I’ve been watching the new Mandarin dubs of The Simpsons recently in Taiwan (here’s a few Youtube videos so you can hear what they sound like in Mandarin), and found that it’s the perfect place to pick up slang and Taiwan-isms. One such usage is that of the English letter K, which can have multiple meanings depending on where it’s used. These are well worth learning as they are commonly used in Taiwan, but not something you would find in a standard textbook.
The first meaning of ‘K’ is to hit someone, and is used exactly like 揍 (zòu) or 打 (dǎ) which mean to beat/punch. This usage most likely comes from the combat sports term K.O. (knockout):
Wǒ xiǎng K nǐ!
I want to punch you!
In the Simpsons episode pictured, Homer is saying:
Wǒ xiǎng zuò jǐ zhī qiúbàng K wǒ zìjǐ
I want to make some baseball bats to beat myself
To which Marge replies,
Qīn’ài de zàijiā K zìjǐ tài kěliánle
Dear, beating yourself up at home is too pitiful
Here’s a cute video lesson on Youtube that shows how you might use K in this way:
The second meaning of ‘K’, when used with the character for book, is to study:
This is extremely common among students, who might say:
Bié dǎrǎo, wǒ zài K shū!
Don’t bother me, I’m studying!
A place that students meet for studying might also be called the K書中心 (K書中心 K’shū zhōngxīn) ‘the study centre’.
As for where this usage comes from there are a few different thoughts –
Some say that it comes from the saying 啃書 (啃书 Kěn shū) ‘bite/gnaw book’, as it starts with a ‘k’ sound. 啃 means to bite or nibble on, so if you 啃書 it could be said that when you’re studying you are like a bookworm – in the books.
Another possible origin is simply the K sound from 看 in 看書 (看书 Kànshū), which simply means to read.
Hit the books
This is my favourite possible origin for this saying – take the first meaning of K above, to hit, and mix with the English saying ‘hit the books’ and you get K書.
Here’s another example of K書 seen at a Taiwanese supermarket. The sign reads 熬夜K書 (熬夜K书 áoyè K’shū) which means ‘stay up all night studying’:
A third common usage of K that you will hear is the K from K歌，which comes from Karaoke and KTV.
Another use for K in Taiwanese Mandarin is to describe gold.
K金 is a gold that has been mixed with other metals with varying purity levels and is cheaper to produce and buy. The K in K金 refers to karat/carat, the purity level indicator of a gold alloy that is often used to make jewellery.
These are the most common usage of the letter K in Chinese, though there are undoubtedly more. If you know of any others, or have spotted a mistake above then don’t forget to post a comment below.
Check back for further posts on the usage of English letters in Taiwanese and Chinese slang.