Do You Know What “Past the Head” Means?

Word of the Week: guò tóu

Sometimes you go out for a couple of drinks and before you know it it’s morning and you’re greeted with a stinking hangover. I’m definitely not the only person to sometimes hē guò tóu (喝过头, literally “drink past head”).

I’m pretty sure that for many businessmen it’s a requirement to drink 白酒 bǎi jiǔ (strong Chinese alcohol) after sealing a deal. In fact, it’s not completely unheard of for Chinese businessmen to have food and crack open a bottle of bǎi jiǔ before they even get down to business. They might even get a little 喝醉了hē zuì le (drunk) but they definitely won’t want to 喝过头 hē guò tóu.


deal done? let’s crack open the baijiu!

The phrase 喝过头 hē guò tóu might be a bit confusing, especially if you hear it out of context. It basically means “drink too much”, so if you are 有一点喝醉了 yǒu yī diǎn hē zuì le (a little bit drunk) but it’s not beyond your capacity (or if you just planned to get that drunk) you wouldn’t say hē guò tóu.

If you say 我喝过头了 wǒ hē guò tóu le it means you drank too much, you crossed a line where you should have stopped. The phrase 过头了guò tóu le can also be put after other verbs to indicate that you didn’t stop when you should have. So the morning after those two or three beers too many I also 睡过头了 shuì guò tóu le, that is “slept past the point where I should have stopped” or in other words “overslept”.

Late for work, I jumped into a taxi but the taxi driver didn’t take the turning he needed to and drove too far, so I told him to make a U-turn because he had 开过头了 kāi guò tóu le (driven past the point where he should have stopped/ driven too far).

I remember hearing in the news a few years ago that a woman was admitted to hospital at Chinese New Year because she ate so much that her stomach exploded. In this case we can definitely say 她吃过头了 tā chī guò tóu le (she ate past the point where she should have stopped/ she ate too much).