Chinese Slang: How to say someone is making a fool out of himself

The original Chinese phrase for “making a fool out of yourself” is 闹笑话 (nào xiào hua). But a Chinese singer unwittingly invented new Chinese slang meaning the same thing – 闹太套(nàotàitào) – when he took the stage at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. 

Huang Xiaoming, a well known Chinese actor, singer, and all around heartthrob, was singing the song “One World, One Dream” to promote the Beijing Olympics. The song was written to promote world peace, harmony, and fair play. Unfortunately for Huang Xiaoming, his pronunciation of “not at all” in one of the English verses sounded a lot like 闹太套(nàotàitào), which sounds like the Chinese phrase 闹笑话 (nào xiào hua) meaning “to make a fool of oneself.”

Netizens didn’t exactly extend all the courtesy of fair play the song encourages to Huang Xiaoming. The mocking eventually led to the Chinese phrase conveying the meaning that someone has overreached their abilities , making themselves look foolish, just as it was perceived that Huang Xiaoming had looked silly when he mispronounced “not at all.”

The phrase 闹太套 is best used to indicate someone trying to show off their capabilities when they really aren’t very good. Here are some examples:

Example 1)


“liàn hǎo yǔyīn jīchǔ bùzài “nào tài tào””

“Practice and build up your pronunciation foundation and don’t make a fool out of yourself ever again”

Example 2)


“zuò rén bùnéng “nào tài tào””

“Don’t behave in such a way that you end up making a fool out of yourself

Example 3)


“huángxiǎomíng zài bùjiě yǔ cháofěng zhōng yuè cuò yuè yǒng,chéngshú dàndìng dào kěyǐ zhíshì zìjǐ búshì yǎnjì pài,shènzhì zìcháonàotàitào

Amidst the unrelenting mockery, Huang Xiaoming became ever more brave, mature, and calm, to the point where he could face the fact that he was not the best actor, and could make fun of himself for making a fool out of himself.

Also, you can experience the 闹太套 (nàotàitào) moment for yourself here (Youtube) or here (Tudou). Plus, you can find this and other slang in use naturally on the FluentU program.

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Questions? Comments? Other Chinese slang that you would like us to cover? Let us know!

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