Bitch Day

08 Mar 2005

Happy International Women’s Day! Ummm, I guess I have some explaining to do about the title of this post. (It may be inflammatory, but it’s in the name of education.)

In China, International Women’s Day (March 8th) is called Èý°Ë¸¾Å®½Ú or, commonly, just Èý°Ë½Ú. That’s “3-8 Day” because of the date. (Quite a few Chinese holidays are referred to this way.)

The thing is, some misogynists took the name of the holiday and turned it into a derrogatory term for women. “Èý°Ë” in China (literally, “3-8”) means something like “bitch.”

The slang term Èý°Ë is special because it’s so easy. Numbers one through ten are one of the first things you learn when you learn a language, and 3 and 8 are especially easy in Mandarin (in my opinion) because the sounds are easy and they’re both first tone.

So there you have it… how “International Women’s Day” became “Bitch Day.” Sorry, ladies.

The “glory” goes to “Benny” for the inspiration for this post.

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John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

Comments

  1. 10-4, Good Buddy. We’ll celebrate here too. 😉

  2. hmmm I thought the term Èý°Ë was not native to mainland chinese. mainly used by taiwanese. I heard it was actually derived from english, “son of bitch”. I don’t have any resource to back up this definition. just a thought.

  3. Hui Mao Says: March 9, 2005 at 3:46 am

    I think dxw is right. People in Taiwan and Hong Kong were the first to use Èý°Ë as a derogatory term and with reform and openning, the usage of this term has spread to the mainland.

  4. John,

    Aptly named. No offense to my fellow Cantonese ladies, but I think I came across some of the “bitchiest” women (or should I say ladies with attitude.) when I worked in Central district in Hong Kong.
    Cheer!

    HuiMao,

    actually I’ve never heard of the term 3, 8 to describe woman, I only know of the Cantonese term “8 Po.”

  5. it doesn’t really mean bitch per se… more like a description of someone who likes to gossip and spread rumors (and possibly lies) around and generally just enjoying others’ miseries – i guess one could say the audiences of the jerry springer show are all very Èý°Ë 😉

  6. Luo Dawei Says: March 9, 2005 at 7:20 am

    I remember some students in Taiwan teaching this to me then giggling when I said it. Now I know. So how does ꛡ赡 (king-8-egg) come to mean S.O.B.?

  7. dxw,

    If 3-8 originally came from “son of a bitch,” it has morphed quite a bit since then.

    pooi,

    Yeah, I know it doesn’t mean bitch exactly, but what’s a better translation?

  8. Da Xiangchang Says: March 9, 2005 at 8:54 am

    “Bitch” is such an ugly, misogynistic word.

  9. I thought Èý°Ë was closer to “dumb (ɵ)” or “dense person” or “dumb act” and was sex indescriminate (and may be used in semi-friendly contexts), no?

  10. Anonymous Says: March 9, 2005 at 9:30 am

    sanba does roll off the tongue better than mugou, the literal translation.

  11. Kikko Man Says: March 9, 2005 at 9:40 am

    I’ve always gotent he impression that sanba isn’t completely bad and doesn’t become bitch until you add chou to the front… sanba might be closer to “broad”.

  12. bingfeng Says: March 9, 2005 at 10:27 am

    i don’t know 3-8 is used in this way in mainland china. mostly it’s a term we see in taiwan or hongkong tv.

    btw, the coolest way to say OK among chinese young people is OOO-PA.

  13. Growing up in China, I hated Èý°Ë¹. Since majority of the teachers at school were women, the school is closed for the day. Good news? Hell no, that means extra homework, usually followed with some dumb ass essay next day about “what did you do to celebrate women’s day”…

    I hated March 8th…

  14. I was studying Latin dance last month, and my co-workers got a good kick out of my saying that I was studying “samba”. Now I say “sanba-wu” (É£°ÍÎè) but they still laugh.

  15. When Chinese people explain to me what a “Èý°Ë” is, I’m usually reminded of the term “chicken-head” in English slang. Maybe that’s not quite right either though.

