Learn Cantonese slang: how to talk about sports like a local in Hong Kong

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  • While ‘poke a fish ball’ and ‘eat char siu’ might sound like tasty activities, they actually mean something very different in Cantonese
  • Brush up on your language skills and your sports knowledge with this week’s list of useful phrases and idioms
Kelly Fung |
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Did you know the bicycle kick in football has a different name in Cantonese? Photo: David Wong

The sporting world is full of figurative terms and lingo – from the scorpion kick in football to the wolf turn in gymnastics. After all, difficult skills deserve to be celebrated with memorable and distinct names.

This week, we introduce you to some Cantonese slang terms related to sports that are commonly used by people in Hong Kong. What do you think it means to “poke a fish ball”? Have you ever done any “dry swimming”?

Two of these phrases sound like snacks but are actually about sports, while one seems like a sport but is actually about a traditional Chinese game.

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Get your game on

篤魚蛋 duk1 jyu4 daan2 (dook-yu-dahn): “Poke a fish ball”

This phrase for jamming your finger is based on a popular street food in Hong Kong. Photo: Shutterstock
  • Meaning: to suffer from a jammed finger. This injury occurs when the tip of the finger is compressed towards the hand, often while playing ball games. Locals compare the injury to how a skewer pokes the fish balls when it is served as a street snack in Hong Kong. In this analogy, the injured finger is the skewer, and the ball that created the injury is the fish ball.

  • In English: a jammed finger

  • Example: Jaden had to rely on her left hand during her final exams because she dook-yu-dahn during the basketball game.

Hong Kong’s favourite street foods and the stories behind their strange names

游乾水 jau4-gon1-seoi2 (yau-gon-sui): “Dry swimming”

What part of playing mahjong is most similar to swimming? Photo: Shutterstock
  • Meaning: to play mahjong, a Chinese game involving rectangular tiles. Hong Kong people have dubbed it “dry swimming” because the gesture of shuffling the tiles on the table looks similar to doing the breaststroke in water.

  • In English: to play mahjong

  • Example: Kenny is an avid swimmer who swims four days a week, as does his mother – but she mostly yau-gon-sui.

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Idioms of the week

倒掛金鉤 dou3 gwaa3 gam1 ngau1 (dou-gua-gum-ou): “Upside-down golden hook”

Bicycle kicks are no easy feat for your feet. Photo: EPA-EFE
  • Meaning: refers to a bicycle kick in football. Also known as an overhead kick or scissors kick, this is one of the most iconic yet difficult skills in the sport. To execute this move, a player must throw the body backwards and up into the air, while getting the ball-striking leg in front of the other to score the goal.

  • In English: bicycle kick; overhead kick; scissors kick

  • Example: You should’ve seen Fin’s reaction after he successfully did a doh-gua-gum-ou and scored the winning goal for our team.

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食叉燒 sik6 caa1 siu1 (sik-chah-siu): “Eat char siu”

You should always be ready to ‘eat char siu’. Photo: Shutterstock
  • Meaning: to get a winning chance. When the China national women’s volleyball team was playing a game, a sports commentator wanted to say that there was a chance for the team to score points. But instead of saying “chance”, the presenter mispronounced it as “chah siu”, which is a Cantonese style of barbecued pork. Now, Hongkongers use the phrase sik-chah-siu to describe when they see a chance to win.

  • In English: to have a chance to win

  • Example: Pay attention to the game, Ben! Don’t you see we’re about to sik-chah-siu here?

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