28 Surprising and Funny Chinese Words and Phrases (With Audio)
Comedy means a lot to people, but what’s funny in English may not be quite as funny in Mandarin Chinese.
This is why it’s important, as a learner, to learn a bit more about Chinese slang and idioms.
You’ll pick up new vocabulary and understand the culture better, which is vital to communicating effectively with native Mandarin speakers.
The 28 Chinese idioms and slang terms below range from painfully cheesy to actually pretty funny. Not all of them are necessarily in current, common use, but they’re all great for practice and giggles!
- 1. 沉鱼落雁 (chén yú, luò yàn)
- 2. 吃瓜群众 (chī guā qún zhòng)
- 3. 打酱油 (dǎ jiàng yóu)
- 4. 拍马屁 (pāi mǎ pì)
- 5. 撸猫 (lū māo)
- 6. 死机 (sǐ jī)
- 7. 单身贵族 (dān shēn guì zú)
- 8. 你皮子痒! (nǐ pí zi yǎng!)
- 9. 脑袋进水 (nǎo dài jìn shuǐ)
- 10. 画蛇添足 (huà shé tiān zú)
- 11. 落汤鸡 (luò tāng jī)
- 12. 毒鸡汤 (dú jī tāng)
- 13. 开挂 (kāi guà)
- 14. 有钱就是任性! (yǒu qián jiù shì rèn xìng!)
- 15. 草莓族 (cǎo méi zú)
- 16. 椰子族 (yē zi zú)
- 17. 傻蛋 (shǎ dàn)
- 18. 滚蛋! (gǔn dàn!)
- 19. 麦芽糖女人 (mài yá táng nǚ rén)
- 20. 二百五 (èr bǎi wǔ)
- 21. 见光死 (jiàn guāng sǐ)
- 22. 鸡同鸭讲 (jī tóng yā jiǎng)
- 23. 长舌妇 (cháng shé fù)
- 24. 拔苗助长 (bá miáo zhù zhǎng)
- 25. 吃干饭 (chī gān fàn)
- 26. Duāng!
- 27. 猴子捞月 (hóu zi lāo yuè)
- 28. 画饼充饥 (huà bǐng chōng jī)
- Why Learn These Humorous Chinese Phrases?
- And One More Thing...
1. 沉鱼落雁 (chén yú, luò yàn)
We’ve all heard the phrase “drop dead gorgeous.” This term is typically used to describe incredibly beautiful women, though it can also be used to describe particularly handsome men. It’s an odd term (with odd, vague origins) when you think about it: Describing people as so beautiful that they literally are murdering people with their looks is a strange compliment to give.
However, it’s not quite as strange as the Mandarin version: 沉鱼落雁, which means “sink fish, drop goose” or “beautiful enough to sink the fish and make geese fall from the sky.” This advanced Chinese phrase originates from the ancient Taoist author 莊子 (Zhuāng Zǐ), who, interestingly enough, has written a lot of stuff about fish.
Of course, most young Chinese people don’t throw this term from a centuries-dead poet around in real life, but it’s still bizarre enough that you just have to know it.
2. 吃瓜群众 (chī guā qún zhòng)
吃瓜群众 literally translates to “melon-eating masses.” It doesn’t mean people who love melon a lot—instead, it’s about people who enjoy watching dramatic events unfold without getting personally involved.
You can imagine them chomping on melon satisfyingly (instead of popcorn!) as they watch a scandal happen.
3. 打酱油 (dǎ jiàng yóu)
What about when you hear about the latest celebrity news or gossip—and instead of being morbidly curious, you really don’t care? There’s a Chinese term for that: 打酱油, or “buying soy sauce.” This means that you’re simply a bystander who’s indifferent and you have better things to do.
The term was started by a passerby who was being interviewed on TV—he said he had no opinions on the matter and was just “buying soy sauce.”
