threw Legco etiquette out the window. Still, there might be children listening.

I shudder to think what school life would be like if they learned from Ma and all shouted: "We are f**king Chinese."


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This article is now closed to comments

In this case both the author and Lawrence Ma Yan-Kwok are correct, it just depends on whether you considering gramatic correctness or actual language usage. One could say that the term "f***ing Chinese" could be used to insult Chinese as the author implies, but that intent would be most achieved only when a subject is not stated or implied. In this case there is a subject, Leung Kwok -hung. The f word is just being used for emphasis. In the United States I have heard people say things such as "what do you know? You're not even a f***ing (insert noun.) I have heard people use this phrase with 1. an employee of this company 2. A resident of the particular state or city 3. Someones marital status - single or married or 4. Many other things. In this case the use
of the word f***ing adds emphasis (or more precisely a sense of outrage) to the conversation and this cancels out any insult to the object. In this usage the impugned party is the subject rather than the object.
Dear Sir,
Thank you for your wonderful post. But I disagree. You might have been right if Ma had spoken like a native English speaker. In that case, he would have said, “You are not even fxxxing Chinese”. That would accord perfectly with common usage to indicate emphasis and/or exasperation. But the fact that he mistakenly added “a” to make it “a fxxxing Chinese” made all the difference and completely changed the meaning. You and other readers here are helping to infer the correct meaning that he had intended.
The cultural context you have mentioned here is also different, as HK's population is 95 % Chinese, unlike the US.
In any case, I think we can both agree that it is bad form for lawmakers to swear like that in a public meeting - in any language.
Yours respectfully,
Alex Lo
In some varieties of poker games, the dealer is given the privilege to declare any card to be wild. The plenipotent wild card(s) bestows upon the player in possession an increased chance of winning.
The F word is the wild card in the English language used to represent all parts of speech, declensions and meanings. It provides a level playing field device for less literate folks.
In past corporate meetings with those mega-million bonus babies, I came across the F word in expressions of anger, alienation, sarcasm and not the least, an illiterate persona.
To be frank, yours truly usually rose to the challenge of any cursing contests.
What's the big deal?
I can't imagine Mr Lawrence Ma said this in Cantonese! Good observation. Long Hair needs to improve his manners not only in Legco, but on the street too. Its time he has a new hair cut.
I couldn't help chiming in even during my diving vacation. Ma couldn't have told Leung that he is a freaking moron and an illiterate. This cursing euphemism is perfectly acceptable in the US polite society. Leung's tone deaf response is likely, "Huh?" Just being curious, did Leung ever pass his School Cert?
A wonderful read for the morning! Well done Alex! Almost laughed my head off...
Who cares anyway, this guy Lawrence Ma has awful f***ing dress-sense... or is he a f***ing magician??
No one in their right mind would go to Mr Lo for advice about the English language: he misuses and reflects his misunderstanding of it in almost every piece he writes. This one is no different. The expletive does not attach itself to the noun in any negative sense in Mr Ma's expression. It is mere emphasis/frustration.
Yet again his entire article rests on a false premise.
Now back in the saddle with a better keyboard, I will add a couple more comments.
"Ma is trying to say he is a proud Chinese, rather than a f**king one." Perhaps he meant he never contributed to China's population explosion.
There is one point missed by Mr. Lo. There appears to be 3 categories of Chinese according to Ma: vanilla, F-ones and all others. Obviously, Ma says Leung belongs to the 3rd category.
"...you (Ma) were too busy learning multi-syllabic legalese in law school." You're right on the money about lawyers with their half baked English.
Years ago, an SJC schoolmate of mine argued a case in a HK court. This is what he said about his adversary's client: "His check bounced." The judge berated him for this American vernacular: "Mr. Ts, the check could either be honored or dishonored. Unlike you, a check doesn't bounce."
Witty and thoroughly uplifting,s howing your craftsmanship Alex. Write mor ethat like!
Great piece - very amusing. But I'd like to add my voice to the chorus saying that "You are not even a f**king Chinese!" is perfectly grammatical, and does not insult Chinese people. The "****", as others have pointed out, is for emphasis, and modifies the entire sentence "you are not even Chinese", not just the noun "Chinese".
The use of "a Chinese" as opposed to "Chinese" doesn't change the sense of the sentence in any way.
Sure, swearing doesn't belong in this context. But while this swearing is out of place, you can't deny that it's perfectly formed.
John Adams
Alex - this really has been one of your best columns yet :-)
Like Gracekitying I have been laughing my head off all day
(It really takes the p**s out of all the a**e- h**s in L***O - and they deserve it !)
Should one be pedantic about f.k.g, the word and the act?
To dictate proper grammatical use of the word
is like to standardize the act
This kind of things should be natural:
mission accomplished if feelings are conveyed
Except for those who watch the clock and monitor their hb, bp and cardiograph
while in action.
Starry Lee, a deputy chairman of the DAB and a member of both Legco and Exco, once severely censured Wong Yuk-man, as a mother, for having uttered undesirable language at Legco meetings, which according to her would have awfully bad influence on young children. I really want to know what she would say about the expletives used by a fellow member of her party to demean all Chinese.
hard times !
this lawmaker from the notorious DAB might be a geniune fxxking Chinese Australian as he claimed he worked in Australia for 20 years before coming back to Hong Kong where he studied at the Salesian School (once a prestigious school in the sixties of last century) which reputation has been tarnished by his foul language used in the Legco chamber openly against another lawmaker,Leung Kwok-hung (who just graduated from Clementi Middle School but can speak fluent English since he frequents Lang Kwei Fong to relax himself).This Ma is definitely a shame of all ethnic Chinese and Hongkongers who look down upon any so-called intellectuals (e.g.barristers) speaking foul language openly at public places ! Right ? Shame on this Ma Yan-kwok who is good at cursing others and has set a bad example for our youngsters and school children ! Shame on Ma and his political party which can never recruit any quality members but just Ms. Chiang Lei-wan, Chan Hak-kan (who asked people to try his breast) and this nasty Ma Yan-kwok---a disgrace to his fellow barristers in town ! Shame on Ma Yan-kwok !!
also, should one say 'an f****ing' or 'a f***ing'?
John Adams
Since the f- word has many grammatical functions : I guess one could say - albeit with a wry sense of humor - that the reason we have a population explosion in China is that there are too many f***king Chinese there.
This seems to be a not such problem in HK , at least not among the indigenous population - in fact just the opposite, same same in Singapore.
Thus Deng Xiaoping did get it right : "One country two (f***king) systems" :-)
There's nothing wrong with the grammar here. **** in this instance is for emphasis. Lawrence used the phrase correctly.


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