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Chinese Slang: 22 Mandarin Slang Words Your Textbook Won’t Teach You

Learning Mandarin slang words will greatly improve your day-to-day communication with native speakers!

To have a clear grasp of trending Chinese pop culture, which is constantly changing, it’s important to keep up with Mandarin slang and what people are using in conversations.

To help you get started, here are 22 Chinese slang words you won’t find in your textbook.

Contents


1. 九四 (jiǔ sì) — Exactly / I know

These are the characters for “nine” and “four,” respectively. Commonly written as 94, this slang term came about due to its similarity to the existing Chinese phrase: 就是 (jiù shì) — exactly.

94 is an example of a phrase that has become popular due to the internet and online chatting. It means “precisely,” “exactly” or something along the lines of “I know.”

A: 你真漂亮。
(nǐ zhēn piào liang.)
You are so beautiful.

B: 94, 我知道。
(jiǔ sì, wǒ zhī dào.)
Yes, I know.

2. 二百五 (èr bǎi wǔ) — Idiot

Sometimes written in digits as 250, this term means “idiot” or “moron.” It comes from an old Chinese story.

Previously, copper coins were strung together by threading twine or rope through the square holes in the center. A thousand coins strung together was called a “diao.” Half of a diao, or 半吊子 (bàn diào zi), was used as slang to talk about someone who was inadequate.

As a way to describe themselves, modest Chinese scholars went a step further and took half of the half—hence the 250—to say that they were real idiots.

他真的是个二百五
(tā zhēn de shì gè èr bǎi wǔ!)
He really is an idiot!

Mandarin has a lot of number slang. These two are particularly helpful to know, but I won’t cover all of them here. You can read more about Chinese number slang in this post.

3. MM — Younger sister / Girl (who is pretty)

Like 94, this phrase was invented and gained popularity thanks to the internet—much like a lot of Chinese slang.

You might know that GG stands for “boy” or “brother” because of 哥哥 (gē gē) — older brother. Similarly, MM is short for 妹妹 (mèi mei) — younger sister.

In the internet world, MM can simply mean “girl,” as well. It can also stand for 美美 (měi měi) — pretty.

When MM is used, it usually means a young or pretty girl, so be careful when you choose to employ this term. It’s also a bit outdated these days, so I recommend really taking your cue on this one from native speakers in order to not sound too behind the times.

MM的名字叫小红。
(MM de míng zì jiào xiǎo hóng.)
The pretty girl’s name is Xiao Hong (lit. Little Red).

4. PMP — Suck up

PMP comes from the phrase 拍马屁 (pāi mǎ pì), which directly translates to “patting the horse’s backside” and is ultimately equivalent to the English version of a “bootlicker” or “suck up.”

In essence, PMP refers to someone who may just be flattering you, or someone who’s maybe not being completely truthful about the situation.

Note that you may see the characters just as often (if not more often) than the acronym itself.

你不要在我面前PMP
(nǐ bù yào zài wǒ miàn qián PMP pāi mǎ pì.)
Do not flatter me.

5. 阿猫阿狗  (ā māo ā gǒu) — Any Tom, Dick or Harry

This phrase literally says “a cat and a dog,” but it means something like “just anyone”—in a bad way.

The origins come from Ancient China, where 阿猫 and 阿狗 individually were often used as nicknames for people.

导演不会找阿猫阿狗当女主角。
(dǎo yǎn bú huì zhǎo ā māo ā gǒu dāng nǚ zhǔ jué.)
The director would not choose just anyone to be the star actress.

6. 算了  (suàn le) — Forget it

算了 can be used in many situations, meaning anything from a casual “whatever” in everyday scenarios to a firm or more serious “let it go.”

A: 你明天晚上还想出去跳舞吗?
(nǐ míng tiān wǎn shàng hái xiǎng chū qù tiào wǔ ma?)
Do you still want to go dancing tomorrow night?

B: 算了吧。
(suàn le ba.)
Let’s forget it.

7. 去你的  (qù nǐ de) — Go away / Screw you

Literally “go to yours,” this Mandarin slang term can have a range of intended meanings.

Depending on the situation, it might be anything from a firm but tame, “Go away!” or “Off with you!” Or, it could be a bit more serious, as in, “Go to hell,” or even the more explicit version of “Screw you.”

Jokingly, or in the right situation, however, it can be appropriate to use. However, you’ll want to be careful with this slang if you’re not trying to offend your friends.

