The Greatest Chinese Slang: Say The Magic Word Right

The Greatest Chinese Slang: Say The Magic Word Right
WARNING: This post may contain some mild curse language. Although they are very common in the modern Malarian, but still, reader discretion is advised. Do not read this post if you are under 16.

It’s interesting that the most intriguing part of a language is alway the curse words or the rude words. After all, I bet you say “Dayum” way more often than “Hello”, and in case you have never noticed, saying those words can always bring you some sort of special satisfaction.

There is one legendary “bad word” in Chinese. A word you will hear dozens of times a day if you have a couple of native friends, and a word that may carry completely different meanings with different tones. Surprised, scared, angry, doubt, Despise, all with one word, in different tones.

Just a reminder, just because this word is not insulting or cursing it doesn’t mean that I would recommend you say this word in any situation other than joking with your closest friends. It’s still a rude language.

That being said, now may I present you the legendary magical “bad word”:

pic of the word

The easiest way to impress a native is to say this magic word right, hands down. So today let’s take a deeper look at the word and learn how to understand or say it right.

First thing first, what does it mean, generally?

Literally, it means “Lying in the trough”. But actually it has nothing to do with the literal meaning.

The word is actually a transformation of another word with similar pronunciation in different tone, a “Clean version” that you can type or say in any unofficial situation without being considered too rude (but rude, still). The original word means literally the f word in English, but the clean version on the other side, is way much milder.

Most of the time it doesn’t carry any actual meaning and only express a feeling of shocked, surprised, angry or despise, according to different tones. If you have to find an English counterpart, then consider this word a Chinese version of “WTF”.


A reaction to a jump scare, a sudden sound or a danger.

When people are scared by something unexpected they may unintentionally say the word. In this situation, the first syllable is stressed and goes down (like when you say “Whoa” but faster), followed by the second syllable which is rapid and with a lower volume.


“Wait, what?” “Is this even a thing?” or something like that. When someone uses this word to express confusion, the tone goes up, just the opposite of the last situation


If you hear someone say the word with a first tone from the beginning to the end and probably stretch the sound pretty long, especially when gaming, basically what it means is this: “You did good, but that’s pure luck and because of my negligence. I’ll show you who’s really in charge right now.”


With both of the syllable go down and stressed equally, the word express a state of shocked or surprised. Like, when you realize you have won the lottery.

Unexpected in general

Remember how you react when you are scared? A stressed “Wo” going down followed by a careless “cao”. Well, when you say the whole word carelessly, also with the “Wo” going down, it can be your reaction to anything unexpected in general. Like a replacement of “unbelievable”.

That’s basically all of the situations where you may hear the word spoken. One more thing you have to know is that, in most cases, if not all, the word is used in the beginning of a sentence. Anyway, to fully understand the true meaning, the most important thing is to try feel the emotion.

Again, as interesting as the word is, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a rude word. Learn this for entertainment, don’t say it too often!




Founder of ChineseBubble. A native Chinese speaker who enjoy epreading love and peace and Chinese related stuff.

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