Cantonese Tuesdays: Triad and Tested


Triads are in the public eye again, after thugs with triad connections were accused of being involved in street violence during Hong Kong’s democracy protests. As with anything to do with organised crime, it’s open house at the rumour mill. In the last decades, the triads are said to have branched out into more legitimate business, but it’s still a murky world.

Without the requisite machetes, we can instead arm ourselves with some triad terms, again courtesy of Rosalyn S, so if you can’t walk the walk then at least you can talk the talk. Here are a few of the most useful triad terms.


• 黑社会 hēi shè huì / 黑社會 haak1 se5 wui5 – Literally “black society”, the best Chinese equivalent for triads or the mob

• 大佬 dà lǎo / daai6 lou2 – A mafia boss, godfather. Also 啊头 ātóu / aa1 tau4, literally “the head”

• 揸”fit” zhā”fit”rén / zaa1 “fit" jan4 – The leader of a gang with a monopoly over organised crime in a particular neighbourhood. We’re not sure why the “fit” is in there

• 古惑仔 gǔ huò zǎi / gu2 waak6 zai2 – A gangster or triad member, literally a “mischievous guy”

• 结拜兄弟 jiébàixiōng dì / 結拜兄弟 git3 baai1 hing1 dai6 – The more literary way to say your sworn triad brother

• 义气 yìqì / 義氣 ji6 hei3 – Code of brotherhood, an important triad value

• 差人 chāirén / caai1 jan4 – The police or a policeman. Also 差佬 chālǎo / caai1 lou2

• 二五仔 èrwǔzǎi / ji6 ng5 zai2 – A spy or mole. Also 內鬼 nèiguǐ / noi6 gwai2 (“ghost inside”) and 卧底 wò dǐ / ngo6 dai2 (“crouching on the bottom”)

• 条女 tiáonǚ / 條女 tiu4 neoi2 – A casual way a gangster might refer to his girlfriend. is the measure word for long, flowingy objects like cloth, string or fish, so 一条女 is pretty uncouth

• 寸 cùn / cyun3 – (adj.) Cocky, more bark than bite. Useful for putting down young gangsters

• 度水 dùshuǐ / dok6 seoi2 – (v.) To borrow money (literally to “measure water”)

• 冚家产 [hàmp] jiāchǎn / 冚家產 hum2 gaa1 caan2 – Your family will be ruined, an expletive threat. 家产 jiāchǎn means “family property”, but 产/產 is a homonym for 铲/鏟(chǎn/caan2, to shovel), as in your family will be shoveled away

• 运吉 yúnjí  / 運吉 wan6 gat1 – Literally to “send luck”, but actually a threat like “your time is up.” sounds like jú/aat1, or mandarin tree. According to urban myth the triads who would bring small potted mandarin trees to small businesses as a veiled threat, asking an extortionate price to buy it. Or if you get one gifted to you by a guy with sunglasses and a gold watch, best make a run for it