Hate playing monkey in the middle when friends argue? Here are 5 Cantonese phrases to describe how you feel

  • No one likes to be stuck between two sides in an argument, but at least there are fun phrases to describe these unfortunate predicaments
  • Learn how to talk about sitting on the fence between two sides in a conflict and making peace over a meal
Kelly Fung |

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Are you the type to remain neutral? Or are you easily swayed by whomever you’re talking to? Illustration: Shutterstock

Have you ever been the mediator between two of your friends who are angry with each other? Or are you the type of person who always sits on the fence? Take a look at Cantonese slang about some of the trickiest moments you might encounter in a friendship.

1. Fence sitter; Switzerland

Cantonese slang: 騎牆派 ke4 coeng4 paai3 (keh-cherng-pai)

Literal translation: “Climb wall party”

Meaning: refers to those who prefer to stay neutral in disagreements and avoid making decisions or speaking their mind

Example: All Peter wants is to be friends with everyone, so over time he became a keh-cherng-pai.

Sitting on the fence doesn’t seem very comfortable. Illustration: Shutterstock

2. Make peace over a meal

Cantonese slang: 擺和頭酒 baai2 wo4 tau4 zau2 (bai-wo-tau-zou)

Literal translation: “Hold a peace treaty banquet”

Meaning: when those who are in conflict try to make peace by sitting down and eating together. This term often appears in wuxia, a genre of Chinese fiction and cinema in which rivals settle their disputes over food and drink. In everyday usage, it is a fun way to talk about an effort to make peace.

Example: Despite their previous disagreements, Kenny decided to bai-wo-tau-zou with Ben, who has matured in recent years.

Sup Sup Sui: Cantonese phrases all about friendship

3. Middle man; mediator

Cantonese slang: 磨心 mo4 sam1 (maw-sum)

Literal translation: “Grind heart”

Meaning: someone who is caught in the middle of a conflict. This person often takes on the role of a mediator and feels pressured to speak up for one or both sides. This is a tough role that most people want to avoid.

Example: Michelle felt sad as she watched her two best friends argue for months, so she ended being the maw-sum between them.

Being the mediator for friends who are arguing can be so tough that it “grinds” your heart. Illustration: Shutterstock

4. People pleaser

Cantonese slang: 牆頭草 coeng4 tau4 cou2 (cherng-tau-cho)

Literal translation: “Wall head grass”

Meaning: describes people who change their opinions to please others and avoid angering anyone. The imagery in the term is inspired by how grass leans towards the sunlight, illustrating how easily this type of person can be swayed.

Example: Whenever people in our class have disagreements, Ivy is a cherng-tau-cho who just agrees with what the person next to her says.

Cantonese slang for fair weather friends, flakes and other pet peeves

5. Traitor

Cantonese slang: 二五仔 ji6 ng5 zai2 (yee-mm-jai)

Literal translation: “Two-five-guys”

Meaning: refers to those who betray others by breaking promises or revealing someone’s private information to another person

Example: Cherry told Matthew that Amy was his secret admirer, so of course, Amy was angry and called her a yee-mm-jai.

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