Shá?! And Other Words That Originate From Chinese Dialects

Due to its size and the remoteness of many of its smaller towns and cities, China boasts a nearly endless number of dialects, so many in fact that it’s nearly impossible to create a comprehensive list of them all. Furthermore, many of the 200 or so dialects currently thought to be in existence are so dissimilar that people from different parts of the country are often unable to understand each other.

Luckily for us language learners, Mandarin was installed as China’s official language in the 1930s, with the government promoting it as the “common speech” (普通话 pǔ tōng huà) ever since.

With the advent of technology and the relative ease of long-distance communication, numerous words and phrases that were once considered curious have captured the public’s imagination and entered the national vernacular. Not only are these relatively fun to use, but they’ll also help you sound like a zhōng guó tōng(China hand,中国通) in no time.

Shá?! And Other Words That Originate From Chinese Dialects

啥 – shá/shà – what

Where did it come from?: The word 啥 is probably the most well-known and most popular dialect phrase, slipping into mainstream usage across China thanks to its easy and comparatively direct use (combining 什么 shén me into one simple character). It is thought to have originated in areas of Shaanxi and Henan province.

Example sentence:

nóng shà liē?
弄啥咧?
What are you doing?

 

咋 – zǎ – how/what

Where did it come from?: Used in many places, both in southern and northern China.

Example sentence:

zǎ bàn?
咋办?
What should we do?

 

俺 – ǎn – I/we

Where did it come from?: Originating in northern China, 俺 can be used to represent the individual.

Example sentence:

ǎn bù zhī dào.
俺不知道。
I don’t know.

 

整 – zhěng – do

Where did it come from?: Mostly used in northeast China.

Example sentence:

wǒ yào shi méi dài, zhè kě zǎ zhěng?
我钥匙没带,这可咋整?
I forgot my keys. What should I do?

 

忒 – tuī – very

Where did it come from?: Mostly used in Hebei province, especially in Tangshan and Qinhuangdao.

Example sentence:

Jīn tiān fēng tuī dà.
今天风忒大。
The wind is very strong today.

 

中 – zhóng – OK/cool

Where did it come from?: Mostly used in Henan and some parts in Hebei.

Example sentence:

Jīn tiān wǎn shàng nǐ lái wǒ jiā yī qǐ kàn diàn yǐng ba. – zhóng!
今天晚上你来我家一起看电影吧。-中!
Come to my place for a movie tonight. – OK!

 

晓得 – xiǎo dé – know

Where did it come from?: Used in Jiangxi, Hunan, and Sichuan provinces.

Example sentence:

wǒ xiǎo dé.
我晓得。
I know.

 

皮实 – pí shi – fit/solid

Where did it come from?: Mostly used in northeast China.

Example sentence:

nǐ néng yī kǒu qì pǎo zhè me yuǎn, zhēn pí shi.
你能一口气跑这么远,真皮实。
You must be pretty fit to have run this far.

 

捯饬 – dáo chi – dress up

Where did it come from?: Used in northern China areas.

Example sentence:

tā jīn tiān yǒu gè yuē huì, chū mén zhī qián hǎo shēng dáo chi le yī fān.
他今天有个约会,出门之前好生捯饬了一番。
He’s got a date today so he spent a long time getting dressed up.

 

埋汰 – mái tai – dirty/fatigued

Where did it come from?: Mostly used in northern areas especially the “three northeast provinces” (东北三省 dōng běi sān shěng): Liaoning, Jilin, Heilongjiang.

Example sentence:

kàn nǐ nà gǔ mái tai jìn, bù xǔ nǐ jìn wū.
看你那股埋汰劲,不许你进屋。
You’re so dirty! You’re not allowed to enter the house.

 

嘚瑟 – dè se – bragging/acting arrogantly

Where did it come from?: Used in Liaoning, Jilin, Heilongjiang.

Example sentence:

Zì cóng dāng shàng zhǔ rèn, tā jiù yī zhí dē sè.
自从当上主任,他就一直嘚瑟。
Since being promoted as the department head, he’s been bragging non-stop.

 

膈应 – gè ying – disgusting

Where did it come from?: Most commonly used in Tianjin, Shandong, Shanxi, Guizhou, Hubei, and Henan.

Example sentence:

xiǎng xiǎng tā nà zhāng liǎn, jiù jué de gè ying.
想想他那张脸,就觉得膈应。
The thought of seeing his face disgusts me.

 

磕碜 – kē chen – adj.: ugly/dishonorable/embarrassing; verb: to insult

Where did it come from?: Used in northeast areas.

Example sentence:

bié kàn tā zhǎng xiàng kē chen, tā kě shì gè wén huà rén.
别看他长相磕碜,他可是个文化人。
Don’t judge him by his looks; he’s a very cultured person.

 

得劲儿 – dé jìn er – feel great

Where did it come from?: Mostly used in Henan and some parts in Hebei.

Example sentence:

zhè jǐ tiān shēn tǐ bù dà dé jìn er.
这几天身体不大得劲儿。
I haven’t been feeling great for the past few days.

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