Random funny fact: mashed potato never existed for Chinese people before they came to Britain, so they didn’t have a word for it. They decided to call it by its English name, “mash”, but pronounced it “ma-see”. This, translated back into Hakka, means “horse shit”, which I’ve always found hysterical because I’m so infantile.

We all should remain in contact with our inner child.

24 thoughts on “Excellent”

  1. More accurately, it could mean horseshit, depending on how it’s said.

    “ma” in Mandarin (and presumably Hakka as well) can also mean “mother”, or it can form a question. It all depends on the tone.

    The classic phrase is “ma ma ma ma ma” (妈妈骂马吗): “does mother scold the horse?”

  2. Second tone ma means numb or anaesthetic. And fourth tone is really ‘insult’ not ‘scold’.
    Should be ‘does mother insult the numb horse’.

  3. BiW,

    There’s the classic for the word “Shi” (I had to look it up online https://forum.duolingo.com/comment/25323797/Fun-Chinese-poem-The-Lion-Eating-Poet-in-the-Stone-Den):


    In a stone den was a poet called Shi Shi, who was a lion addict, and had resolved to eat ten lions. He often went to the market to look for lions. At ten o’clock, ten lions had just arrived at the market. At that time, Shi had just arrived at the market. He saw those ten lions, and using his trusty arrows, caused the ten lions to die. He brought the corpses of the ten lions to the stone den. The stone den was damp. He asked his servants to wipe it. After the stone den was wiped, he tried to eat those ten lions. When he ate, he realized that these ten lions were in fact ten stone lion corpses. Try to explain this matter.

    Chinese Characters

    石室诗士施氏,嗜狮,誓食十狮。氏时时适市视狮。十时,适十狮适市。 是时,适施氏适市。氏视是十狮,恃矢势,使是十狮逝世。氏拾是十狮尸,适石室。石室湿,氏使侍拭石室。石室拭,氏始试食是十狮尸。食时,始识是十狮,实十石狮尸。试释是事。


    Shíshì shīshì Shī Shì, shì shī, shì shí shí shī. Shì shíshí shì shì shì shī. Shí shí, shì shí shī shì shì. Shì shí, shì Shī Shì shì shì. Shì shì shì shí shī, shì shǐ shì, shǐ shì shí shī shìshì. Shì shí shì shí shī shī, shì shíshì. Shíshì shī, Shì shǐ shì shì shíshì. Shíshì shì, Shì shǐ shì shí shì shí shī. Shí shí, shǐ shí shì shí shī shī, shí shí shí shī shī. Shì shì shì shì.

  4. The Graun writer notes her parents left HK in the 1960s. Since then the language has likely adapted a lot.

    I know little of Hakka, but seems Canto (closer to Hakka than Mando, but still very different) has chosen a more descriptive rather than tonal translation:

    My son has always been in the local HK system so learns in Cantonese. A British Born Chinese friend (spoken Canto at home to HK parents who emigrated in the late 1980s) says his Cantonese is more “local Hongkonger” and uses more slang than his own. Some are pure filth, should I catch him desribe a young lady as the “Western Harbour Tunnel”(*) again I will go mad (after laughing quitely).

    (*) a wide entrance and very easy to get in

  5. Bloke in North Dorset

    When I started travelling to HK for work I was advised not to try the language because the wrong tone or inflection could turn the most innocuous enquiry in to a massive insult. The example I was given was a word that could be used to say my dog has 5 dicks and the difference in tone and inflection was hardly noticeable to the average westerner.

  6. @BiND,

    The tonal aspect is often overplayed. HK is strange in that locals often say “you should learn Mandarin, it’s more useful” or “woah, you speak Cantonese” (yes, they say that in English to me, I speak Canto, they reply in English as an automatic response to seeing a Western face). Tones are tricky for individual words, but in a sentence the context means more (although you may get a snigger if it something sounds rude, even if they do know what you mean).

    If the tones were *that* important, CantoPop would be nonsense as the notes of a song coudn’t work.

  7. Nevertheless, mash potato is pointless shit.

    Unless potatoes have tasty, carcinogenic acrylamides, they are not worth eating.

  8. I’ve been reading
    The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll through the Hidden Connections of the English Language

    by Mark Forsyth

    Thoroughly recommended for anyone enjoying this thread

  9. @Noel/DJ

    How long did it take you to get your skills up to a level that was actually “useful”? (Presumably there is also a very different answer for spoken vs written.)

  10. I’m still impressed at how the Left managed the media narrative over this.

    It’s council housing. It was run by a tenant-majority organisation. The now Labour MP one of a dozen or so board members.

    The cladding was put up in response to greenies’ demands for social housing to be more eco-friendly.

    The problems on the day were, it seems from the report, exacerbated the union-dominated fire service.

    Yet somehow it’s the Conservatives and capitalism to blame?

  11. ”Nevertheless, mash potato is pointless shit.”

    Dunno, whenever I see a pile of mashed potato I always think “This means something”.

  12. MBE,

    My Mandarin is pretty awful. I have just enough to get around. I learned for about a year then it just plateaued. My biggest problem is that I was never just dumped here and left to fend for myself and I’m too lazy to really work on it.

  13. Justin, you may also enjoy Bill Bryson’s “Made in America”. How language in the US developed alongside the country itself. Highly recommended!

  14. I have developed an allergy to spuds, even Smash buggers up my insides 🙁

    A pal of mine is of Chinese origin, but his family insisted on speaking English at home ( Nottingham). So his Cantonese is very patchy. He met a girl at uni and went back to HK to visit her family. While there he hired a car to do some exploring and was pulled for a traffic infraction. All he could make out of the babble from the copper was the equivalent of ” you get ticket” and as he protested that he couldn’t speak Chinese “You in big trouble”. Apparently the drawn pistoi was also a bit of a clue that the rozzer thought he was having the mickey taken.

    Another thing. In “Alien Nation” James Caan is laughing at his alien partner’s name of San Francisco and decides to call him George instead. “Earth names can be funny too. You are called Sykes which in our language translates to Sei or cranium and Kes or excrement: ShitHead.” And of course the aliens call Caan that through the rest of the film.

  15. @DJ

    Thanks. I was assuming you might have picked some up passively but if it’s so inaccessible maybe that doesn’t really work…

  16. @ RichardT: “Ah, apologies, I think my comment above should have been somewhere else.”
    Don’t beat yourself up over it, Richard. Who knows, maybe the Left *are* managing the media over this issue too.

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