4. 拍马屁 (pāi mǎ pì)
You want to do what to my horse?! “Kiss-ass,” “suck-up” or “brown noser” are common terms used in the West to refer to someone who treats someone of authority with more kindness or generosity in order to fall into their good graces. Alternatively, the Chinese refer to the kiss-ass as one who 拍马屁, or beats a horse’s butt.
5. 撸猫 (lū māo)
This is a very relatable Chinese phrase because pretty much everyone does it. For example, just how much time did you spend just idly browsing online or looking at social media recently? These are considered 撸猫, or doing something unproductive and wasting time.
撸猫 literally means “to stroke a cat,” which is relaxing, leisurely and without any practical purpose (if you don’t count making a cat happier).
6. 死机 (sǐ jī)
This word translates to “computer crash,” but it has a funny alternative meaning. When a computer crashes, it stops working and either shuts down or freezes. Now imagine that happening to a person!
Aside from describing computers, 死机 can also describe a person who’s so dumbfounded or stunned that they can’t respond at all.
If you really want to get into computer terminology, another phrase is 脑子短路 (nǎo zi duǎn lù) or “short circuit in the brain.” This means someone is thinking or behaving illogically, as if their brain’s not working properly. And yes, this is another one of those “insults” that are more teasing and can be used with friends (in the right context).
7. 单身贵族 (dān shēn guì zú)
The literal translation of 单身贵族 is “unmarried nobility,” and it’s a modern term for people who are single and proud of it. In traditional Chinese culture, there’s a great deal of pressure to marry, and this term eventually popped up to challenge these social norms and expectations.
单身贵族 implies that being single isn’t negative but rather something to be celebrated. When you’re single, you have more freedom to stay up late, spend your free time on your hobbies and skip cleaning your place—in other words, it comes with a lot of independence, similar to the privileges of nobility.
8. 你皮子痒! (nǐ pí zi yǎng!)
This common term is still often used. Out of context (and within context as well), it’s nothing short of hilarious.
If you bump into a tough character on the street or insult somebody, they might say 你皮子痒, or “your skin looks itchy.” This expression is used when expressing a desire to beat someone up.
9. 脑袋进水 (nǎo dài jìn shuǐ)
If you want to say someone’s making a silly mistake or they’re not thinking clearly, this is the phrase that you’re looking for: 脑袋进水, or “water enters the head.”
It might sound critical in English, but it’s usually meant lightheartedly in Chinese. For example, you can say it if a close friend keeps forgetting important appointments or deadlines or misunderstands a really simple instruction.
10. 画蛇添足 (huà shé tiān zú)
画蛇添足 is a proverbial phrase that means “drawing legs on a snake.” Yes, there’s an ancient Chinese story behind this. A skilled painter was asked to paint a snake, but mistakenly thinking it was incomplete, he added legs to the painting.
The point of the story is that unnecessary flourishes or additions can overcomplicate something that’s already working fine. After all, a snake doesn’t need legs to crawl.
11. 落汤鸡 (luò tāng jī)
What a damper. 落汤鸡, meaning “drop soup chicken” or “a chicken who falls into soup,” is used to describe somebody who trips and falls into water or gets caught in the rain.
12. 毒鸡汤 (dú jī tāng)
Here’s another chicken-related phrase! 毒鸡汤 or “poisonous chicken soup” pokes fun at motivational or inspirational messages and quotes that are lacking in substance. These might seem comforting (similar to chicken soup), but they’re actually shallow and even harmful—and you can find them all over the internet today.
It’s a sarcastic twist on the English expression “chicken soup for the soul,” which is about uplifting and comforting stories or advice.
13. 开挂 (kāi guà)
开挂 or “cheat code” was originally a gaming term in China. To gain unfair advantages in a game, such as unlimited lives, extra resources, or enhanced abilities, you can use cheat codes or hacks (开挂).
