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Slow Chinese 每周漫闻 is an entertaining weekly dose of interesting words, phrases and idioms from the week’s news for learners of Chinese who want to take their language skills to the next level.
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How (not) to inflate your social status in Chinese – 抬咖 (Tái kā)2 min read

29 March 2021 2 min read

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How (not) to inflate your social status in Chinese – 抬咖 (Tái kā)2 min read

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The Chinese character – 咖 (kā) – is confusing.

Depending on where it turns up, it can mean ‘coffee’, ‘curry’ or even ‘big potato’.

There are two pronunciations – (as in coffee, 咖啡 – Kāfēi), and as in curry (咖喱饭 – Gālí fàn).

In the word ‘big potato’ (大咖 – Dà kā), it is actually not Chinese at all.

It’s from the Hokkien dialect (闽南话) which is spoken in Taiwan and Fujian amongst other places. In that language actually means foot (脚 – Jiǎo).

The word 大咖 was first a Hokkien dialect slang word meaning ‘top celebrity’. Confusingly, was used in this way because it sounds like the English word for ‘cast’ – of a movie.

So, from English to Hokkien, and then eventually to Chinese, the word become a popular slang word in Mandarin to mean ‘big potato’ – normally used to describe successful entrepreneurs.

If you are a Dà kā in China then you are an influential player, a big shot.

A number of other useful slang words have evolved from Dà kā, none of which will turn up in a Chinese-English dictionary – not even Pleco.

  • 咖位 (Kā wèi) – ‘social status’; normally used in entertainment and celeb circles. The higher your Kā wèi, the more influential and the better paid you are
  • 小咖 (Xiǎo kā) – ‘small player’; the opposite of big potato, insignificant
  • 抬咖 (Tái kā) – ‘lifting status,’ inflating one’s social status

This last one in English would be translated as:

‘you’re way out of your league’

‘don’t get above your station’

‘you’re getting a bit big for your boots.’ 

Tái kā is useful if you want to put somebody, who thinks they are a big potato but actually aren’t, in back in their place. For example, you might say:

别给自己抬咖了 – You shouldn’t over-inflate your status 

Other good ways to make the same point include

太高估你自己了 – [you’ve] really over-estimated yourself 

这么普通却又这么自信 – So average, and yet so confident. 

‘Average but confident’ is from the hilarious sketch by Chinese comedian, Yang Li (杨笠).

Youtube link here – it’s well worth a watch.

The most famous line which went viral on Chinese social media:

为什么他明明看起来那么普通,但是他却那么自信?Why can he be so confident even though he looks so average? 

‘Average but confident’ (普却信) is now a common phrase in Chinese, very useful to say you’re not impressed with someone who’s too full of themselves.

So, if you find yourself talking to a self-proclaimed big potato who isn’t what he or she says they are, then you can use one of these useful phrases to tell them you’re not impressed.

Good luck!

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