How to Talk Dirty in Mandarin:
Tonogenesis and Leftover Peaches

11.13.13 Lewd Linguist

Getting my first cell phone meant no more writing addresses on paper or calling boys from payphones. Typing was awkward, but we adapted by taking shortcuts that made gr8 use of the keypad. China got it a lot worse than us, having a romanization system that requires not only all 26 English letters but numbered tones and a trip through lists of characters for each word.

The result was a text-speak much more extensive than our own, where alphanumeric characters could replace not only sound (GG for 鸡鸡 /tɕi˥tɕi/ “cock”) but also meaning. For example, one horny Thursday morning I was texting with a Mandarin-speaking opera buff, and he mentioned “1069.” The meaning, “casual sex” doesn’t come from the pronunciation [i˥ lɪŋ˩˥ lʲoʊ˥˩ tɕoʊ˩], but from 10 meaning “top and bottom” from the shape of the numerals, plus 69 taken from English. I replied:

[wo˩ tɕɪn˥tʰʲɛn˥ ʂʰɨ˥˩ i˥, xaʊ˩ pa]

I’m the top today, that alright?

[xaʊ˩ lɤ, wo˩ tɕʰɪŋ˩kɤ˥˩. ni˩ xai˩˥joʊ˩ dʷo˥tʂʰaŋ˩˥ nɤŋ˩˥ kʷo˥˩lai˩˥]

Great, I’ll host. How long will you take to get here?

He was about an hour away; I grabbed a coat and hurried to the train.

Mandarin has more native speakers than any other language, 935 million. This isn’t counting the other completely separate languages that we think of as “Chinese” like Cantonese or Taiwanese. It’s one of the six official UN languages (with French/Russian/Arabic), and is spoken in China, Taiwan and Singapore.

While the one-child policy and selective abortion have left China with a “dramatic excess of young men” in the ~30 million range, this isn’t as hot as it sounds. Legally you can’t be too fierce in China, public opinion of gays is declining and you can’t show anything fun on Chinese hookup apps because of puritanical internet censorship. (You know, like on Grindr.)

I made it uptown and my comrade (同志 [tʰɔŋ˩˥tʂɨ˥˩], refers to gay males) answered the door in a jockstrap. He bade me to enter, 入 /ʐu˥˩/, a verb that can also be used for “fuck” in some rude expressions like 入你妈 [ʐɨ˥˩ ni˩ ma˥] “fuck your mother.” While this verb has a falling tone in Mandarin, this was not always the case.

Tonal languages generally arise from non-tonal ones, through a process called tonogenesis. In Middle Chinese, from around 400AD, this word sounded more like “nyip” and was distinguished from other words without the use of tone. Some consonants like this final /p/ are more easily pronounced with laryngeal gestures that also affect pitch. Like lingering emotional baggage, consonant deletion leaves phonological tone in its wake. Here’s an example of what this process might look like, and its effects on neighboring languages:

As you can see, Cantonese branched off before the /p/ caused the falling tone, today it still has the /p/ and its tone is low and flat. Vietnamese borrowed the word after the tone was associated with /p/ but before deletion, so it has both the /p/ and the tone. Mandarin has the tone but deleted the consonant.

In the bedroom, I got a better look at my friend. He had a smooth, slender body that glowed in the morning light. He wasn’t a twink (猴 /xoʊ˩˥/, “monkey”) or a bear (熊 /ɕoŋ˩˥/), but somewhere between a cub (狸 /li˩˥/ “raccoon”) and a muscle queen (狼 /laŋ˩˥/ “wolf”). Chinese gays even have a fifth category for average bodies like mine, the “babboon” (狒狒 /fei˥˩fei˥˩/). I don’t see it catching on here.

Having thrown my clothes to the ground, I plunked my host onto his futon and pushed his knees up to his shoulders. I looked down and exclaimed:

[ni˩ pʰi˥˩ku mei˩li˥˩ ja! kaŋ˥tsʰai˩˥ tʰi˥˩ lɤ pa]

Your ass is beautiful! Did you just shave it?

