Learn Cantonese slang: Lunar New Year greetings for good luck

  • Learn more about the foods behind popular phrases for wishing prosperity and success
  • Do you know why we eat fish and tangerines during the holiday?
Yanni Chow |

Latest Articles

Hong Kong university students say volunteering at Asian Games an ‘honour’

5 best English literature classics for teenagers, picked by a Hong Kong student

Hong Kong areas hit by last big storm and rainfall fear further damage

Muslim students of Man Kwan Pak Kau College approach imam for help after school threatens demerits

Not so black and white? Panda fibs fuel anti-US vibe in China

Did you know that all the foods we eat on Lunar New Year have a special meaning? Photo: Shutterstock

Kung Hei Fat Choi! As Lunar New Year officially begins on February 1, this is usually the time for meeting relatives, feasting on sumptuous meals and – perhaps most importantly – getting piles of red packets from parents, uncles, aunties and the elderly.

But before you go off in hopes of collecting luck and money, learn more about the foods behind the popular Cantonese greetings for wishing prosperity and success.

This week, we discuss auspicious fruits and fish, and we explain why you should eat pudding if you want your career to soar.

Cantonese slang words about tigers

nin4 nin4 jau5 jyu4 (neen-neen-yau-yu): “Every year have excess”

Meaning: a common greeting for wishing that someone will have money left at the end of every year. Similar to “kung hei fat choi”, you can say this phrase to anyone.

In English: I hope that every year will be plentiful for you.

Food for thought: The Chinese word for fish, “yu’’, is a homophone for the word for abundance. Thus, Chinese people eat fish during the Lunar New Year in hopes of having a plentiful year. But they will not finish the whole fish, as the leftovers symbolise the desire to have so much that there is excess.

Make sure not to finish the whole fish! Photo: Shutterstock

daai6 gat1 daai6 lei6 (dai-gut-dai-lay): “Big luck, big benefit”

Meaning: a phrase to wish someone great success and lots of luck during Lunar New Year. The phrase “dai gut” means the best luck.

In English: Wishing you luck and prosperity.

Food for thought:Gut”, the second character of this phrase, sounds like the
Chinese word for tangerine.

The different days of Lunar New Year and what they all mean

bou6 bou6 gou1 sing1 (boh-boh-goh-sing): “Step by step, rise higher”

Meaning: a phrase to wish someone a better career. This can include being promoted, getting a huge pay rise or finding a better job.

In English: I hope you can advance in your career.

Food for thought: People eat neen-goh, a glutinous pudding made from coconut syrup, and law-bahk-goh, radish cake, because “goh” is a homophone for “high” in Cantonese. So eating these treats can bring your career to the next level.

Not only will it give you luck, but it’s delicious too. Photo: Shutterstock

faat3 coi4 hou2 si5 (faht-choi-ho-see): “Get rich, good market”

Meaning: a phrase to wish someone wealth and success in the stock market. This is useful to say to people who have investments or who have businesses that rely on a thriving market.

In English: Make a fortune, and be successful.

Food for thought: During Lunar New Year, Chinese people eat a traditional dish of braised dried oysters with black moss. Black moss might sound a bit strange, but it has a similar sound to the Cantonese word for “get rich”. The Cantonese words for “dried oysters” and “a great market for business” sound alike, too.

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