“Go die, idiot!”

Sometimes people in China will hear me tell Y: “Go die, idiot!” What the hell? Who talks like that to her husband, you might wonder. Let me explain.

Actually, what people hear in Chinese is not what I tell Y in reality. So what do I say?

Ever since one of my colleagues asked me how to say good-bye in German, saying this German word has become a running gag in my company. Good-bye is Tschüss in German. It sounds just like the Mandarin Chinese equivalent of go die (去死, qù sǐ).

Y and I call each other Schatz (German endearment meaning treasure), which sounds like the Chinese word for idiot (傻子, shǎzi).

So every time I say goodbye, honey, people who speak Mandarin will think that I’m randomly insulting Y.

Are there any words in your native language that sound just like something completely different in Chinese? I’d love to read your comments.

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About

Hi, I'm Ruth, welcome to China Elevator Stories! I have been living in Kunming and Shenzhen in the past and am now staying in Northeast China with my Chinese husband and our baby and toddler son. Join us on our journey bridging worlds!

21 comments

  1. I cannot really think of anything at this moment beside ‘mou ye’ in cantonese meaning ‘nothing’ but in my languange ‘moje’ means ‘mine’ 🙂 I know more similar words in English rather than my own language, haha 🙂

  2. Hue Rocks

    In Catalan “Xavi” is a male name, pretty common and elegant, while in Chinese is not at all XD. So my boyfriend doesn’t want to call any of our future children Xavi, lol.

  3. “Sexy” sounds like “eat shit” in Cantonese. Back in the eighties, there was a series of ad selling Solo, the lemon squash drink. It featured an adventurous dude doing all sorts of crazy sports, like riding a kayak down a forest. Twist “Solo” a bit and you get “stupid man”.

  4. ashkaufen

    Chinese have a quirky pastime of praying to objects whose names sound like something lucky in Chinese. I guess you could say homonyms, to them, are auspicious. The same goes for inauspicious, which is why the number “4” is jinxed/unlucky. It’s a homonym with the Chinese word for death. I once quipped to my husband over Chinese New Year, that if Americans were like Chinese people we would “bai bai” (pray) to celery (yes, the vegetable), because it sounds like “salary” and should therefore bring us more money, right?

  5. s.

    omg, why have I never before thought of this …. 😀 I’m always just thinking in the Chinese->German direction, like… Xia laoshi was always saying “xia yi ci” and it sounded like “scheisse” 😀 or when I’m in Vienna talking Chinese I’m always wondering what will the people think if I always say „Na ge, na ge“ when the „na“ is pronounced as „ne“ 😛

    • I didn’t realise the “na ge” thing until my sister one day asked me what it means, since for them it does sound a lot like something you really shouldn’t say. I agree, I also often thought xia yi ci sounded like Scheisse.

    • To be honest, it only rarely does. We don’t use this combination that often, it’s usually only colleagues who hear us say those words often enough that they could understand it wrongly (they usually know that this is German though, we stress the words differently from the Chinese ones).

  6. Drew

    Could you rephrase your loving terms of endearment a bit, like “Tschuss, mein Schatz” in order to avoid the stares? Or, is it just the case that being misunderstood is so darn fun that it’s better as Tschuss Schatz? Or is it better to just smile and say “this is how we talk in Austria.”

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  9. Uh-huh

    I dunno about bad words, but my boyfriend did laugh when I told him how to say ‘goodbye’ in Norwegian (hadet). He wondered if that was what I’d been saying at the end of our conversations, as I’d made it a habit to say ‘hao de’ (okay) when he said good bye.
    I hadn’t, I’m not that polite, I’m afraid, but oh, well. If it makes him laugh. ^^

    I did hear my classmates speak of a shop keeper yelling at them after they tried to tell her ‘thanks’ (xiexie) though. Any idea how they managed to pronounce it to make it that bad?

      • Uh-huh

        No, it was definitely the look of an upset person. They’d been bargaining for some shoes and finally struck a deal that left both sides smiling, but then the girls said they’d said “xiexie”, and the smile was gone and the lady just yelled at them. Pretty dramatic. I still have no idea what they actually ended up saying, but they did try to say “xiexie”. They’d learnt how from our guide, though their tones were probably off by a mile. ^^

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