阿塗(Ah To), a graphic designer and part-time cartoonist who concerns about the survival of Cantonese in Canton and Hong Kong, has just published a comic called ” The Great Canton and Hong Kong Proverbs” on Hong Kong independent media “Passion Times“. The cartoon contains illustrations of 81 Cantonese proverbs.
“The Great Canton and Hong Kong Proverbs”
In 1559, Dutch artist Pieter Bruegel created the oil painting “Netherlandish Proverbs” which illustrates many Dutch proverbs to praise the Dutch culture. In 2014, Ah To imitated the idea and created “Great Canton and Hong Kong proverbs” illustrating 81 Cantonese proverbs to propagate the Cantonese culture and defend Cantonese.
81 Cantonese Proverbs
(The 2 extra proverbs are the bonus given by the author. And audio clips only work on PC.)
上山捉蟹 [séuhng sāan jūk háaih](To catch crabs on a hill)
Harder than hard, almost impossible
鬼揞眼 [gwái ám ngáahn](A ghost covers one’s eyes)
1. To fail to see something
2. To fail to find something
3. A freudian slip
有錢使得鬼推磨 [yáuh chín sái dāk gwái tēui mòh](if you have money, you can make a ghost push a millstone)
Everything is possible with money; money makes the world go round
鬼畫符 [gwái waahk fùh](A ghost draws a talisman)
Illegible scribble, poor handwriting
鬼拍後尾枕 [gwái paak hauh méih jám](A ghost slaps the back of one’s head)
To let out a secret unknowingly
多個香爐多隻鬼 [dō go hēung lòuh dō jek gwái](An extra incense burner would attract an extra ghost)
Creating chance for someone to share your benefit. The tone of the proverb indicates a foolish act to invite losses.)
呃鬼食豆腐 [ngāak gwái sihk dauh fuh](To trick a ghost into eating tofu)
1. To lure someone into a trap, to trick someone
2. Used to express scepticism or disbelief, “you’re kidding me!”
扮鬼扮馬 [baahn gwái baahn máah](To masquerade as a ghost and as a horse)
To play a role to deceive somebody, to play a part to trick someone
放飛機 [fong fēi gēi](To throw a paper aeroplane)
To break a promise, to break a commitment; to fail to turn up for a date
樹大有枯枝 [syuh daaih yáuh fū jī](A big tree has some dead branches)
There are good and bad people in every group
床下底吹喇叭 [chòhng hah dái chēui laa bāa](Blowing a horn under the bed, implying speaking at a kowtow position)
In a begging / humble tone
佛都有火 [faht dōu yáuh fó](Even the Buddha gets inflamed)
To a degree that is intolerable, “that’s the limit!”.
老貓燒鬚 [lòuh māau sīu sōu](An old cat burns its whiskers)
An expert who makes a careless mistake in his/her own expertise.
拉牛上樹 [lāai ngàuh séuhng syuh](To pull a cow up a tree)
A vain attempt to do something
豬乸會上樹 [jyū ná wúih séuhng syuh](Female pigs can climb trees)
When pigs fly
開籠雀 [hōi lùhng jéuk](A bird in an open cage)
Someone who chatters all the time
兩頭蛇 [lèuhng tàuh sèh](Two-headed snake)
1. someone who works for both sides in a deal
2. A servant of two masters
床下底劈柴 [chòhng hah dái pek chàaih](Chopping wood under a bed. If someone is hiding under a bed but moves vigorously, very possibly he would bang his head against the wooden plate above him.)
Epic fail; A method that doesn’t work
玻璃夾萬 [bō lēi gaap maahn](A glass safe)
Something that looks good but is not practical.
[séuhng mihn jīng sūng gōu,
hah mihn maaih lèuhng fán](Steaming sponge cake on top, selling cool powder below.
Cool powder is glass jelly in English)
It usually describes women who wear heavy clothing on top but barely cover their legs with mini skirts/short shorts during cold winter.
掛羊頭賣狗肉 [gwa yèuhng tàuh maaih gáu yuhk](Hang up a sheep’s head and sell dog meat)
Try to palm off something.
大石笮死蟹 [daaih sehk jaak séi háaih](A big stone crushes a crab)
An unequal contest
倒瀉籮蟹 [dóu sé lòh háaih](Spilled a basket of crabs)
賣魚佬洗身 [maaih yùh lóu sái sān](A fishmonger washes his body – 冇晒腥氣 “no stinky smell”, which sounds like 冇晒聲氣 “no news”. )
To have yet to receive a positive response
煲電話粥 [bōu dihn wá jūk](To boil telephone congee)
To talk for hours on the phone.
