Sly as a fox. Drunk as a skunk. Animals pick up bad reputations all over the world. This is true in Chinese culture as well.
Although the Zodiac animals often get the most attention, a number of other animals not mentioned in astrology carry great cultural meaning as well. They also bring an element of animal kingdom fun to the art of Chinese name-calling.
懒虫 (lăn chóng) – Lazy bug, Insult level: 1/5
Some insects may take offense, but bugs are sometimes seen as lazy in China. Especially a bug on its back in bed. This term can be used affectionately to rouse a partner or a child into action.
猪头 (zhū tóu) – Pig head, Insult level: 4/5
Just as in English, pigheadedness is used to describe stubbornness and inflexibility. If someone refuses to change his mind or consider another opinion, you can go ahead and call him a zhū tóu. This phrase is more often used for males, sometimes by some frustrated females.
吹牛 / 吹牛皮 - (chuī niú / chuī niú pí) / – Blowing up a cow-skin, Insult level: 1.5/5
Okay, so this isn't really an insult. It's more like a proclamation. This is the Chinese expression you'd use to accuse someone of being boastful.
In ancient times, Inner Mongolians would blow air into sheep- or cow-skin bags to use to float on the river. Though this task looked easy, it was actually quite difficult. Only the very strong could manage it.
Later on, when someone was boasting about ability or strength, others would challenge that person to blow up a cow-skin.
Today, if you suspect someone is bragging or exaggerating about something, you can simply say, 别吹牛 (bié chuī niú) - "Don’t blow the cow skin".
Or, you can point this person out to someone else, and say, 他真会吹牛 (tā zhēn huì chuī niú) - "He really knows how to blow up the cow skin".
Tip: Open our free video-based pinyin chart to check your pronunciation of these words. The chart has video explanations for difficult sounds and audio demonstrations for all 400+ Mandarin sounds!
拍马屁 (pāi mă pì) – Pat a horse’s ass, Insult level: 3/5
Patting a horse’s ass is similar to sucking up or brown-nosing. It means you are singing praises you don’t mean to someone’s favor.
You may notice this behavior often in the workplace. Chinese people often note this as a way to win a promotion or get a raise. However, you may still want to make sure the doors are shut before you start making accusations.
狗屁 (gŏu pì) – Dog fart, Insult level: 4/5
If you want to call someone on his nonsense, you can interject by shouting "狗屁 (gŏu pì)!”
This language is too crass for the workplace. But it’s usually fine to use with friends. You are not so much calling someone a bad name, rather than expressing your disagreement about something they've said.
恐龙 (kŏng lóng) – Dinosaur, Insult level: 3/5
In Chinese slang, a dinosaur is a term used to describe an unattractive woman. Sometimes, the woman is also fierce and scary, perhaps wielding a lot of power.
In fact, the original 恐龙女 (kŏng lóng nǚ) - "dragon woman" may have been Lady Huang, the wife of 诸葛亮 (zhū gě liàng) , a brilliant military strategist. 诸葛亮 (zhū gě liàng) had the nickname 孔明 (kǒng míng), which sounds similar to dragon or dinosaur. This nickname was probably inherited by Lady Huang in the form of 恐龙女 (kŏng lóng nǚ).
But being a smart and talented woman herself, Lady Huang is not a bad role model at all.
Learn how Zhu Ge Liang shaped Chinese values here.
狐狸精 (hú li jīng) – Fox spirit, Insult level: 5/5
A fox spirit is used to describe a seductress and sometimes a female gold-digger.
In Chinese legend, animals are able to build power through different forms of energy, such as sun, moon, or human breath.
After thousands of years of building magical power, some are able to take on human forms. There have been stories of both benevolent and mischievous animals that masquerade as humans.
Typically, fox spirits are seen as dangerous, luring men to awful fates. Today, a 狐狸精 (hú li jīng) is a name for a seductress with potentially wily plans.
色狼 (sè láng) – Color-seeking wolf, Insult level: 4/5
A wolf seeking color is a lecher or a pervert.
Color, or 色 (sè), is often used as a euphemism for sexual content in Chinese. The wolf is a predatory image, but this term applies to non-criminal behavior as well.
It is often used to describe men middle-aged or older, and less frequently used on the younger generation.
兔崽子 (tù zaĭ zi) – Rabbit whelp, Insult level: 4.5/5
A rabbit whelp can be used to describe a young, immature smart aleck, or it can be used to call someone younger than you a bastard.
The term is somewhat harsh to use among friends, so smart aleck doesn’t quite cover it.
狗崽子 (góu zaĭ zi) – Dog whelp, Insult level: 5/5
Cute as they are, bunnies and puppies get judged pretty harshly in Chinese name-calling.
Calling someone 狗崽子 (góu zaĭ zi) is similar to calling someone a son of a bitch. Compared to rabbits, this one stings a bit more.
王八蛋 (wáng bā dàn) – Tortoise egg, Insult level: 5/5
This is another baby animal insult, except this time, the baby has yet to hatch.
Suggesting that a person has been hatched from an egg is a grave insult in Chinese, and this one is probably the severest of egg insults.
Become an eggs-pert at egg-related insults and more in Part 1!
There is also a homophone involved here, as 王八蛋 (wáng bā dàn) sounds like 忘八德 (wàng bā dé) , meaning "one who has forgotten the eight virtues".
I hope you won't be in a position to use these insults anytime soon, but it's always better to be prepared! Teases like 懒虫 (lăn chóng) can even add some light-heartedness to the conversation if you use them in the right way.
What do you think of these insults? Pretty tame? More wild than you'd expect? Have I missed some of your favorite Chinese insults/teases? Let me know in the comments below!