Learn Cantonese slang: How to describe people in Hong Kong, from artsy trendsetters to outdated ‘old cakes’

  • You may have heard the term “Kong girl/boy” for materialistic women and indecisive men, but this only skims the surface of slang for the city’s many characters
  • Check out these Cantonese phrases to talk about those who are young, old, stylish, sociable and peaceful
Sue Ng |

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Here are five phrases to describe some of the people you might meet in Hong Kong. Illustration: Shutterstock

With more than 7 million residents, Hong Kong is a dynamic city with many different characters. You may have heard of the term “Kong girl/boy” to describe materialistic women and indecisive men. “Hea” describes those who are relaxed, while the opposite, “chur”, refers to those who work themselves to the bone.

This week, we introduce you to more slang to describe different types of people – from the city’s artistic youth and social butterflies to those who have no clue about what is trending.

1. “Old cake”: 老餅 lou5 beng2 (low-bang)

Meaning: refers to someone who does not keep up with the trends. Used in this way, this term is meant to poke fun at those who know very little about popular culture. But this phrase also has two other meanings, as it can refer to an elderly person or describe someone experienced in a field or industry.

In English: out-of-date, outdated; senior, elderly person; experienced

Example: Our teacher is a low-bang who knows nothing about Hong Kong trends – she thought Keung To was the name of a candy.

“Low-bang” can seem like they come from an entirely different era. Illustration: Shutterstock

2. “Young boy/girl”: 僆仔/妹 leng1 zai2/mui6 (leng-zai/mui)

Meaning: refers to adolescents. It can sometimes be a derogatory term for young people who are immature or who lack skills and experience.

In English: youngster; adolescent; immature teen; inexperienced teen

Example: Tim might be 18 years old, but he is a leng-zai who still needs his parents to do everything for him.

“Leng-zai” refers to young people, but be wary because it can also be used in an insulting way. Illustration: Shutterstock

3. “Arts youth”: 文青 man4 cing1 (muhn-tsing)

Meaning: refers to artistic or stylish people who usually prefer activities like reading, writing and art. The term was first used in Taiwan to describe studious people, but its meaning later extended to describe those who have their own fashion sense and artistic style.

In English: artist; art buff; bookish; stylish

Example: Amy probably won’t come to play basketball with us because she is a muhn-tsing who usually enjoys spending her free time in bookstores and art galleries.

Do you prefer exploring new galleries, discovering art and expressing your sense of style? You might just be a “muhn-tsing”. Illustration: Shutterstock

4. “World boy/girl”: 世界仔/女 sai3 gaai3 zai2/neoi5 (sai-gai-zai/nui)

Meaning: refers to those who are informed about the world and are good at socialising with people from different circles

In English: a man/woman of the world; social butterfly; extrovert

Example: I never know what to say when I meet new people, so I’m jealous of Paul, a sai-gai-zai who can easily befriend anyone.

How comfortable would you be if you walked into a room full of strangers? Illustration: Shutterstock

5. “Peaceful guy”: 和事佬 wo4 si6 lou2 (wo-see-low)

Meaning: refers to someone who brings peace by settling others’ disagreements or quarrels

In English: peacemaker; peacekeeper; mediator

Example: My dad is the family’s wo-see-low as he helps settle arguments I have with my mum every day.

Mediating conflict is a skill everyone should try to learn. Illustration: Shutterstock
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