Learn Cantonese Slang: Let’s talk about love

  • Learning Cantonese slang is easy with our fun crossover translations and examples
  • This week, we look at some common sayings about romantic relationships
Kelly Fung |

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After our three-part food series, let’s talk about love this week . “When you fall in love, it is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake, and then it subsides.” This is a famous line from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières where he likens the feeling of falling in love to an earthquake. 

In Cantonese, people say “falling into the river of love” when they are in a relationship. It’s common to see earthy references in the description of romantic relationships. Check them out below and see if you prefer love to be “hot” or like “streams flowing endlessly”.

【暗戀】 ngam 3 lyun 2 (um-luen) – “dim love”
Meaning: to love someone secretly; a crush
Example: Andy doesn’t find “um-luen” easy even though he thought he would feel better if he kept it to himself.

【熱戀】yit 6 lyun 2 (yit-luen) – “hot love”
Meaning: passionate love; it refers to the first flush of a romantic relationship where the pair experience the most passionate feelings. In English, you may say being in the first flush of love or the honeymoon period.
Example: Couples go through the phase of “yit-luen” and then enter the conflict stage.

【拍拖】 paak 3 to 1 (pak-tall) – “pair cling”
Meaning: it refers to the action of the towing and docking of a tugboat. People later likened the phrase to how couples walk closely on the street. In English, you may say dating someone or to be in a relationship with someone.
Example: Just want to share the good news with you that Sam and I are finally “pak-tall”.

【分手】 fan 1 sau 2 (fun-sou) – “separate hands”
Meaning: to break up with someone
Example: It’s not a good idea to jump into a new relationship right after “fun-sou”.

【拉埋天窗】laai 1 maai 4 tin 1 coeng 1 (lai-mai-tin-cheung) – “close the sunroof”
Meaning: usually, people tend to leave the sunroof of their home open to get fresh air, but newly married couples would close it, so it became a phrase referring to “getting married”.
Example: I’m so happy to see my two best friends “lai-mai-tin-cheung” after dating for seven years!

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More than friends

【樹洞】 syu 6  lung 1 (su-lone) – “tree hole”
Meaning: someone who will listen to you when you need, just like a tree hole to which you can tell your secrets freely and at ease.
Example: I can always be your “su-lone” if you need somebody to talk to.

【紅/藍顏知己】hung 4 / laam 4 ngaan 4 zi 1 gei 2 (hong/lam-ng-an-ji-gei) – “red- or blue-faced soulmate”
Meaning: best female/male friend who knows you even better than your partner. 
Example: Jenny is always suspicious of her boyfriend’s “hung-ng-an-ji-gei”.

【兵 】bing 1 (bing) – “soldier”
Meaning: it’s sad to be a “bing” as it means the person’s love interest is just using them. People who are “bing” do not realise (or admit) they are just being used, as they would have to admit their love interest is not that into them . 
Example: Just let me know if you see me as only a friend. Give it to me straight, I don’t ever want to be your bing. 

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Decoding the earthy descriptions:

【桃花】tou 4 faa 1 (to-faa) – “peach blossoms”
Meaning: it refers to love and luck in romantic relationship; this term is often used by fortune-tellers 
Example: Don’t be superstitious and think that this bracelet is going to boost your “tou faa”.

【墮入愛河】do 6 yap 6 oi 3 ho 4 (do-yup-oi-ho) – “fall in the river of love”
Meaning: fall head over heels in love
Example: Just by looking at you I can already tell you “dou-yup-oi-ho”.

【細水長流】sai 3 seoi 2 choeng 4 lau4  (sai-sui-cheung-lou) – “streams flowing endlessly”
Meaning: a long-lasting love; it refers to the stage after the first flush of love, where the relationship becomes stable, like a stream that flows slowly yet never-ending.
Example: I am tired of passionate love or infatuation; now I just want a love that is “sai-sui-cheung-lou”.

Slang of the week:

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