Word of the Week: mài méng
For Christmas I got some trouser braces and a bow tie. In Chinese that’s 背带 bèi dài (literally “back belt”) and 蝴蝶结 hú dié jié (butterfly knot).
I wasn’t entirely sure whether this made much fashion sense but I decided to wear this bèi dài and hú dié jié combo to work. A colleague said 你卖萌干嘛？ nǐ mài méng gàn má? (you sell cute do what/ what are you doing selling cute?)
If you’re learning Chinese and don’t know what 干嘛 gàn má means then you should check out this other post (click here) because it’s a super useful and common everyday word. But today I’m more interested in the phrase 卖萌 mài méng which is to “sell cute”.
Here mài doesn’t literally mean “sell”, it’s metaphorical, like saying someone is trying to sell themselves off as being cute. This idea of sell also suggests the person is maybe wanting to get something in return for being cute.
I’d just had lunch in a cafe when my son decided he wasn’t full (because he’s a 吃货 chī huò, someone who can’t stop eating). He knew there was a bowl of fruit used for smoothies behind the counter. So he started fake crying saying he wanted a banana. Maybe an ugly kid would get ignored, but my son knows how to play up his cuteness to get what he wants.
他到处卖萌来拿到自己想要的东西 tā dào chǔ mài méng lái ná dào zì jǐ xiǎng yào de dōng xi (he everywhere sell cute come get he wants thing/ everywhere he goes he will play up his cuteness to get what he wants)
萌 méng is basically the same meaning as 可爱 kě ài, both are adjectives that mean “cute” and can be used to describe people and animals.
我的猫咪很萌 wǒ de māo mī hěn méng my cat is very cute
kě ài is the more common word, and it’s probably what your Chinese friends will say if you ask what the word for “cute” is. However, méng is probably more common online and with younger people so if you want to sound “down with the kids” then throw out the word méng when you see a cute baby or animal.
With any vocabulary it’s also important to remember collocations (which words go together). There is no grammatical reason for not saying mài kě ài but most native speakers will say 卖萌 mài méng, its sort of a set phrase.