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How (not) to inflate your social status in Chinese – 抬咖 (Tái kā)2 min read

29 March 2021 2 min read


How (not) to inflate your social status in Chinese – 抬咖 (Tái kā)2 min read

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The Chinese character – 咖 (kā) – is confusing.

Depending on where it turns up, it can mean ‘coffee’, ‘curry’ or even ‘big potato’.

There are two pronunciations – (as in coffee, 咖啡 – Kāfēi), and as in curry (咖喱饭 – Gālí fàn).

In the word ‘big potato’ (大咖 – Dà kā), it is actually not Chinese at all.

It’s from the Hokkien dialect (闽南话) which is spoken in Taiwan and Fujian amongst other places. In that language actually means foot (脚 – Jiǎo).

The word 大咖 was first a Hokkien dialect slang word meaning ‘top celebrity’. Confusingly, was used in this way because it sounds like the English word for ‘cast’ – of a movie.

So, from English to Hokkien, and then eventually to Chinese, the word become a popular slang word in Mandarin to mean ‘big potato’ – normally used to describe successful entrepreneurs.

If you are a Dà kā in China then you are an influential player, a big shot.

A number of other useful slang words have evolved from Dà kā, none of which will turn up in a Chinese-English dictionary – not even Pleco.

  • 咖位 (Kā wèi) – ‘social status’; normally used in entertainment and celeb circles. The higher your Kā wèi, the more influential and the better paid you are
  • 小咖 (Xiǎo kā) – ‘small player’; the opposite of big potato, insignificant
  • 抬咖 (Tái kā) – ‘lifting status,’ inflating one’s social status

This last one in English would be translated as:

‘you’re way out of your league’

‘don’t get above your station’

‘you’re getting a bit big for your boots.’ 

Tái kā is useful if you want to put somebody, who thinks they are a big potato but actually aren’t, in back in their place. For example, you might say:

别给自己抬咖了 – You shouldn’t over-inflate your status 

Other good ways to make the same point include

太高估你自己了 – [you’ve] really over-estimated yourself 

这么普通却又这么自信 – So average, and yet so confident. 

‘Average but confident’ is from the hilarious sketch by Chinese comedian, Yang Li (杨笠).

Youtube link here – it’s well worth a watch.

The most famous line which went viral on Chinese social media:

为什么他明明看起来那么普通,但是他却那么自信?Why can he be so confident even though he looks so average? 

‘Average but confident’ (普却信) is now a common phrase in Chinese, very useful to say you’re not impressed with someone who’s too full of themselves.

So, if you find yourself talking to a self-proclaimed big potato who isn’t what he or she says they are, then you can use one of these useful phrases to tell them you’re not impressed.

Good luck!

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