Cantonese Proverb Examining Appearance VS Reality


Original Script in Mandarin Characters:


Pronunciation in Cantonese:

baan[6] zyu[1] sik[6] lou[5] fu[2]


Play pig and eat tiger.


The proverb is used to describe ambitious individuals who pretend to be dumb.


The informant is a 23-year-old female who was born and raised in Guangzhou, and currently studies in the United States. Cantonese is her first language. The informant could not remember when, where, and from whom she learned the proverb, but it has always been natural for her to both understand and use it regularly herself.


The two animal metaphors in this proverb play their own parts, and combined, they work together to describe someone who appears to be ignorant and simple, but is in fact dangerously ambitious. Pig, often seen as a carefree animal, is featured to suggest someone’s simple appearance whereas tiger, the animal correlated with strength and superiority becomes the pig’s prey in this proverb. The seemingly absurd scene of a pig devouring a tiger suggests a dangerously ambitious individual can play dumb to achieve great means, touching on the discrepancy between appearance and reality.

The informant never researched but instinctively understands the proverb and has been using it quite regularly herself. Born and raised in the folk culture, she has no trouble understanding exactly what the two animals symbolize and is able to identify that the “pig” is actually what the proverb is describing. Despite the proverb is only made up with 5 characters, its concise and humorous message fascinates her even today.