Cow Pussy, & Other Mandarin Mysteries

Fabulously, Evaline Chao (byline: “a freelance writer based in New York City”) yesterday wrote a great piece of cultural translation — a philological analysis where we learn the layers of meaning embedded in new words in Chinese — for Foreign Policy:From House Slaves to Banana People – Seven new words that explain modern China.

Evaline Chao is author of Niubi: The real chinese you were never taught in school, which I’m going to buy for my son. (Philology is on my mind partly after seeing  the Israeli drama, “Footnote” (2011 foreign Oscar nominee) or הערת שוליים‎, He’arat Shulayim, which is all about how powerful it becomes to delve into a word’s meaning.) Chao’s book, the opening pages of which are readable online !,   precisely unpack, I’m delighted to say, TWO of our big life-in-China mysteries.
(1)  soccer vulgarity, which we pondered in “Dirty Words Football,” featuring tiny tots screaming “Vagina”
and
(2) repulsively inflated sheep carcasses — which we blogged about after almost vomiting at them in Lanzhou, at the edge of the Gobi. Evaline enlightens on page one:

“Cow Pussy, Yes, Cow Pussy

Let’s begin with…cow pussy. Or rather niubi (nyoo bee), which literally translates to “cow pussy” but means “fuckin’ awesome” or “badass” or “really fuckin’ cool.” Sometimes I means something more like “big” and “powerful,” and sometimes it can have the slightly more negative meaning of “bragging” or “braggart” or “being audacious,” but most of the time it means “fuckin’ awesome.”

The etymology of niubi is unknown…Some say the idea is that a cow’s pussy is really big, so things that are similarly impressive are called cow cunts. Others say that it stems from the expression chui niupi (chway nyoo pee), which literally translates to “blow up ox hide” and also connotes bragging or a braggard (someone who can blow a lot of hot air). In fact, the word for bragging is the first part of that phrase, chuiniu (chway nyoo). Once upon a time (an dyou can still see this done today in countries like Pakistan) — NOTE: ALSO IN NORTHWEST CHINA ON YELLOW RIVER– people made rafts out of animal hides that had to be blown up wit air so they would float. Such an activity obviously required one mights powerful set of lungs…”

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