Refreshing Cantonese slang about water to keep you cool and hydrated all summer long

  • Hong Kong summers are hot and humid, so avoid dehydration with these phrases all about H20
  • Learn how to tease someone, talk about your favourite Canto-pop band member and describe hopeless situations
Sue Ng |

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There’s nothing more important in the summer than a cold glass of water. Photo: Shutterstock

As we enter July, the weather in Hong Kong is getting warmer and more humid. Whether you like it or not, this hot summer weather makes everyone sweaty and thirsty. To cool down and avoid dehydration, you need to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

This week, we introduce you to some cool Cantonese slang related to sui, the word for water. Learn how to describe your “heart water” that is your first pick, or a hopeless situation that is “colder than water”.

Cantonese slang all about bad habits

1. To make fun of; to tease

Cantonese slang: 抽水 cau1 seoi2 (chow-sui)

Literal translation: “Pump water”

Meaning: to make fun of someone’s words or actions. Although in certain contexts, this term can be used to refer to inappropriate behaviour, it is more commonly used nowadays to refer to the act of lightheartedly teasing someone.

Example: Tom always chow-sui me when I try cooking and I always end up burning the food.

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2. To be on guard

Cantonese slang: 睇水 tai2 seoi2 (tai-sui)

Literal translation: “Watch water”

Meaning: to be attentive to something. It is said that the slang comes from a time when people would pay for water from a public faucet on the street as homes did not have tap water. Someone would be responsible for overseeing that public faucet. Thus, Hongkongers started using tai-sui, which literally translates to “watch water”, to describe when someone is looking out for something.

Example: You stay here to tai-sui and call us if anyone comes.

Watch water, drink water. Photo: Shutterstock

3. Hopeless; a lost cause

Cantonese slang: 凍過水 dung3 gwo3 seoi2 (doong-gwo-sui)

Literal translation: “Colder than water”

Meaning: refers to a situation that is hopeless or close to failure

Example: I failed to finish half of the questions on the exam. My results will definitely be doong-gwo-sui.

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4. Bias; favourite

Cantonese slang: 心水 sam1 seoi2 (sum-sui)

Literal translation: “Heart water”

Meaning: describes something that suits one’s liking. In Cantonese, the phrase can also mean “mind and thoughts”.

Example: Of all the 12 members in Mirror, Keung To is my sum-sui because of his humble and down-to-earth personality.

Water will always be close to my heart. Photo: Shutterstock

5. To play mahjong

Cantonese slang: 游旱水 jau4 hon5 seoi2 (yau-gon-sui)

Literal translation: “Swim in dry water”

Meaning: refers to playing mahjong. This phrase came about because the gesture of shuffling mahjong tiles looks as if someone is swimming even though they are on land.

Example: Are you free this week? I haven’t played mahjong for a long time, so come to my place and yau-gon-sui!

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