冬瓜豆腐 [dūng gwā dauh fuh](Winter melon and tofu)
1. An emergency, a crisis
2. An unfortunate event, especially death.
倒吊沙煲 [dou diu sā bōu](A pot hanged upside down, implying that there is no rice left)
十個茶壺九個蓋 [sahp go chàh wú gáu go goi](ten tea pots and nine lids)
demand out numbers supply; not enough
刀仔鋸大樹 [dōu jái geu daaih syuh](Use a little knife to saw down a tree)
Use little capital to make big profit
賊佬試沙煲 [chaahk lóu si sā bōu](A thief is testing a pot. A burglar tests if there is any one home by breaking a pot.)
Test the waters before doing bad things
冇柄遮 [móuh beng jē](An umbrella with broken handle)
To fight to the bitter end, to refuse to admit one is in the wrong
甩繩馬騮 [lāt síng máah láu](Loose string monkey)
1. A very naughty child
2. Someone no longer under the control of their superior or guardian.
馬騮執到桔 [máah láu jāp dóu gāt](A monkey got a tangerine)
Someone looks very happy as if he has discovered treasure.
運桔 [wahn gāt](To ship tangerines)
To visit a shop or a person without any particular purpose, to be “just looking” in a shop; to waste someone’s time(*Gang members extort money by forcing shops to buy pots of tangerines)
鬼食泥 [gwái sihk nàih](a ghost eats mud)
to slur your words
盲公食湯丸 [màahng gūng sihk tōng yún](A blind man eats glue pudding)
Know the score
食拖鞋飯 [sihk tō háai faahn](To eat slippers rice)
Used to describe a man who is supported by a woman, i.e. he can keep his slippers on, because he doesn’t have to work; a man who sponges off a woman
食人隻車 [sihk yàhn jek gēui](To have eaten someone’s cart)
To exploit or expropriate the belongings of others (a reference to the rules of Chinese chess)
食碗面反碗底 [sihk wún mín fáan wún dái](To eat from a bowl and then turn it over)
Go back upon somebody. Play somebody false. Betray a friend.
食死貓 [sihk séi māau](to eat a dead cat)
1. To take the blame for something one has not done
2. To be a scapegoat, to “carry the can”
放葫蘆 [fong wùh lóu](To throw a gourd)
放飛劍 [fong fēi gim](To throw a flying sword)
企喺城樓睇馬打交 [kéih hái sìhng mùhn tái dá gāau](To watch a horse fight from the top of a fort)
Observing from the sidelines
飛象過河 [fēi jeuhng gwo hòh](An elephant flies across the river)
1. To break a rule
2. To reach across the table for food (a reference to the rules of Chinese chess)
事急馬行田 [sih gāp máah hàahng tìhn](In a crisis, a horse can move in the field)
To be flexible, to adapt to circumstances in an emergency (a reference to the rules of Chinese chess).
過橋抽板 [gwo kíuh chāu báan](To pull up the planks after crossing the bridge)
To betray one’s friends once the crisis is over, to abandon one’s friends once one is safe
和尚擔遮 [wòh séung dāam jē](A monk holding an umbrella – 無髮無天 “no hair no sky” , which sounds like 無法無天 “no law no heaven”)
No respect for law and order; unruly
牛唔飲水唔撳得牛頭低 [ngàuh m4 yám séui m4 gahm dāk ngàuh tàuh dāi](If a cow doesn’t want to drink, you can’t force its head down)
If someone is unwilling to do something, it is not possible to force them; you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.
冇鞋挽屐走 [móuh hàaih wáan kehk jáu](When there are no shoes, grab the clogs and run)
To withdraw hurriedly from an awkward situation
馬死落地行 [máh séi lohk deih hàahng](when one’s horse dies, one has to walk)
To rely on oneself, to have to get oneself through a difficulty without help.
捉到鹿唔識脫角 [jūk dóu lúk m4 sīk tyut gok](Got hold of the deer but can’t get the horn)
To be unable to make best use of an opportunity.
一竹篙打一船人 [yāt jūk gōu dá yāt syùhn yàhn](Hitting everyone on a boat with a punt pole)
To overgeneralise in assigning blame, e.g. to blame a whole group of people for one person’s mistake. Get tarred with the same brush
缸瓦船打老虎 [gōng ngáh syùhn dá lóuh fú](Hitting a tiger inside a boat full of potteries)
To risk everything on one bet; to gamble everything on one plan
船頭尺 [syùhn tàuh chek](Plumb line on a ship)
Someone who is always asking others for money (since 度水 dohk séui can mean either “to borrow money” or “to measure water”).
黑狗得食白狗當災[hāk gáu dāk sihk,
baahk gáu dōng jōi](The black dog gets the food, the white dog gets the punishment)
Somebody benefits by their wrongdoing, while another person gets the blame.
豬籠入水 [jyū lùhng yahp séui](Water enters a pig basket)
To have many different ways to make money, to have money coming from many different enterprises or sources.