  16. scrappenthal Says: March 10, 2005 at 9:36 am

    Living in Taiwan, I must comment on this post. I have heard a completely different story for the term 3-8. Usually in Taiwan, a 3-8 refers to a woman (and sometimes a man) who is very naive or somewhat stupid. For example, if I go to the store to buy something really cheap, but assume it is really expensive, then I am a 3-8.

    The explanation I received from one of my Mandarin teachers was as follows. In the late 1800s – early 1900s, many “proper” and high-class women were not allowed out of the house. But, with a growing “modern” influence, the laws changed, and they were allowed to go out of the house on 3 days, the 8th of the month, the 18th of the month, and the 28th of the month. (Hence 3-8). These women had never been allowed to walk around before, and so they would go to the market, exclaiming in loud voices how “interesting” certain things were — just a sort of dumb naivete of the world around them. The lower class people would refer to them as 3-8s.

  17. Amongst us American-born Chinese, where it’s a mix of Taiwanese-Mainland and Cantonese types talking to each other, “san ba” is used like “bitch,” ie, “that girl is a san ba,” especially when talking about other bitchy Asian girls.

    The word has now also evolved (at least among my little group into into “er shi si” (24) because 3 x 8= 24. So calling someone a “24” is the same as calling them a “3-8”.

  18. 3 8 is really foreign to me, but we have 5 3 5 4 meaning a wacky behavior or doing a half ass job.

  19. Very interesting, scrappenthal. So that’s why I got that impression – I learnt the phrase from a Taiwanese girl. And since it originated from describing the high class “blonds”, it follows that Èý°Ë could be used in semi-friendly or self-derisive conversations.

  20. Scrappenthal’s teacher’s explanation is interesting, and I have no doubt he was really given it in sincerity, but as for actually believing it to be fact…

    Come on.

  21. Anonymous Says: March 10, 2005 at 2:20 pm

    as tactfully as possible, please offer a definition for the english slang term “chicken head.” i am not not completely certain i know what it means, and i’m sure many non-english (as native tongue) speakers don’t know either. thanks.

  22. “Chicken-head” is also a little tough to pin down in English. Here are some of the different meanings I came up with in a quick internet search. I actually learned some stuff in the process myself, but I think my underlying sense of the word remains the same. People might strongly disagree here that “san-ba” and “chicken-head” are synonyms, but they sort of give me the same feeling, and that’s what I was going on…

    1. (noun) An extremely materialistic woman
    2. (noun) Female always lookin’ for someones money
    3. (noun) Any dumb person (usually refers to women unfortunately) who clucks (speaks) alot, and walks around aimlessly or without purpose (like a chicken with its head cut off)
    4. (noun) Used when referring to females who perform oral sex on males, because of the motion of the woman’s head: back and forth, like a chickenhead.
    5. (noun) Crack addict, because many will perform oral sex to get free crack or money
    6. (verb) The act of head jobbin’
    7. (noun) A girl who’s not doing anything with her life or trying to
    8. (noun) a mutant with below-average intelligence (that’s from Philip K Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”

    This is a more extended explanation, taken from a great discussion of the subject here:

    1. Chickenheads like free stuff, and even though it¡¯s free, they still act as if they are getting over on someone.

    2. Chickenheads pretend like they don¡¯t have any idea how much something cost, even if it¡¯s supposed to be their favorite thing. And they always ask for help to pay for it.

    3. Chickenheads pretend they know, met, or have slept with the biggest star in town.

    4. A chickenhead will leave their kids with anyone just to go out and party.

    5. Some chickenheads will date two people in the same camp and still think that those two people respect them.

    6. Chickenheads will come to your party knowing they were the only one invited, but bring extra people.

    7. A chickenhead will sleep with a person one night and the next week act like they¡¯ve never met before.

    8. A chickenhead will ring your house phone, your cell phone, send messages to your 2way, over and over again, leaving silly messages, and then come knock at your door.

    9. A chickhead always thinks they¡¯re in charge.

    Sorry for the length.

