Learn Cantonese slang: 4 phrases you need to know when texting, from the Hong Kong version of LOL to IDC and more

  • Just as English chatspeak shortens popular phrases with acronyms, Chinese does as well
  • We show you how to decode this ‘Martian language’ – ‘MSW’ is similar to ‘I don’t care’, while ‘siu4’ is useful when something is hilarious
Yanni Chow |

Latest Articles

Hong Kong Shifts tells stories of city’s overlooked workers to build community

Mass shootings in California kill 19, casting shadow over Lunar New Year

Hot Topics: How China’s lowest birth rate ever could affect the economy

Slang like ‘MSW’ and ‘siu4’ won’t make any sense unless you understand the Cantonese phrases behind them. Photo: Shutterstock

Have you heard of the Martian language? It is the name for how netizens type Chinese characters in unconventional ways when they are texting or posting something on social media.

People will often use homophones of Chinese words or acronyms based on how the phrases are romanised. This form of communication is a unique language for the cyberspace.

Feeling left out? Don’t worry – we have decoded some of the most common phrases from the Martian language so you can text like a pro.

The 5 best Cantonese slang phrases to describe 2021

1. Bookmark: LM 留名 (lau4 ming4 or lau-mang)

Meaning: used to bookmark a topic that you want to return to in the future. This is a common phrase used on internet forums in Hong Kong. When there is a popular post that netizens want to bookmark or keep track of, they comment “LM”, short for lau-mang, meaning “leave a name”.

In English: bookmark

Example: This post that is giving updates on the celebrity family feud is so juicy that I “LM” to keep up.

Sup sup sui: Your go-to guide for Cantonese internet slang

2. Incomprehensible: 1999 一舊舊 (jat1 gau6 gau6 or yaht-gau-gau)

Meaning: describes something confusing or incomprehensible. People use this term when they simply cannot understand what someone else is trying to say or what a post on social media is trying to convey. When spoken in Cantonese, the numbers in “1999” are a homophone of yaht-gau-gau which means “lumps” – someone’s words are so incomprehensible that they are just meaningless lumps.

In English: incomprehensible; confusing; gibberish; nonsense

Example: You spoke so “1999” that I just couldn’t understand what you were saying.

If you’re confused by what someone is trying to say, we’ve got just the phrase for you. Illustration: Shutterstock

3. LOL: Siu4 笑死 (siu3 sei2 or siu-say)

Meaning: to laugh in response to something. In Cantonese, siu means “to laugh”, while the number “4” has the same pronunciation as the Cantonese word for “die”. Siu-say is a commonly spoken phrase, and “siu4” is its romanised form for texting or social media. Netizens often use the phrase when they see something amusing or even satirical.

In English: LOL (laugh out loud)

Example: Look at this video of a cat that keeps bumping its head on the glass. I’m really “siu4”!

Cantonese slang borrowed from Japan

4. I don’t care: MSW 無所謂 (mou4 so2 wai6 or moh-saw-wai)

Meaning: to have no preference when asked to make a choice. This acronym is similar to how people use “IDM” for “I don’t mind” in English. The phrase, moh-saw-wai, is a commonly spoken phrase, and “MSW” is its shortened form in texting or social media.

In English: it doesn’t matter; IDM (I don’t mind); IDC (I don’t care)

Example: You can choose the restaurant tonight – I eat everything. “MSW” for me.

Sign up for the YP Teachers Newsletter
Get updates for teachers sent directly to your inbox
By registering, you agree to our T&C and Privacy Policy