A: 你不应该这么鲁莽。
(nǐ bù yīng gāi zhè me lǔ mǎng.)
You shouldn’t be so reckless.

B: 去你的
(qù nǐ de!)
Screw you!

8. 不咋的  (bù zǎ di) — Not great

不咋的 is similar to the English phrases “not so hot” and “nothing special.” It can be used to describe a situation or a person.

我认识他, 他不咋的
(wǒ rèn shí tā, tā bù zǎ di.)
I know him. He’s not that great.

9. 爱谁谁  (ài shéi shéi) — Whatever

This Chinese slang essentially means, “Do what you want.” It has a nonchalant attitude, similar to the English phrase, “Who cares!” It stems from the Beijing dialect and is most popular there.

这事就这样了, 不能再改变了。爱谁谁
(zhè shì jiù zhè yàng le, bù néng zài gǎi biàn le. ài shéi shéi!)
I’m done talking about this issue
, it can’t be changed. Whatever—I don’t care anymore!

10. 才不呢  (cái bù ne) — No way

才不呢 is an idiom similar in meaning to “no way” or “not at all.” It’s commonly used like the English phrase, “Of course not!”

A: 她是你的女朋友吗?
(tā shì nǐ de nǚ péng yǒu ma?)
Is she your girlfriend?

B: 才不呢
(cái bù ne!)
Of course not!

11. 丑八怪  (chǒu bā guài) — Ugly

This phrase is an extreme way of saying someone is ugly. It roughly translates to “monster-looking,” like how in English we might say “troll.”

Depending on the situation, it can sometimes be used to affectionately say that something or someone is ugly, but typically, it’s pretty mean.

昨天晚上, 我碰见了一个丑八怪
(zuó tiān wǎn shàng, wǒ pèng jiàn le yī gè chǒu bā guài.)
Last night, I met someone really ugly.

12. 花心  (huā xīn) — Player / Fickle-hearted

The literal translation of this Mandarin slang is “flower heart,” but it means something along the lines of “wandering eyes.” Though it can be used about women, it’s usually used to describe men who are perpetually unfaithful to their partners.

花心 has a pretty strong negative connotation, if that wasn’t clear. Another modern slang with the same meaning is 海王 (hǎi wáng), which literally means “sea king.”

你这个花心大萝卜!
(nǐ zhè ge huā xīn dà luó bo!)
You cheating scum! (Lit. You flower heart carrot!)

13.  (tǔ) — Unfashionable

Most beginner learners will come across this word pretty early on, as it translates to “dirt.” When used to describe a person or object, it can also mean “nerdy” or “unfashionable.”

The origins of this slang term come from the fact that people who work with soil and dirt are usually poorer, and they’re not always seen to have the class or elegance that a city person would. It’s similar to the English slang “peasant.”

It’s not a compliment, so be careful if you decide to use this word!

他的衣服有点
(tā de yī fú yǒu diǎn tǔ.)
His clothes are a bit shabby.

14. 没门儿  (méi ménr) — Not a chance

The literal translation of 没门儿 is “no door,” meaning (pretty directly) “No way!” or “Not a chance!”

想从我这里打听一点消息,没门儿
(xiǎng cóng wǒ zhè lǐ  dǎ tīng xiāo xī, méi ménr!)
You think you can get information from me? Fat chance!

15. 眼皮底下  (yǎn pí dǐ xia) — Right under one’s nose

While the English version of this slang is about the nose, the literal translation here is “under the eyelids.”

我手机从我眼皮底下被小偷偷走了!
(wǒ shǒu jī cóng wǒ yǎn pí dǐ xia bèi xiǎo tōu tōu zǒu le!)
A thief stole my phone from right under my nose!

16.  (jiǒng) — Blah / Ugh

Chinese character or iPhone emoji? Well, these days, it’s more of an emoji! (On the internet, at least).

Ironically, 囧 originally meant “bright.” But after growing popular in Taiwanese chatrooms as a distraught-looking face, it came to express feelings of helplessness, sadness, awkwardness, disappointment or just a general “ugh”—no other words needed.

However, it really depends on the situation. 囧 also became part of the movie and advertising industry—it was even connected to actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt!

我刚刚太了。
(wǒ gāng gāng tài jiǒng le.)
I was so embarrassed just now.