  23. scrappenthal Says: March 10, 2005 at 9:12 pm

    John,

    Don’t forget you are talking about a country where a long time ago women from the upper class often were hidden indoors. They were not allowed to see any males prior to marriage (except for family members), and the marriage was arranged without either the man nor woman seeing the other. Therefore, I think it’s realistic that this teacher’s explanation is based on fact. With a country as large as China, it’s also possible that this (women only out on the 3 days of the month) might have only occurred in one area/city, but the word would spread to others.

  24. Women had their feet wrapped because they are not supposed to walk out of the house. A very frequentally used synonym for “my wife” was ÎÒµÄÄÚÈË(my inside person), or ¼úÄÚ.

  25. scrappenthal,

    I’m not questioning the part about women being “hidden indoors.” I’m questioning the part about them being allowed out on the 8th of the month (hence the link to Èý°Ë).

    I’m also not trying to say that the explanation I gave in my post was the correct one; I think enough information has come to light in these comments to make that etymology questionable at the very least.

    Some etymologies we’ll just never know for sure.

  26. I’d say it’s an urban legend. The only thing I’ve found online is a forum post that mentions a similar story, but the women are foreign, living in Shanghai, and they amaze the locals when they go out.

  27. [putting in the forum link keeps generating “questionable content” errors, so here’s a Google search – it’s the first result.

    A more likely explanation is that, just like ͬ־, the original meaning was subverted because of its connection to the communist mainland.

  28. In China prior to the modern marketing system, China, as was the case in the rest of the world, had market days established on certain days of the month. In China this was based on a ten day week, so every tenth day a market would be held in that town. A popular format was the 8th, 18th, and 28th. Hence the 3-8 category. As for as women are concerned, it depends upon the historical period as to whether they went out or not. During the Tang women were pretty free. Foot binding did not occur until the Sung, and really did not become pandemic untill the Ming, reaching its epitomy in Qing times. No matter what, among the wealthier families would let the buying be done by their maids. I suspect the story that scrappentthal tells originated from if the “women of the house” went shopping instead of the usual maid. As for originating the term, it has possibilities in that light.

  29. its funky how so many words in chinese are simply numbers like yi ling liu jiu(1069) which is casual sex or 8384 or wait these all have derogatory terms hey what about yi san pa isn’t that suppsed to be lucky? yeah!

  30. Èý°Ë is usually used in Mandarin. In Cantonese, one usually uses °ËÆÅ (at least, that’s the case in HK), and if Èý°Ë is used, it’s understood in some sense that you’re borrowing a Mandarin term.

    But yah, the fact that March 8 is Intl. Woman’s Day doesn’t escape my irony detector. 🙂

  31. Well I came looking for the meaning of “san ba” myself, to ensure that I had remembered it correctly. As I recall, when I visited Taiwan in a Mandarin immersion, “san ba” meant “dumb” or “dense person” as posted by Gin. That was one my teacher tolds us about as an insults and colloquialisms of the day. In that sense “dolt” or “stupid” may be appropriate. I know that it was not a common thing in Cantonese because my wife, who was born and raised in HK, never heard it before. It seems a few other mandarin speaking people I know weren’t aware of it either (though I wasn’t explicit about asking) so to me it seems a bit more recent and probably originating in Taiwan. Like that expression, “Not!”, which I first heard while I was there – it started in the U.S. and I’m just a “san ba” Canadian

  32. Fascinating thread. By sheer coincidence I’m currently editing an English-language novel in Singapore that uses this expression and I was looking for possible definitions for the glossary entry. In Malaysia and Singapore, “san ba” is pronounced and written as “sampat” and is used by all the races living here: Malay, Indian and Chinese. For the most part, the meaning of the term in Malaysia and Singapore is “crazy, dumb, stupid” and refers to men and women. It’s rarely considered insulting here. In perhaps its purest sense (having read the above posts) it is sometimes used here to mean a gossip and an unrefined or ignorant person, again not gender specific. I have never come across this term being used in Malaysia and Singapore to mean a whore or bitch but many Chinese words or expressions have morphed over the generations here.

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