A Dictionary of Cantonese Colloquialisms in English
by Guan Jiecai
Commercial Press HK$108
There are certain books that you want to endorse unconditionally. A Dictionary of Cantonese Colloquialisms in English is one, and not just because of increasing fears in Cantonese speakers that their dialect and heritage are being threatened by the mainland's perceived push for national uniformity. Unfortunately, it's hard to give this book an unqualified thumbs up. The preface, replete with mistakes, hints at the sloppiness within. Students of Cantonese will find the dictionary handy, filled as it is with colloquial expressions. But they will also have to ignore some of the suggested English equivalents, riddled as they are with misspellings, typos and outdated expressions. That's a shame because many entries and their explanations are helpful. If you want to call someone a 'stumblebum', check out entry 1637. But some sayings, for those who don't read Chinese, may confound. If 'take every bush for a bugbear' doesn't compute, it's likely the literal translation of the Chinese saying won't mean much either: 'Stepping on a leaf-stalk of taro is thought as stepping on a snake'.