17. 我看行  (wǒ kàn xíng) — I think it’s okay

Literally, this Chinese slang phrase would be “I see okay” or “I see all right.” But, thanks to the 2007 movie “命运呼叫转移” (Crossed Lines), 我看行 can now be used in response to a question or situation that needs your input or opinion.

In the movie, an infertile villager timidly asks one of the actors (playing a migrant worker), if he should “try again” that night. He replies, very seriously, “我看行,” meaning “I think it’s okay.”

The actor’s delivery of this line was a huge hit with audiences, and nowadays the phrase is used to mean things like “I see no problem” or “I guess so” when asked for an opinion.

A: 我们今晚出去吃吧?
(wǒ men jīn wǎn chū qù chī ba?)
Shall we eat out tonight?

B: 我看行
(wǒ kàn xíng.)
I’m fine with that.

If you’re interested in seeing Mandarin slang used in movies or other videos yourself, you can try out an immersive learning program such as FluentU.

18. 打酱油 (dǎ jiàng yóu) — None of my business

Other English meanings might be “don’t look at me” or “I’m not involved.” This phrase comes from a TV interview that went viral online.

A man was being interviewed on the street by Guangzhou TV. When asked about a pop singer’s sex scandal that was big news in China at the time, he responded: “关我屌事,我出来打酱油的。(guān wǒ diǎo shì, wǒ chū lái dǎ jiàng yóu de.)” meaning, “What’s that got to do with me? I’m just here to buy soy sauce.”

So 打酱油 literally means “getting soy sauce,” but it’s understood in the right contexts as “that’s none of my business” or even “doing nothing serious.” It’s mainly used in a joking or sarcastic way to avoid talking about sensitive issues.

我今天就是来打酱油的。
( jīn tiān jiù shì lài dǎ jiàng yóu de.)
I’m just here to fool around today.

19. 菜鸟  (cài niǎo) — Newbie

This popular word refers to someone that is new or inexperienced at something.

It can also mean “rookie,” and in such a context it refers to inexperienced sports players, most often in the NBA, since many Chinese are obsessed with American basketball.

The characters on their own mean “dish/vegetable” and “bird,” respectively. It’s thought that this term originated from someone confusing the 笨 of 笨鸟 (bèn niǎo) — “clumsy bird” with 菜 because they look quite similar.

你是中文菜鸟吗?
(nǐ shì zhōng wén cài niǎo ma?)
Are you a newbie in Chinese?

20. 剩女 (shèng nǚ) — Leftover women

I couldn’t make this up if I tried.

This slang is used to describe women who enjoy a high level of education, income, IQ and have the looks to boot—but have high standards when it comes to the opposite sex, making them unable to meet their ideal partner…and probably not so young anymore, either.

她的妈妈总担心她成为剩女
(tā de mā ma zǒng dān xīn tā chéng wéi shèng nǚ.)
Her mom is always worried that she will become a leftover girl.

21. 钻石王老五 (zuàn shí wáng lǎo wǔ) — Eligible bachelor

In case any guys are feeling left out, we have this term for you. It basically means “eligible bachelor,” but with an extra emphasis on being rich.

Literally, it means “diamond” and “fifth child of Wang,” the latter implying that the person is from a family of good social standing.

And while this particular phrase may not be as popular these days, a similar (and even more modern) term is 小鲜肉 (xiǎo xiān ròu), which has the same meaning and literally translates to “little fresh meat.” 

她喜欢钻石王老五类型的男人。
(tā xǐ huan zuàn shí wáng lǎo wǔ lèi xíng de nán rén.)
She likes the eligible bachelor type of men.

22. 闹太套  (nào tài tào) — Make a fool of oneself

Huang Xiaoming (黄晓明) is a well known Chinese actor, singer and all around heartthrob, and the originator of this term.

Huang was singing “One World, One Dream” to promote the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, but unfortunately, his pronunciation of “not at all” in English sounded a lot like 闹太套.

Netizens weren’t kind to Huang. The mocking eventually gave 闹太套 the added meaning that someone has overreached their abilities, as it was perceived that Huang looked a fool when he mispronounced “not at all” so extremely.

The phrase is used these days to indicate that someone is trying to show off when they really aren’t very good.

他犯下了”闹太套“的错误。
(tā fàn xià le “nào tài tào” de cuò wù.)
He has made the mistake of making a fool out of himself.

 

There you have it! These 22 Chinese slang phrases will help you speak more like a native and get you on your way to mastering both textbook and colloquial Mandarin.

Have fun with it, and keep practicing!

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