In Chinglish, when people say “add oil” to you, they mean to give you words of encouragement, not suggest you need to consume some cooking oil.
In Chinese, “fuel” and “oil” are the same word.
Thanks to the Oxford Dictionary, which recently admitted “add oil” – or “jiaoyou” in mandarin – is a phrase that means “good luck” and is often said before someone is about to sit for an examination or faces a challenge.
Following the global success of “long time no see,” “add oil” is a big win for Hong Kong Cantonese speakers, a dialect that might be increasingly marginalized under the “one country, two languages” rule because mandarin is poised to take over as mainstream as Beijing tightens its grip on Hong Kong.
But before that, expect more Cantonese phrases to make it to the world stage. Here are some hot candidates:
“Waste gas” is usually used to describe something or someone that people should not spend time dealing with. Here “gas” does not refer to gasoline but the “air” in a person’s respiratory system. If a person argues with someone with no avail, he is said to have wasted the air in his lungs.
“Hea” literally means hang around, or lounge around. In a city known for grooming workaholics, the phrase signals a desire to relax and do nothing. The phrase was popularized by the former Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, whose “small government” approach became his “hea” style.
Tsang has taken up more business and charity commitments after a year of garden leave that he described as his “hea” period. “Hea” is in stark contrast to “chur,” which describes aggressive behavior, like when a cat meets a mouse.
“Chok” means showing off one’s best look when posing. The phase was used for almost 10 years and is often used to describe a man who makes a cool face. Taiwan has an equivalent term – “shuai” – which means playing handsome.
“Jeng” means “awesome.” The phase can be used to compliment a person, or product, or an act in an unusually great way.
“No eye see,” as the English phrase suggests, describes a hopeless or an embarrassing situation that one cannot bear to face.