Learn Cantonese slang: How to encourage others during the coronavirus pandemic

  • It’s easy to feel frustrated during Hong Kong’s latest wave of Covid, so here are some positive messages you can send
  • Support hardworking medical staff and cheer up your friends and family with these uplifting phrases
Sue Ng |

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We don’t blame you if you need a little extra encouragement right now! Photo: Shutterstock

While Hong Kong’s fifth wave of Covid-19 surges and social-distancing measures are prolonged, it can be easy to feel frustrated and pessimistic about the future. But even if we cannot heal all of the city’s patients or stop the virus from spreading, we can send encouraging messages to each other as a reminder that we will get through these tough times.

One of Hongkongers’ most well-known slogans is ga-yau, meaning to add oil or to hang on. But do you know any other motivating and uplifting Cantonese phrases?

This week, we introduce four that you can use to cheer up your friends and support hardworking medical staff. One is inspired by a popular manga series and another by a traditional superstition.

Cantonese phrases to break the tension

集氣 zaap6 hei3 (zahp-hey): “Gather air”

Meaning: to pray for or cheer for others together. In traditional Chinese culture, hey refers to the energy that flows in the body. This slang is inspired by a Japanese manga, Dragon Ball. Its main character, Goku, has an iconic move that allows him to gather the energy from his surroundings into his hands. In Hong Kong, people often use this term online in a post to call for support for someone in need.

In English: to send good luck; to send thoughts and prayers

Example: The pandemic is getting more serious in Hong Kong, so let’s zahp-hey to wish that all the patients will get well soon.

If only it were that easy to send good luck. Photo: Shutterstock

撐住 caang1 zyu6 (chaang-jyu): “Hold on”

Meaning: to hang on when life gets tough. In 2013, Canto-pop singer Terence Siufay released a song with this phrase as its title, reminding people to persevere and fight for their rights.

In English: to hang on; to hold on; to keep pushing; to persevere

Example: Hong Kong’s fifth wave of Covid-19 is overwhelming the health care system, so I want to write messages to encourage medical staff to chaang-jyu and get through this difficult time.

How to talk about relationships and memories in Cantonese

大步檻過 daai6 bou6 laam5 gwo3 (dai-bou-laam-guo): “Big step cross the threshold”

Meaning: to describe when someone has escaped from a horrible situation or has overcome a crisis. The idiom originated from a Chinese superstition of stepping over thresholds. The bottom part of a doorway is thought to be presided over by a god, so stepping on it is disrespectful. People typically use this phrase to refer to escaping from a terrible situation that could have resulted in death.

In English: to have a brush with death; to have a close call; to dodge a bullet

Example: The 97-year-old has dai-bou-laam-guo from the deadly disease, so her family is grateful that she made it through.

It’s much tougher than it looks. Photo: Shutterstock

搏命 bok3 ming6 (bok-mang): “Fight with life”

Meaning: to do something with all your might

In English: to try with all your might; to give your all to something; to risk your life

Example: Despite the risk of getting infected, doctors and nurses are still bok-mang to work, trying to save lives.

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