He hadn’t. It was completely flawless, not a pore or wrinkle on it, and it was entirely natural. I was reminded of the term 余桃 /y˩˥tʰaʊ˩˥/. It refers to gay men, but literally means “leftover peach,” a reference to a 6th-century poem that compares a gay lover to a bitten-into peach. I removed my tongue from my comrade’s peach and stood up:

[wo˩ joʊ˩ i˥kɤ pʷo˩˥tɕʰi˩, ɕaŋ˩pu˥˩ɕaŋ˩ kei˩ wo˩ ʂʰɤn˥xoʊ˩˥lɔŋ˩˥]

I’ve got a hard dick, you want to deepthroat me?

One word in this example, 个 /kɤ˥˩/, has no counterpart in English. Like many Asian languages, Mandarin has a set of “classifiers” that mark different classes of nouns, like if we used a word like “head [of cattle]” or “flock [of birds]” every time we specified a quantity. 个 is the default classifier, but we could have also used the “cylindrical things” classifier 支 /tʂɨ˥/ to quantify erections, if we want to talk about them as objects moreso than events. There’s also 朵 /tʷo˩/, used for flowers like 菊花 /tɕy˩˥xʷa˥/ (“chrysanthemum,” a euphemism for “anus”) and 条 /tʰʲaʊ˩˥/ for flat things like cumrags (see below).

We switched off with the blowjobs, but my heart wasn’t quite in it as I was still fixated on his ass. I reached over to his night table and groped around for what I’d need to top him. He asked:

[ni˩ na˥˩li˩ tsai˥˩ tsʷo˥˩ ʂɤn˩˥mɤ ja]

Whatcha doin’ over there?

The word order here is actually “you there are doing what?”; Chinese is a language that allows question words like “what” to remain in situ and not be moved to the front of the sentence. These languages are uncommon; most have a WH-probe that pulls question words to the left, leaving a trace behind. That’s why we can’t say “Who do you wanna come?”, it’s base-generated as “want who to come” and the trace  of “who” leaves a pause between “want” and “to,” in addition to the stain on the sheets.

[wo˩ ɕyn˩˥tʂaʊ˩ ʐun˥˩xʷa˩˥je˥˩, joʊ˩mei˩˥joʊ˩]
I’m looking for lube, is there any?

[kʰan˥˩ i˥ɕʰa˥˩, na˥˩pʲɛn˥ joʊ˩ i˥tʲɛn˩ ɕʰi˥˩tɕi˥ dɤ]
Look, there’s some lube over there.

As tight as he was, I had no problem getting myself in, or to use the horrifying Chinese phrase, “exploding the chrysanthemum” (爆菊花 /paʊt˥˩ ɕy˩˥xʷa˥/). It was one of my most pleasurable topping experiences; I didn’t even realize my face was stuck in “confused eyebrows” until I was putting my clothes back on after the fact. My comrade didn’t look as amused; while I was young and unprepared for the aptitude of his pussy, he seemed unchallenged.

[ni˩ ʂʰɤ˥˩ lɤ tɕiŋ˥ nɤ? wo˩ kei˩ ni˩ na˩˥ i˥tʰʲaʊ˩˥ maʊ˩˥tɕin˥]
You came, huh? I’ll grab you a towel.

There are two ways to shoot your load in Chinese. 射精 /ʂʰɤ˥˩tɕiŋ˥/ above means “to shoot your essence,” while the other is 打炮 (/ta˩pʰaʊ˥˩/ “to fire a cannon”) using 打, the generic verb like “do” or “faire” in French. What’s interesting is that 打 is literally “to hit,” but is used even for things like making a phone call (打电话 /ta˩tʲɛn˥˩xʷa˥˩/) to writing a text message (打短信 /ta˩tʷan˩ɕʰin˥˩/). Since that day, I haven’t gotten either from that comrade.

How to Talk Dirty in French: Morphosyntax and the Ménage-à-Trois
How to Talk Dirty in Russian: Distinctive Feature Theory and Screwing With Epaulettes 
How to Talk Dirty in Hindi: The Perceptual Vowel Space, Pussy and Rainbows
How to Talk Dirty in Danish: Laryngeal Features and Manmeat
How to Talk Dirty in Arabic: Nonconcatenative Morphology and Cocks