Let’s face it. When we start to learn a new language, one of the first things we do is learn the bad words. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s just fun or interesting.
Regardless of the reason, it’s something that many of us do. When I started learning Chinese, it was no different.
After learning the extreme basics like ni hao and xie xie, I of course wanted to get my fill of Chinese curse words.
Why You Should Learn Chinese Swear Words
It’s a bit of a touchy subject, but in all honesty, there really are some good reasons to learn some not so good language.
Did He Just Call Me a…?
Yes, while most people in Taiwan are extremely friendly, there are some bad eggs. On occasion, you may run into someone who doesn’t take too kindly to you chatting up his or her cousin in the nightclub or who doesn’t like your scooter driving ability.
Knowing a few Chinese swear words might help you know that someone is calling you names and not asking for your help.
However, not all insults come from raving lunatics swinging their arms up and down. They sometimes come from behind wide smiles. So, understanding some of the more common Chinese swear words can help you tell if someone is having a little fun at your expense and pretending to be friendly but tossing a few insult grenades in your direction instead.
Is that Appropriate for my Student to Say?
If you are teaching English in Taiwan then you might want to know a few of those common bad words. It’s very common for students to push their luck and see what they can and cannot get away with when they have a new foreign teacher.
Most of them won’t go far enough as to insult you, but they will occasionally throw out a Chinese swear word in frustration. Usually a stern look is enough to dissuade them from doing it again, but if you don’t know the word, you can’t give your student your crazy eyes.
Oops, Did I Say That?
While it’s great to know what others are saying, it’s better to know what is coming out of your mouth. When you are learning a new language it’s all too easy to get your phonics jumbled.
By knowing the most common swear words, you’ll know what not to say when asking for a chicken sandwich or a new leather wallet in Mandarin.
And heck, learning them is fun too, so it serves as a little motivation to keep up your studies.
5 Mandarin Chinese Cuss Words You Need to Know
It’s get’s R-rated here folks, so consider yourself warned.
1. 王八蛋 (Wángbā dàn)
One of the most frustrating aspects of trying to learn Chinese is that one character on its own has one meaning, but combining it with others completely changes everything. This is a good example.
If you hear this, someone is not calling you a king.
Instead, what they are really saying is: You son of a bitch.
This can also be loosely translated to bastard. Either way, it’s not something you want being shouted at you.
2. 白癡 (Báichī)
This one is a favorite swear word of middle and high school students. They love to mumble this one under their breath about their teachers, particularly their non-Chinese speaking English teachers.
If you hear this, someone is calling you: Idiot
I’ve heard this tossed in my general direction plenty, but it’s usually mumbled passive aggressively instead of something that’s being shouted.
3. 笨蛋 (Bèndàn)
My favorite of all Chinese cuss words and insults is bèndàn. It can be used in both a mean and playful manner. Basically, if it’s coming from a stranger, that’s not good. If it’s coming from a pretty good friend, it’s most likely a jest unless they are simultaneously shaking their fist at you.
Here’s what they are calling you: Stupid egg
Yes, this is not just stupid, but stupid egg. Though, it basically means the same thing.
It also might seem like a bit of a soft phrase and not very aggressive, but culturally it is indeed considered a curse word.
4. 白目 (Báimù)
I’ll be honest, this is one I have not heard very often. But, apparently it’s more common than I thought.
What’s interesting about this is that it’s incredibly figurative.
The literally meaning is: White eyes
But, what the heck does that mean? From what I can work it, it basically means someone who is kind of clueless as to their surroundings. If you think of an anime character with giant saucer-like eyes, if they are completely white in a scene, it’s like they just have no idea what’s happening nearby. Or, think of an emoji with blank white eyes an no pupils.
I’m not sure I have this down 100%, but that’s my general understanding of báimù.
5. 智障 (Zhìzhàng)
This is also less used than the top three in my experience, but it’s still good to know.
This is definitely not PC in western terms, and it’s not really nice when used as an insult in any culture.
It means: Retarded
More specifically, this refers to mental retardation or generally being intellectually slow. I’ve personally never heard anyone calling someone this in jest.
There you have it. Five of the most commonly used Chinese swear words you’re likely to hear while visiting or living in Taiwan. I’m sure there are a whole heck of a lot more as well, and they are probably a bit different than what you’d encounter in China.
If we missed something you feel we should have covered, please let us know in the comments below.