How to write f*ck in Chinese

Language geeks love discussing taboo avoidance. It’s an opportunity to say the damnedest things, all in the name of furthering knowledge. Maybe that’s why Language Log has covered taboo avoidance in English so hilariously and extensively.

China’s taboos extend way beyond bad words, of course, so avoidance is something of an art here. But the following form, from the first line of a language discussion board message, was new to me:

Yǒu rén wèn “⿱入肉” zì de dúfǎ
There are people who ask how to pronounce “⿱入肉”

[Update: what’s in quotes above should look like this

How to write fck in Chinese - Google Chrome 3262010 101539 AM.bmp

apparently some fonts don’t render the dotted 日 properly]

Here’s a bit of what’s going on.

  1. ⿱ is not a dotted line version of 日; in fact it’s the standard way of indicating that a character is constructed with a top and bottom component.
  2. 入 is rù (enter) and 肉 is ròu (meat)
  3. So when you add 1+2 you get a character 肏 (cào = fuck) that is traditionally a taboo so despicable that for years it did not appear in the IMEs that make it possible to input Chinese characters on computers and cell phones. (Well, maybe some IME had it, but to this day there are lots that don’t, e.g. the IME on my current cell phone.)

The character has been avoided for so long, in fact, that its presence on the internets is rather limited. Instead, its homophonous substitute 操 is the one that most people now use.*

But there it is, with all the coyness of f*ck, on the pages of the Peking University Chinese discussion boards.


*OK, this is funky. I was going to prove my case through a quick comparison of search engine hits of the common curse, “fuck your mother” between the form using 肏 and the form using 操. This works pretty well with Baidu hits :

  1. 肏你妈 = 32,400
  2. 操你妈 = 1,140,000

But Google offers way more of the former than the latter.

  1. 肏你妈 = 1,160,000
  2. 操你妈 = 466,000

Even more confusing, I did this kind of count on Beijing Sounds a while back and came up with way more Google hits for 操 than for 肏. For the record, this time I did all counts with quotations marks around the term, which should search for the string all together.

18 responses to “How to write f*ck in Chinese”

  1. Karan Misra says:

    Every Chinese person I’ve asked has never seen or heard of the “肏” character. They only recognize and use “操”.

  2. GAC says:

    I’ve started to doubt how much search engine results really reflect what’s out there. Mainly because they’re based on proprietary algorithms that aren’t really designed to give a word count and few people know what they really do.

  3. That character isn’t taboo on cell phones. The reason it’s not there is because of a smaller character set limitation (a little over 6000, I think). There are lots of non-offensive characters that are not included as well.

  4. Julen says:

    I agree with Karan.

    It is such a pity, and the same goes for 屄,屌, and I think there are some other characters with the 尸radical that are also misused because of the stupid IME prudishness. Many Chinese don’t even know 屄!In fact I am surprised of your results with 肏,because what I have seen on the internet is almost systematically 操。

    What a pity really. In my opinion those are among the most beautiful ideograms in Chinese, they are so graphic!

    Well at least people do write the 屎 properly, and they don’t go about writing crazy stuff like 拉使, LOL.

  5. What Karan said. I was reading some 文言文 that made use of 操 in its original meaning and my friend who saw the text asked why there were so many swears. No idea that it wasn’t 肏 (which QIM does a lovely job of making available).

  6. DylanK says:

    My last comment on Sinoglot was quoting 《红楼梦》, too. Y’all need to roll with a more literary crowd:

    ”小娼妇,你能上去了几年?你也跟那起轻狂浪小妇学,怎么就管不得你们了?干的我管不得,你是我屄里掉出来的,难道也不敢管你不成?” I think lots of people who haven’t even read the book know this line, but I might be wrong.



  7. Julen says:

    Good one Dylan! Although I haven’t met many Chinese who could quote from 红楼梦(or even who read the full version).

    Now that you mention it, I remember that in Han Han’s first book, 三重门, he makes fun of the old Chinese texts containing these kinds of words, including 红楼梦 and 司马迁’s works.

    The story goes that a dad finds out the meaning of words like 屌 by looking them up in the dictionary. Then he goes nuts and he forbids his son to read any of the classics because they are “not appropriate” etc. A parody of the censorship in China.

  8. GAC says:

    Wow, I heard that book was dirty, but … I have to find it now.

    First line is really wierd to me. Does it actually translate “You fell out of my cunt,” or am I reading it wrong?

  9. I’m … going … blind! But I can still type because of the nipples on F and J.

    @GAC: Yes, that would be a viable translation. Literally (and divorced from English grammar) it’s something like “you are ‘fallen out of (in) my cunt'”.

    I had no idea about this, Dylan. You’re right. We all have to get more literary.

  10. DylanK says:

    Yeah. Close enough.

  11. Brendan says:

    红楼梦 was also where I first saw the correct characters for jība:

  12. Julen says:

    Thanks, Brendan, that’s really interesting. I had no idea that jiba had its own characters or even that it was an old word. I am surprised to see that the ABC dictionary doesn’t have it with that spelling, I guess they are not officially recognized characters today?

    This really makes me want to read HLM, it sounds really interesting. I think my Chinese is still not quite there, but perhaps in the summer, with long holidays and patient use of the dictionary.. how difficult is the book to read compared to modern literature? It is supposed to be baihua right?

  13. DylanK says:

    Not having a paper version handy, I’ve realized that reading 《红楼梦》 online, or just looking up a quote, can be frustrating for the font thing. You get sentences full of Cyrillic letters and , including the crucial

  14. Brendan says:

    @Julen – 红楼梦 is written mostly in what would have been the 白话 of its time, so there are some definite differences between it and modern vernacular Chinese. There are also a lot of classical references and scenes where the characters sit around composing poetry in regulated verse. The old 人民文学出版社 print version had good footnotes, if you can get a copy, and you might want to think about reading it alongside the Gladys Yang and Yang Xianyi translation, which works much better as a crib than the Hawkes/Minford version, which is a wonderful work of translation, but relies in places on Hawkes’ own decisions when reconciling conflicting manuscripts or inconsistencies with character names.

  15. Julen says:

    Cool tips. I save them for further use when I am ready for the challenge. I definitely will get those books, reading it online can be a nightmare.

    Anyway, I am afraid I am still not quite there. I’ve had 围城 on my table for a while already, and I am still not past chapter 1.

  16. Greg says:

    In a connected way, I find the following interesting: 口交 (kǒu​jiāo) = oral sex

    So they’ve joined two hanzi together into one, so that 口交 becomes 咬 (yǎo)​. And thus the word 咬, although it means ‘bite’, is now also used to mean ‘to give oral sex’.

    Taboo avoidance indeed.

  17. GAC says:

    @Greg: Very intersting, particularly since if you are a normal person you don’t want people to “bite” during oral sex.

  18. justrecently says:

    For additional information, zonaeuropa provides a nice press review with French-Chinese translations of “va te faire enculer, sale fils de pute”.

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