Eventually, this term branched out beyond gaming, and it can be used now to describe real-life people too. A 开挂 can also mean a person who excels or achieves exceptional results effortlessly, as if they have access to magical powers. For example, if someone seems to breeze through exams with really high grades or they can play several musical instruments well, you can say with an admiring tone that they’re 开挂.
14. 有钱就是任性! (yǒu qián jiù shì rèn xìng!)
有钱就是任性! or “Got cash, can do what I want!” is an expression used by wealthy Chinese people, or the average Joe who just got their paycheck and begins to behave recklessly or act immature.
This expression comes from a real event that became a meme a couple years ago in which a rich man was being scammed by a pharmaceutical company. The man kept going with the charade long after he discovered it was a scam, just because he wanted to see how far they’d go; he was so incredibly rich that it didn’t matter.
15. 草莓族 (cǎo méi zú)
You might hear older Chinese people complaining about 草莓族. 族 (zú) means a group of people, while 草莓 is strawberry. 草莓族 (cǎo méi zú) is often used for talking about the younger generation, especially those born after the 1980s.
This is because like strawberries, they’re considered youthful, attractive and fashionable, and their lives tend to be easier than before because of all the modern comforts. But there’s a downside to this. They’re also easily bruised or delicate, without much resilience or ability to withstand pressure.
In a nutshell, it’s a trendy word for calling the younger generation overly sheltered (from the perspective of older people, anyway!).
16. 椰子族 (yē zi zú)
Going beyond stereotypes, not all younger people are really like strawberries. Instead, they might be described as 椰子族 or “coconut clan” instead, which is the opposite.
Unlike strawberries, which are crushed easily, coconuts have a tough husk that can better withstand getting knocked around. In the same way, young people who are part of 椰子族 are hardworking, and they’re willing to “eat bitterness” or 吃苦 (chī kǔ) to get what they want. Both of these traits are admired in Chinese culture, so being described as 椰子族 is a compliment.
17. 傻蛋 (shǎ dàn)
A very common and lowkey hilarious insult in Mandarin is 傻蛋 or “stupid egg.” Depending on the situation, this can either be a playful insult when a friend does something dumb or straight up fightin’ words if said to a stranger.
18. 滚蛋! (gǔn dàn!)
蛋 (dàn) or “egg” is a versatile term in Chinese! 滚蛋 is a common expression that means “Roll away, egg”—and it’s used for telling someone to “get lost” or go away. While the expression may sound cute, it’s considered quite strong and direct, so be careful with using this.
While you can say it to friends in a light, exasperated tone, people can shout this too when they’re intensely angry, so it can be offensive depending on the situation.
19. 麦芽糖女人 (mài yá táng nǚ rén)
麦芽糖 means “malt syrup,” which is sticky and pretty hard to remove from clothes (or even your skin) if you’ve had the misfortune of getting it there. Similarly, 麦芽糖女人 (“malt sugar woman”) refers to possessive women who are clingy and demand constant attention from their partners. Like malt sugar, these women are sweet, but they can be overwhelming and suffocating because of their neediness.
For describing clingy people in general, no matter what their gender, you can say 黏人 (nián rén) or “sticky person” instead.
20. 二百五 (èr bǎi wǔ)
二百五, or “250,” is a popular Mandarin Chinese slang insult with a pretty hefty history behind it.
The meaning behind the simple insult is an old tale about a king. The king’s dear friend was assassinated in the night and he wished to find who the killer was. The king posted a widely-publicized request to hire an assassin to kill the (already dead) friend in question. Soon after, four men showed up to claim 250 coins each. Naturally, the men had outed themselves as the ones who already killed the king’s friend and they themselves were given the cash and then killed.
“250” refers to someone who does something dumb or ill-advised.
21. 见光死 (jiàn guāng sǐ)
见光死 describes an all too common incident: you hit it off romantically with someone online, but then when you finally meet, the chemistry just isn’t there. It’s an especially funny term because its literal meaning is “killed by exposure to light.” Once a seemingly amazing connection is exposed to the “light” of reality, it falls apart.
