When you learn Chinese, you'll come across plenty of Chinese slang – the kind of vocabulary and expressions you’re more likely to hear on the street when talking to real people than in your textbook.
As with most languages, lots of Chinese slang is vulgar, and there’s no shortage of words for everything to do with sex and defecation.
Here, I’m going to try to keep things as clean as possible, avoiding some of the cruder elements of Chinese slang – but even without some of the more unsavoury examples, there’s still plenty of other colourful words to learn.
In this post, I’ll give you some of the most interesting, the most common and the most useful examples of Chinese spoken and internet slang – so let’s jump right in and take a look!
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Common Chinese Slang Words
Here’s a list of some of the most common slang words you’re likely to meet in the spoken language. Many of them have been around for some time while others are more recent additions.
#1 哈喽 hālóu (Hello)
This is obviously an English loanword. It’s used as a friendly alternative to the more formal or stuffy 你好 nĭ hăo. Another similar possibility is 嗨 hāi, which works in the same way.
#2 拜拜 bāibāi (Bye Bye)
Far more common than 哈喽 hālóu above, this loanword from English has been in use for decades. It is used in place of the more formal 再见 zàijiàn.
#3 牛 niú (Awesome)
This is a common way to say you think something is great, awesome or impressive. For example, if you tell someone you can speak five languages, they might reply 很牛！ hĕn niú!
This is quite a strange expression – because 牛 niú literally means “cow”. In many cases, it can be used as the equivalent of the non-slang term 厉害 lìhai.
#5 六 liù (Awesome)
六 liù (six) is used in much the same way as 牛 niú to mean great or awesome. It is often accompanied by the Chinese hand signal for six – and online, people also use the 🤙emoji for the same reason.
For the scuba divers out there, if you ever dive with Chinese, you might also see them making the hand signal for “six” while underwater, in which case they’ve probably seen a particularly cool fish!
#6 哇塞 wāsài (Wow)
This is an exclamation used to express surprise, admiration or other similar emotions.
#7 哇 wā (Wah, Wow)
This is similar to 哇塞 wāsài above and is usually used when you are impressed by something.
#8 酷 kù (Cool)
This is another loanword from English – it’s the Chinese version of “cool”. For example, if someone asks what your job is and you tell them you’re a DJ, they might reply, 哇！你很酷！Wā! Nĭ hĕn kù! (Wow! You’re really cool!)
#9 二逼 èrbī (Stupid Person, Idiot)
A fairly unfriendly way to tell someone they’re stupid.
#10 哥们儿 gēmenr (Dude, Bro)
Usually used among younger, cooler males, this is the Chinese equivalent of something like “bro” or “dude”.
#11 卖萌 màiméng (Be Deliberately Cute)
Here’s an interesting word that means “to deliberately act cute”, usually used to describe a girl acting in this way.
It comes from a Japanese word used to describe affection for a cute character, especially one in manga.
#12 ABC American Born Chinese
If you hear someone described as “ABC”, it means they are an “American Born Chinese” – or sometimes more generally, a Chinese person born overseas.
Sometimes it is used in a disparaging way to describe Chinese people from the US or other countries who think of themselves as Chinese but who don’t really understand Chinese culture.
#13 啥 shá (What) 什么
This word is a shortened version of 什么 shénme (what) and is analogous to English contractions like “dunno” or “gonna”. For example, you might hear someone say 啥意思？shá yìsi? instead of 什么意思？shénme yìsi? to mean “what do you mean?”
#14 咋 ză (How) 怎么
咋 ză is similar to 啥 shá above, this time used in place of 怎么 zĕnme, meaning “how”.
#15 同志 tóngzhì (Homosexual)
Chinese has a wide range of colourful slang words for all kinds of things to do with sex, but I’ll leave you to find most of those by yourself.
I’ll just include this well-known and mostly inoffensive word for a homosexual. The literal meaning of 同志 tóngzhì is “comrade”.
#16 海归 hăiguī (A Person Who Left China And Came Back With New Experience)
The first character of this word means “sea” and the second means “return”. It’s a play on words since 海龟 hăiguī, which is pronounced in the same way, means “sea turtle”!
#17 灯泡 dēngpào (A Third Person Spoiling A Date)
This word literally means “electric light bulb” but is used as a slang term for an unwelcome third person who is spoiling a couple’s date.
#18 放鸽子 fàng gēzi (To Stand Somebody Up)
I’m not sure if this really counts as slang or if it’s just an expression, but it’s a fun one to know, so I wanted to include it anyway. It means “to stand somebody up” – literally, the meaning is “put a pigeon”!
#19 癞蛤蟆 làiháma (An Ugly Boy)
A fairly self-explanatory one and an expression that works in English too. Literally, it means “toad”.
#20 青蛙 qīngwā (An Ugly Boy)
The same as the one above, this time meaning “frog” – although less commonly used like this.
#21 绿茶 lǜchá (A Girl Who Is Seemingly Innocent But Actually Manipulative)
An interesting expression that literally means “green tea”! You may also hear 绿茶婊 lǜchábiăo. 婊 biăo is a word meaning “prostitute” or “whore”, and the expression can be translated as “green tea bitch”. It is used to describe someone with this kind of behaviour.
