Word of the Week: kōu
I was at a Chinese wedding last week. One of those strange parties that is like a bizarre parody of a western wedding wrapped up in the format of a TV game show. In fact the zhǔ chī rén (host) was a local TV presenter, and he introduced the party games whilst standing on stage wearing a pair of sparkly silver boots with the traditional montage of selfies from the husband and wife playing on a giant slide show in the background.
So after handing over the compulsory hóng bāo (red envelopes stuffed with money for the newlyweds) and watching the show for a bit I was pleased to take part in a game and win a prize. A Sony video camera. My excitement turned to amusement after a few minutes as I realised I have no need for a video camera. My phone takes perfectly good quality videos.
Not only that, but the video camera was about 10 years old and second hand. I’m almost certain that my phone takes better quality video. Not that there is any way for me to tell, because I later found I couldn’t use the thing. It was broken. Both the battery and the hard drive were dead. I couldn’t believe it, a broken ten year old video camera! What a cheap prize to give away! In this situation you can say nà me kōu! 那么抠！
kōu is an adjective that is used to describe people who are being tight with their money.
tā men hěn kōu! sòng gěi wǒ zhè gè lā jī jiǎng pǐn (they very cheap! Give me this junk prize/ they’re so cheap giving me this rubbish prize)
Obviously if I had said nǐ men hěn kōu to the newlyweds they would have probably been a bit upset (or just embarrassed) but kōu isn’t too strong and you can use it when joking with your friends. Imagine you ask your friend to buy you a milk tea gěi wǒ mǎi gè nǎi chá ba but your friend refuses bù gěi! So you reply nǐ hěn kōu!
Or perhaps your friend does buy the milk tea for you and it costs 12RMB. You only have 10RMB in your wallet so you say gěi nǐ shí kuài ba but your friend decides to count the pennies and says nǐ hái qiàn wǒ liǎng kuài qián (you still owe me 2RMB). To this you can reply nǐ zěn me nà me kōu?! (How come you’re so stingy?!)
kōu can be used to describe someone who is tight with their money and also counts the pennies. If the person is very good at spending money on themselves but not generous with other people there is a really nice phrase you can use: zhè gè rén yì máo bù bǎ 这个人一毛不拔.
yì máo bù bǎ literally means “one mao not pull”. Since yì máo (one mao) is the smallest unit of currency in China, saying zhè gè rén yì máo bù bǎ (this person one mao no pull) is like saying “you couldn’t pull a penny out of that person”. Or, if you’re American, it’s like saying “you couldn’t pull a cent out of that person”.
You can also put the possessive de 的 after yì máo bù bǎ to make it into an adjective.
wǒ de dì di hěn kōu. cóng xiǎo jiù shì gè yì máo bù bǎ de rén. 我的弟弟很抠。从小就是个一毛不拔的人。(my little brother is really “kou”. From little he was a person you couldn’t pull a penny from.)
You can also go one step further and describe someone with the adjective lìn sè 吝啬, which is a bit more pejorative but perhaps no less deserved in my situation. tā men hěn lìn sè (They’re very stingy). You can also add guǐ 鬼 (ghost/ devil) to make a more derogatory way to refer to someone lìn sè guǐ 吝啬鬼.
The phrase lìn sè guǐ is a bit too negative to use in a joking way with your friends, so maybe don’t say to your friend nǐ shì gè lìn sè guǐ. It’s still useful to know because the suffix guǐ 鬼 appears in a lot of nouns as a more derogatory way to refer to someone. For example jiǔ guǐ (alcohol devil) means “alcoholic”. Similarly qióng guǐ (poor devil) is a slightly derogatory way to refer to someone who doesn’t have much money. However, guǐ is not always offensive. If your friend is too scared to watch a horror movie or ride a roller coaster you can call them a dǎn xiǎo guǐ (small guts devil).
lets take a look at a few example sentences involving…
èr guō tóu 二锅头, which is probably the cheapest and most disgusting of all Chinese alcohol.
hē èr guō tóu nà gè rén kěn ding shì gè jiǔ guǐ. (that person drinking er guo tou is definitely an “alcohol devil”)
èr guō tóu nà me pián yì. tā yīng gāi shì gè qióng guǐ. (er guo tou is so cheap! They must be a “poor devil”)
nǐ zhè gè dǎn xiǎo guǐ bù gǎn hē èr guō tóu ma? (you’re a “small gust devil”, don’t you dare drink er guo tou?)