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This is a list of hard-to-translate terms from Taiwan. If you're looking for online terms from China, check out chinaSMACK's comprehensive glossary. If you can’t find what you’re looking for here, it’s a good bet you’ll find at Wiktionary or at g0v’s Mengdian (萌典) dictionary site. Definitions are sorted alphabetically, based on a given term’s Hanyu pinyin or Tâi-lô spelling. Glossary content is published under a CC0 1.0 Creative Commons licence.
Why; for what reason? Equivalent to zěnmeyàng (怎麼樣) in Standard Mandarin.
A situation in a total mess. Asǎbùlǔ has a strange history; it's a loanword from the Japanese colonial period in Taiwan, but the root word asaburo (朝風呂) refers to a morning bath, and does not connote a hectic situation. An equivalent phrase to luànqībāzāo (亂七八糟) in Standard Mandarin. [From Chinese Linguipedia]
Frank, direct. Refers to a person who speaks, acts or performs duties in a straightforward manner. Although the word is an import from Japan, its original meaning assari refers to mild or refreshing-tasting food. [From Chinese Linguipedia]
Guava fruit. Word origin unknown, although some suggest it's either from the Spanish word guayaba or from the Indigenous Bunun word para or rabatu. The Taiwanese Hokkien pronunciation of the word is pu’at-á (菝仔), and is often pronounced in Taiwanese Mandarin as bālà. [From Wiktionary]
A term to describe a person who migrated to Taiwan sometime between the 17th and early 20th century, before the arrival of the National Revolutionary Army in 1945. During the martial law period, it was a blanket term to describe Hoklo, Hakka and Indigenous peoples in Taiwan. In contemporary times, it refers only to Hoklo and Hakka people. [From Wikipedia]
(Tâi-lô): poh kám-tsîng
To struggle for someone's favour; to curry favour with constituents during an election by visiting them at their home and interact with them about local concerns. Bó (搏) comes from the Taiwanese Hokkien and Cantonese verb-object bó mìng (搏命), an equivalent to the word pīnmìng (拼命) in Standard Mandarin. [From Baidu Zhidao]
Puppet master. A person behind the scenes controlling others to achieve a final outcome. From the Taiwanese Hokkien word tsông-kiànn-jîn, with origins in Taiwanese puppet theatre. [From Wikipedia]
(Pinyin): dài fēngxiàng
To attempt to sway or manipulate discourse in a certain direction; to influence public opinion in favour of a certain viewpoint or ideology. A term originating from the messaging board PTT. [From PTTpedia]
Tangwai. Historical political figures that worked outside the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) during Taiwan’s Martial Law period, 1949-1987. The term referred to any political activity that was outside of the KMT party-state regime, including written materials, such as Tangwai magazines (黨外雜誌). [From Wiktionary]
Third Force parties. Political parties or candidates that don't fit into the traditional "pan-green" and "pan-blue" paradigms. A new wave of Third Force parties and candidates were established after the 2014 Sunflower Student Movement, including the New Power Party (NPP), the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the Free Taiwan Party. [From the News Lens]
Pan-blue coalition. A group of pro-unification parties consisting of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), the New Party (NP) and the Chinese Unification Promotion Party (CUPP). [From Wiktionary]
Pan-green coalition. A group of pro-independence or pro-status quo parties consisting of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU). The New Power Party (NPP) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) are sometimes considered “pan-green” political parties. [From Wiktionary]
(Sounds like the English word few or feel)
Touching. Written out with English letters. From the English word, feeling.
Good game. A term used to describe an unhappy result. In North American gaming culture, the initials GG imply a positive result or happy meeting between players, while in Taiwan, GG almost always implies a negative result. [From PTTpedia]
(Pinyin): fā hǎorénkǎ
To be friend-zoned. Literally “to receive the good person card”. A phrase used when an individual wants to reject the romantic overtones of another individual, usually those of a man. (e.g. You are a good person, but…)
Hate; hater. An English loanword. The character 黑 is sometimes used at the end of a celebrity or politician's surname to describe a group of people who dislike said person. For example Hánhēi (韓黑) — people who dislike Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu. The opposite is Hánfěn (韓粉) — people who are fans of Han.
Cheers!; drink up! The equivalent of gānbēi (乾杯) in Standard Mandarin. Also written with the characters 予焦啦.
To bullshit; to fool someone. From the Taiwanese Hokkien word hóo-lān.
Traditional Chinese Characters. Could also be translated as “Complete” or “Orthodox” Chinese Characters. An equivalent word for fántǐzì (繁體字) in China. [From Wiktionary]
(Pinyin): zhuāng xiàowéi
To pretend to be crazy. A Taiwanese Hokkien phrase that uses Chinese characters to approximate the Taiwanese pronunciation of the phrase tsng‑siáu‑ê (裝痟的). [From Mengdian Dictionary]
A person who corrals votes for a candidate. Literally a person who “ties together the base of one's pile” — a metaphor for a person responsible for rallying support among key segments of the population to vote for a certain candidate. Money or privileges might be exchanged for this support. From the Taiwanese Hokkien word thiāu-á-kha (柱仔跤). [From Wiktionary]