Learn Cantonese slang: As the coronavirus spread in Hong Kong, so did these phrases

  • Check out our list of four terms that became popular during the pandemic to discuss what was happening in the city
  • One phrase, which translates to ‘two boxes, thanks’, originated from the shortage of face masks during the early months of Covid-19
Kelly Fung |

Latest Articles

WhatsApp debuts ‘Channels’ one-to-many broadcasting feature

What is a panic attack? How to recognise the symptoms and when to get help

Apple TV+ announces four-part Lionel Messi documentary

Self-made millionaire, age 56, sits China’s university exams for 27th time

Young Post invites budding innovators to show their STEAM skills at the Grand Challenge

Hongkongers seem to have Cantonese slang to cover any situation, from long lines at Covid-19 testing centres to vague government announcements. Photo: Bloomberg

Ever since the coronavirus pandemic began two years ago, Hongkongers’ struggles have sparked a plentiful assortment of Covid-related slang – from everyday people who “guard the door” by stocking up on essential supplies, to government officials who “test the water temperature” for controversial policies.

While the city looks forward to the end of some social-distancing measures, let’s look back at popular lingo that locals have used during the pandemic.

Learn Cantonese slang: How to encourage your friends during Covid

1. “Guard the door”: 看門口 hon1 mun4 hau2 (hong-moon-hau)

Meaning: to keep something useful at home in case of an emergency. For example, during Hong Kong’s fifth wave of infections, people were stocking up on test kits and replenishing their supply of medicine.

In English: to stock up on essential supplies to protect against potential emergencies

Example: Throughout the pandemic, my brother has been the most cautious person in our family, and he always makes sure that we have enough supplies to hong-moon-hau.

As students are now required to test every day before school, people are stocking up on rapid antigen test kits. Photo: Yik Yeung-man

2. “Form long dragon”: 排長龍 paai4 coeng4 lung4 (pai-cherng-loong)

Meaning: refers to a long queue. At the sight of many people waiting for something, Hongkongers compare it to a dragon to emphasise how long the queue is. During the city’s fifth wave, this term was often used to describe lengthy wait times at community testing centres.

In English: a winding queue; a long wait

Example: My sister is reluctant to wait after seeing the vaccine centre’s pai-cherng-loong.

When Hong Kong’s fifth wave of cases was at its worst, residents would queue for hours at temporary Covid-19 testing centres. Photo: AP

Going on a hike in Hong Kong? Here are 4 Cantonese phrases to know

3. “Two boxes, thanks”: 兩盒 thx [loeng5 hap6] (lerng-hup, thanks)

Meaning: a throwback to a popular phrase that emerged in 2020. At that time, Hong Kong faced a shortage of surgical masks, so people flocked to social media as they tried to order face masks from manufacturers around the world. “Two boxes, thx” was the order request they often made online, and it later became slang to talk about buying double of anything.

In English: two boxes, thanks

Example: Jennie had no luck getting any face masks even though she left hundreds of “lerng-hup, thanks” comments on social media.

While face masks are now available almost everywhere in Hong Kong, there was a time when people had to go online to search for them. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

4. “Test the water temperature”: 試水溫 si3 seoi2 wan1 (see-sui-won)

Meaning: to gauge other people’s reaction to a plan before actually going through with it. Similar to how people dip their toes in a pool or ocean to test the temperature before diving in, this phrase describes when someone tries to determine the likelihood of a plan’s success. For example, during the city’s fifth wave of the pandemic, the Hong Kong government considered the possibility of conducting a lockdown and universal Covid-19 screening. Authorities were said to have “tested the water temperature” by discussing the proposed plans to see how the public reacted.

In English: to test the waters; to gauge (someone’s) reaction

Example: Disgraced artists often attend public events to see-sui-won and gauge if the public would welcome a comeback.

When officials discussed proposed lockdown plans to “test the water temperature”, it sparked a spree of panic-buying across the city. Photo: Dickson Lee
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