Another Awesome Chinese Word That Doesn’t Really Translate

Word of the Week: shuǎng

Hangzhou had some great weather this summer. Blue skies and white clouds. Best of all, because most Chinese people have a sort of vampire-like phobia of sunlight I was able to visit all the best places with almost no one else around.

I’m not afraid of sunlight. What bothers me isn’t the sun or even the heat per se, it’s the humidity. During the summer the south of China gets unbearably humid (literally unbearable – it’s one of the reasons why I left Guangzhou!) Even in September and October it’s too hot and humid for me to sleep without the air conditioner on.

This morning was different. I stepped out my front door and felt a lovely cool breeze as I walked by the canal. It felt great. It was really shuǎng 爽.

canalzài yùn hé sàn bù hěn shuǎng 在运河散步很爽 (it feels great to walk by the canal)

This adjective, shuǎng 爽, can be used to describe things that feel really nice. It can also be used as an exclamation when something feels that good. Maybe you’ve had a hard day at work, you get home, open a nice cold beer from the fridge, take a gulp and say shuǎng! Maybe you love to play those hack and slash type video games. As you’re decapitating orcs in Middle earth you might exclaim hǎo shuǎng!

shuǎng can also be used as a verb and it can, of course, have sexual connotations. Cheap Chinese murder fiction is a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine and I was recently reading  an book in which the murderer suggests to his friend that they rape a girl, saying wǒ men liǎ yī qǐ shuǎng yī bǎ 我们俩一起爽一把 (let’s go shuǎng together).

As a verb shuǎng simply means do something that feels shuǎng, and in this sentence refers to raping the girl. But don’t let this give you the false impression that shuǎng means rape. In this kind of context it’s more like “sexual climax” (which most people would say definitely feels shuǎng) and it’s only in the very specific context of this slightly sadistic novel that it is referencing rape.


I expected this novel to be about ghosts, not rape and murder

In another context wǒ men lǎing yī qǐ shuǎng yī bǎ could mean “let’s go to the net bar and play that game killing zombies (because blowing zombies’ heads off feels really shuǎng.)