Arguing With People in Chinese

Word of the week: lǎo zǐ


If you refer to yourself in the third person in English it will usually sound a bit strange or perhaps even pretentious, depending on the context.

In Chinese it is no different, but if you want to sound pretentious in Chinese you can actually go one step further and not just refer to yourself in the third person, but also refer to yourself in the third person as lǎo zǐ 老子.

You would usually only refer to yourself as lǎo zǐ if you are in an argument. This would make explicit that you are talking down to the other person:

lǎo zǐ shuō nǐ shì gè shǎ bī

Lao zi says you’re a f*ing idiot/ I think you’re a f*ing idiot.

Or you can use it jokingly with your friends to add a humorously haughty heir to your tone of voice:

lǎo zǐ yào hē pí jiǔ

lao xi wants to drink beer/ I want a beer

lǎo老 means old but has connotations of wisdom and respect, whilst zǐ 子 doesn’t really mean anything on its own. It can mean child or son, bus as a suffix it usually just indicates an object or person.

Lao zi was  the founder of the Chinese philosophy/religion Daoism

Lao zi was the founder of the Chinese philosophy/religion Daoism

lǎo zǐ 老子 is actually the name of the founding philosopher of daoism. Refering to yourself as lǎo zǐ is therefore analogous to a European calling themself by the name of one the Ancient Greek philosophers, or an Indian person referring to themself as Rama or the Buddha.

Of course, if people think this kind of attitude is too pretentious you could just say

lǎo zǐ bù guǎn

Lao zi doesn’t care/ I don’t care

Although many Chinese dialects allow both men and women to refer to themselves as lǎo zǐ it is more common in standard Mandarin for women to call themselves lǎo niáng:

lǎo niáng bú xiè gēn nǐ yuē huì

Lao niang looks down on the idea of going on a date with you/ there’s no way I’m willing to go on a date with you.

Unfortunately saying lǎo níang isn’t as effective as saying lǎo zǐ in an argument.


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