Tag Archives: Insult

Candle Riddle

“I am born tall but I die very short
My only purpose is inside the house
What am I?

A candle”

This is a riddle that my informant told me about. She first heard it from her uncle when he used it to make fun of his sister (Informant’s mother) because she was “too short to be as hot headed as she is”. Some variation of the riddle or punchline is used in the household whenever someone is being too hot headed.

When I first heard the riddle, I thought it would be somehow linked to the sphynx’s riddle about man. I do not think there is enough information in the riddle to actually get the answer, making this more of an inside joke. I think there is a hidden message behind the riddle, warning the recipient to not be too hot headed/emotional or else they will burn faster.


“So like as you know there are like a million ways to call someone a dumbass on the internet. One way I like to is the phrase, ‘you are second in numbers and in letters’ which is Two-B. 

Chinese: 屄

Phonetic: bī

Transliteration: c*nt

Translation: ass, general expletive

has a negative meaning already, but it also sounds, like, phonetically stupid I guess. Then people started adding the word stupid in front of that. But, then, I think it’s because of internet censorship, which doesn’t allow people to insult each other explicitly. So people started saying two-bī to insult each other. And, I think, it might be just a historical reference that two has a negative meaning or it has an insult towards someone’s intelligence level but I think that’s how it comes as the word two-bī and now it frequently used by a lot of people.” 


Informant (ZZ) is a student aged 19 from Shanghai, China. He attended high school in the U.S. and currently goes to USC. This piece was collected during an interview over dinner in the dining hall. He learned the saying from friends and the internet. He believes, “it express the great intellectual ability of the Chinese people that we use our language so well that we can insult people with anything that we want.”


Beyond the interpretation offered by ZZ, this story also demonstrates the growing influence of English in China. The insult phrase requires knowledge of the Roman alphabet in order to work. Additionally, it demonstrates a desire to resist internet censorship by the Chinese Government. The government can’t censor everything, and this insult, like the grass mud horse mentioned elsewhere, demonstrates a desire by Chinese netizens to circumvent censorship.

Grass Mud Horse


“The grass mud horse I think first emerged in like a videogame. They play it very smart. They use words that sound very–like they use the word grass mud horse in Chinese, which is a normal name for like a llama, but it shares the same pronunciation as like f*ck your mom in Chinese so it was kind of in–it was kind of like cursing but kind of not directly kind of way. So if you say it:

Chinese: 草泥马
Phonetic: Cǎonímǎ
Transliteration: grass mud horse
Translation: llama

grass mud horse in Chinese it basically means

Chinese: 操你妈
Phonetic: cào nǐ mā
Transliteration: f*ck you mother
Translation: f*ck your mom

or f*ck your mom.”


Informant (ZZ) is a student aged 19 from Shanghai, China. He attended high school in the U.S. and currently goes to USC. This piece was collected during an interview over dinner in the dining hall. He first learned this from a videogame, where a llama was a character, and he has also seen it online. To him, it “represents the great creativity in the Chinese language.”


In addition to the sentiments expressed by (ZZ), this insult/joke also demonstrates a desire to circumvent government censorship. Much like 2B, the Chinese netizens seek to create new folklore as a result of Chinese internet censorship.

“Two in the air, four on the ground…” – Farsi Riddle

Description of Informant

MV (79) is a retired engineer, chess master, and violinist from Tehran, Iran. At 19, he came to America to study at Ohio Northern and remained in the states for his adult life (Missouri and California). While in Iran, he lived a very traditional life under religious parents; this continues to influence his values and attitudes.



Original Text: ! دو در هوا، چهار در زمين، اِه خربزه

Phonetic: Dōh dar havah, chahar dar zameen, eh kharbōzeh!

Transliteration: Two in the air, four on the ground, hey melon!

Free Translation: [See Collector’s Reflection for Explanation]

Collector’s Reflection

At first, the riddle seems to make no sense, until you understand the pun hidden within. The Farsi word for melon (خربزه, kharbōzeh) also contains the words for donkey/ass (خر, khar-) and goat (بز, -bōz). Thus, the riddle really says: “Two in the air, four on the ground, hey ass/idiot— it’s a goat!” The “two in the air” refers to the goat’s horns and the “four on the ground” to its feet.

The phrase functions as an insult riddle, wherein the individual playing the joke intends to trick or demean the intelligence of their victim. The individual receiving the riddle is confused by melon at first. Then, the riddler will repeat the last line “eh kharbōzeh!”, but with added emphasis and spacing to make the double entendre clear (e.g. “eh khar! …bōzeh!”) The victim(s) quickly realize that they have been insulted. If you’re in good company, you’ll get a few laughs. But be wary— calling someone “khar” in Iran is a major insult.

Context of Use

The riddle is used among peers, often in a group setting, where one individual is unaware of the double entendre and made out as a fool; comedy at one’s expense. You would generally use the phrase among close friends with positive rapport, where no offense will be taken.


Context of Interview

The informant, MV, sits on a love seat, feet planted on a brightly colored Persian rug. He is opposite the collector, BK, his grandson. Text spoken in Farsi is translated and italicized. Instances of the riddle have been replaced by [the riddle].


MV: For instance, wasn’t a joke, but for instance riddles, like [the riddle]. Something like this, for instance, they were goat, trying to identify the goat that had to horns. So they say “two up” and “four down.” And then, do you know what kharbōzeh is? Something melon. It’s some type of melon. And it also means “hey khar”— or donkey, it is a goat! *laughing* Something like this: [the riddle]. If someone hears you, they think you are just saying melon! Until you separate it.

BK: Can you describe a context where you would’ve told this joke?

MV: Children among [themselves]. One child, who wanted to mess with another child, would say [the riddle]. The guy would think you are just saying melon so they get confused, but say “eh khar— bōzeh! This is a goat that I’m talking about, with two horns.

Slurs and Insults in a Coastal City

Background and context: The interviewer and the informant are both residents of Qingdao, a Northeastern coastal city in China. The city is known for its beaches, ports, and seafood. A big portion of the city’s economy relies on tourism. 

The informant talks in Mandarin, but with the Qingdao dialect. The interviewer and the informant talk about unique slurs and insults that only Qingdao people use.

1. 潮巴

pinyin: cháo ba

Transliteration: moist [“ba” doesn’t have meaning]

Translation: Idiot

2. 你脑子进水了

pinyin: ni nao zi jin shui le

Transliteration: You’ve got water in your head.

Translation: You’re so stupid.

Analysis: Because Qingdao is a coastal city and the sea has a very important role in Qingdao people’s life, language used by Qingdao people is heavily influenced by imageries and characters associated with the sea. In both insults, water or “moist” is directly linked with the geographical character of the city. “Moist” or having water in one’s head both signify a loss of control, a form of imbalance between humans and the ocean. This shows that Qingdao’s connection with the ocean is more complicated than people’s dependence on the sea. There might be an implicit fear as well in not being able to control the ocean and maintain a balance between human life and natural forces.