鸡同鸭讲 gives a humorous image of a chicken talking to a duck. This phrase is about people being able to understand each other because of a significant language barrier or different perspectives. They might talk, but ultimately, nothing happens.
23. 长舌妇 (cháng shé fù)
“Sharp-tongued woman,” “busybody” or “buttinsky” are Western terms for a woman who enjoys gossiping about others’ business and personal lives. In Mandarin, such a woman would be 长舌妇, or “long tongue woman.” Sounds more like a creepy monster from China’s cousins to the east, Japan.
24. 拔苗助长 (bá miáo zhù zhǎng)
拔苗助长 means “pulling the seedlings to help them grow.” Of course, common sense says that this won’t work at all (although it’s a good strategy for getting rid of weeds!).
This idiomatic expression is about being so impatient to get results that you try to rush a process and then end up worse off. Sometimes we really don’t have a choice but to let things develop at their own pace—both for plants and plenty of other situations in life.
25. 吃干饭 (chī gān fàn)
吃干饭 or “eating dry rice” might seem undesirable, but this is actually a positive phrase. Rice is seen as a daily essential in Chinese culture, so 吃干饭 means having a steady job that gives you a predictable income, allowing you to live comfortably. Aside from your income, it can also describe having stability in your career or in your life as a whole.
How can one simple word have so many different obscure meanings? Duang! can translate as something like “ta-da!” and is a Mandarin internet slang word with no official 汉字 (hànzì) or Chinese character to identify it. The term can refer to a positive exclamation, something that’s boring or the sound one makes when tripping and falling.
This word is all over the place in China, but the origins are a bit obscure. Many people believe that it comes from a shampoo commercial that Jackie Chan did a while back in which he uses the expression to express how awesome the hair care product is. After the commercial aired, the neologism became a viral sensation and a staple in Chinese internet slang.
Be aware that this one might not be considered exactly “funny” in actual use—it’s more of an interjection, but admit it, you’re already laughing.
27. 猴子捞月 (hóu zi lāo yuè)
猴子捞月 gives a funny literal image: a “monkey fishing for the moon,” or trying to scoop up the moon’s reflection from a lake. This expression refers to tasks that are futile or impossible, to the point of being absurd.
There’s a practical message behind this—if a goal is too unrealistic anyway, then it’s wiser to stop wasting time on it and go after something that’s more achievable instead.
28. 画饼充饥 (huà bǐng chōng jī)
画饼充饥 is a Chinese idiom that translates to “drawing cakes to satisfy hunger.” When you’re hungry, there’s not really much of a point to drawing cakes (unless you want to masochistically make yourself hungrier). This phrase describes making empty promises or having fantasies that temporarily satisfy your desires but aren’t a genuine solution.
Some common examples of this include politicians promising impressive reforms just to win votes but without following through, or people with financial struggles who pin all their hopes on winning the lottery.
Why Learn These Humorous Chinese Phrases?
- Being able to laugh at/in Chinese is an important part of mastering fluency. Learning another language is so much more than just learning phrases and words by the book. Language as a whole is composed of accents, dialects and ready-made phrases. What a particular country or culture finds funny ties into understanding the language as well.
- They can help you break the ice and make friends with native speakers. Learning funny phrases and jokes can not only give you something to say at an appropriate time, but can help you understand what a particular culture, in this case Chinese culture, finds funny. Learn what’s funny in China and you’ll make Chinese friends a bit more easily. Nobody wants to be the ultra serious Western foreigner.
- It’s fun! Plain and simple. Learning Mandarin is a tough process. Loosen up a bit and learn at the same time!
Just using a few of the phrases above will definitely help you practice your Mandarin and connect with native Chinese speakers, especially if you’re trying to make language learning pals on the internet.
And One More Thing...
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