濕水炮仗 [sāp séui paau jéung](A damp firecracker)
2. Someone with a calm temperament, who doesn’t lose their temper
菠羅雞 [bō lòh gāi](Pineapple chicken)
Someone who takes advantage of other people; an exploiter(*Pineapple chicken is the mascot of the Pala Temple in Canton,
which sounds like pineapple temple in Cantonese.
The mascot is made by gluing feathers on cardboard.
In Cantonese, “glue” can also mean “sponging off one’s relatives or friends”.
As the whole chicken is made by gluing,
it becomes a symbol of someone who loves to “glue”, sponging off people.)
單眼佬睇老婆 [dāan ngáahn lóu tái lòuh pòh](One-eyed man looks at his wife)
Too few/simple/obvious that one can see/understand everything in a “second”.
狗仔抬轎 [gáu jái tòih kìuh](Puppies lifting /carrying a sedan chair – 不識抬舉 not knowing how to lift/carry things)
Fail to appreciate others’ favours / flattering
畫隻耳上牆 [waahk jek yìh jái séuhng chéung](Draw an ear on the wall)
Words treated as unimportant, advice that is ignored
摸門釘 [mó mùhn dēng](To scrape the door nails)
To go to visit someone but not find them at home, to arrange a meeting with someone but not to find them.
狗咬狗骨 [gáu ngáauh gáu gwāt](A dog bites another dog’s bones)
Fighting among members of the same group
死雞撐飯蓋 [séi gāi chaang faahn goi](Using a dead chicken to push back the cooking-pot lid)
To fight to the bitter end, to refuse to admit one is in the wrong
炒魷魚 [cháau yáu yú](To stir-fry squid)
To dismiss an employee
劏白鶴 [tōng baahk hohk/hók](To slaughter a white crane)
To vomit, to throw up
風扇底傾偈 [fūng sin dái kīng gái](Talking under a fan – 風涼話 a chilling talk )
Saying something rude upon others’ mistakes or misfortune, inconsiderate to others’ feeling)
風吹雞蛋殼 [fūng chēui gāi dáan hok](Wind breaks an eggshell)
Don’t worry about losing money. Be at ease with less fortune.
打蛇隨棍上 [dá sèh chèuih gwan séuhng](To hit a snake and it crawls up the stick)
To exploit a situation to one’s advantage, to ask for something or something extra by seizing a particular opportunity.
禾稈冚珍珠 [wóh gón kám jān jyū](Rice stalks covering pearls)
To pretend to be poor, to hide one’s true wealth (e.g. residents of public housing estates who are too wealthy to qualify for public housing)
雞食放光蟲 [gāi sihk fong gwōng chúng](A chicken eats fireflies)
To know in one’s heart, to fully understand, to not need to think further (As the chicken eats fireflies, its belly lights up)
冇掩雞籠 [móuh yím gāi lùhng](A doorless chicken coop)
A place where you can come and go as you wish.
籠裏雞作反 [lùhng léuih gāi jok fáan](The chickens are fighting inside the coop)
Dissent withing an organisation, an internal rift, factional fighting; infighting
一雞死一雞鳴 [yāt gāi séi yāt gāi mìhng](One chicken dies, one chicken crows)
When one person leaves a business or an occupation, another will take it up.
老鼠拉龜 [lòuh syú lāai gwāi](A mouse pulls a turtle)
At one’s wits’ end
扯貓尾 [ché māau mèih](To pull a cat’s tail)
Two people supporting each other’s stories in order to avoid a problem; to lie one’s way out of a problem.
捉黃腳雞 [jūk wòhng geuk gāi](To catch a yellow-legged chicken)
To catch someone having illicit sex; to arrange a trap or “set up” in which someone is blackmailed after being lured into having sex, to set a “honey trap”.
貼錯門神 [tip cho mùhn sàhn](To paste up the door gods wrongly)
To become hostile, to turn aggressive and nasty (since the door gods are normally pasted up so that they face each other, put if put up wrongly they face away from each other).
龜過門檻 [gwāi gwo mùhn láahm](A tortoise passing a sill, implying someone who can’t get on or get off)
Unable to solve a problem or escape from it. A stalemate.
騎牛搵馬 [kèh ngáuh wán máh](To ride an ox looking for a horse)
To be working one job but looking out for a better one
執死雞 [jāp séi gāi](To pick up a dead chicken)
1. To take something which someone else has lost or thrown away
2. To take advantage of a situation
3. To start off a relationship with someone who has been rejected by their former lover
4. To get the benefit of someone else’s hard work
5. To score an easy goal after a shot has been blocked by the goal keeper.
水過鴨背 [séui gwo ngaap bui](Water off a duck’s back)
To make no impression on (the memory), to forget (a lesson); like water off a duck’s back
咁大隻蛤乸隨街跳 [gam daaih jek gap lá chèuih gāai tiu](such a big frog hopping around the street)
too good to be true
The poster is now available at Passion Times, click here.