Puns in Hoyloy Sayings

by Vunshik Zan
posted 19 Aug 2002
last revised Dec. 1, 2015

Many Hoyloy sayings take advantage of homonymes or words with similar pronunciation to make puns. Quoted below are four well known examples.

1. [lo_gioy_tsang=|- bput=sieng-|_suan'] '露蕎葱'不成祘
-- Rakkyo onions don't grow garlic (bulbs)--


With the saying you mean some people in question are useless.


The pun in this saying comes from the last phrase [bput=sieng->suan'] for 'do not grow garlic (bulbs)' with the same pronunciation as [bput=sieng_suan'] for 'can not be counted' and thus 'useless'. By virture of the pun, a disparagement to people regarded as worthless becomes colorful and amusing.

For your information, pickled bulbs of rakkyo (らっきょう) are tasty and crisp appetizer in Taiwanese and Japanese cuisine.

2. [ten-ten=(-) dli_si">dtiam=|+tzieng=|-] '天天'二十四点鐘
--Fooling around everyday.--



[ten-ten=], a loanword from Mandarin for 'everyday (day and day)', with the same pronunciation as the Hoyloy word meaning 'light-minded'. Both words are formed with reduplication of [ten=] for either 'day' or 'frivolous'.

3. [gu+ u_>liau-//lang+ boy_>liau-] 牛有料人無(難)料
--(While) cows have (their) fodder, our future is not predictable.(cf. 'Nothing is certain except for death and tax'.)--



The word [liau-] in the first clause of the sentence means 'feed' and in the second clause it stands for prediction. It is interesting to learn how the kanji for this word is formed. According to Bernhard Karlgren in his Analytic Dictionary of Chinese and Sino-Japanese (1923) p292. it is made up with a dipper 斗 on one side and a pile of rice 米 on the other suggesting 'measuring of rice'. It now means a lot of things including 'provisions' such as [liau_li"] 料理 'food preparations' and 'to guess' such as [liau_siong"] 'expectation' 料想.

4. [huan-se' li=a=tsun-sieng=] 番勢李阿春生
--Babarian power (for) Li-tsunsieng--


An historical figure of 19th century in Taiwan, Li-tsun-sieng 李春生 started out as an assistant to the British merchant John Dodd who set up the tea industry in the northern part of Taiwan during the second half of the 19th century, and later on established his own business to become an abundantly wealthy person. He was regarded by the general public as having made his big fortune through the help of foreign power, or the so-called 'babarian power' 番勢 at that time.

People who knew about his story of life with the foreign power would come up with the saying upon hearing the word [huan_se'] meaning 'perhaps' or 'it depends' which sounds similar to [huan-se'] 'barian power'. Most people, however, take on the saying jokingly.

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