#22 变态 biàntài (Pervert)
This word literally means “odd” or “abnormal”.
#23 土豪 tŭháo (Nouveau Riche)
With the increasing number of super-rich in China, there’s no shortage of people with plenty of money but little class.
#24 凡尔赛 fán’ĕrsài (Humblebrag)
In Chinese culture, the rich have traditionally flaunted their wealth, but seeing the wealthy show off their money when others are paid low wages is increasingly seen as distasteful. So many have now adopted the art of the “humblebrag” on their social media accounts.
#25 娘炮 niángpào (An Effeminate Man)
A well-known expression for this.
#26 学霸 xuébà (Top Student)
A student who always studies hard and is always top of the class.
#27 夜猫子 yèmāozi (Night Owl)
In Chinese, you don’t say “night owl” – you say “night cat”!
#28 拜金女 bàijīnnǚ (Gold Digger)
A materialistic woman who likes to spend money, especially one who spends the money of a rich man.
#29 月光族 yuèguāngzú (People Who Spend All Their Money Before Their Next Payday)
Used to describe people who always spend all their money before their next payday comes around. 族 zú means “clan” or “race” and is usually used with words for ethnicities – so this expression is describing these people as belonging to a kind of “tribe”.
#30 撒狗粮 săgŏuliáng (Be Lovey-Dovey In Public)
This kind of behaviour is generally frowned on in East Asian culture, although it is now perhaps more accepted in China than in Southeast Asia.
#31 爱豆 àidòu (Idol)
A loanword from English!
Chinese Internet Slang 网络语言 wăngluòyŭyán
As you may expect, the internet has been a fertile breeding ground for the creative use of language. Here’s just a small selection of some of the most common words and expressions you’re likely to see.
#32 囧 jiŏng (Awkward, Embarrassed)
This old and rarely used character has been repurposed by Chinese netizens to mean “awkward” or “embarrassed” – because it looks like someone with that kind of expression on their face. It isn’t used in spoken Chinese. Originally, this character meant “window”.
#33 88 (Bye Bye)
The internet version of “bye bye” – because 八八 bābā (‘88’) sounds a bit like 拜拜 bāibāi!
#34 3Q (Thankyou)
Because 三Q (sān Q)sounds like “thankyou”!
#35 250 èrbăiwŭ (Stupid person, idiot)
The same as 二逼 èrbī that we saw above. You can also use this when speaking normally.
#36 赞 zàn (To “like”)
This literally means “to praise” and is also now used for when you hit the “like” button.
#37 亲 qīn (Dear)
A term of endearment used online.
#38 萌萌哒 méngméngdā (Adorable)
Internet slang to say something is totally cute or adorable.
#39 大神 dàshén (Guru)
Somebody online who is an expert or a guru in a certain activity.
#40 孔雀女 kŏngquènǚ (Spoiled Rich Girl From The City)
An interesting term since it literally means “peacock girl”.
#41 凤凰男 fènghuángnán (Country Boy Who Marries A City Girl)
Usually used to denigrate a boy from the countryside who comes to the city and marries a city girl but who is still seen as an unsophisticated peasant.
#42 火星文 huŏxīngwén (“Martian language”, Internet Language Used To Speak In Code)
This literally translates as “Martian language” and is used to describe using internet slang or speaking in code so that other people don’t understand or to avoid censorship.
Alternative Spellings For Chinese Internet Slang
As well as the common internet slang terms above, there’s another category of Chinese internet slang where different characters are used in the place of the regular ones, changing the pronunciation slightly.
This is a bit like the Chinese version of using abbreviations like “lol” or “brb”. Because it’s written in characters, Chinese doesn’t really lend itself to abbreviations like this in the same way as English, but using internet alternatives makes online language seem cuter and more fun.
However, most of the time, the alternative spellings don’t have any particular meaning.
Using these when chatting online is a sure way to impress your Chinese friends – so here are a few of the most common examples:
#43 歪果仁 wāiguŏrén (Foreigner)
Instead of 外国人 wàiguórén.
#44 然鹅 rán’é (However)
Instead of 然而 rán’ér.
#45 神马 shénmă (What)
Instead of 什么 shénme.
#46 肿么 zhŏngme (How)
Instead of怎么 zĕnme.
#47 男票 nánpiào (Boyfriend)
Instead of 男朋友 nánpéngyŏu.
#48 女票 nǚpiào (Girlfriend)
Instead of 女朋友 nǚpéngyŏu.
#49 盆友 pényŏu (Friend)
Instead of朋友 péngyŏu.
#50 辣鸡 làjī (Rubbish, garbage)
Instead of 垃圾 lājī. This one is particularly interesting because the usual word for “rubbish” is replaced by “spicy chicken”!
A Wealth Of Colourful Words And Expressions To Play With
As you can see, Chinese has plenty of fun, creative and interesting slang words and expressions for you to learn and play with.
In informal settings, it’s important to know some of the more common ones because you’re likely to hear them being used. Watching Chinese shows on Netflix could be a great way to pick up Chinese slang in context.
And if you can slip a couple into conversation, you’re sure to impress your Chinese friends too. 很牛！Hĕn niú!
If you've enjoyed this post and want to learn even more Chinese expressions check out this post about Chinese idioms.