The Fun of a Naughty Pun: 草泥马 Cao Ni Ma

UPDATE 16 March 2009: The original 草泥马 “Grass Mud Horse” children’s chorus video below was removed from YouTube, but reposted here by Rebecca Mackinnon. Also of interest: 12 March NYT article “A Dirty Pun Tweaks China’s Online Censors.”

This adorable video features Chinese children singing on top of an English Oxfam/Mastercard ad. The word for alpacas, cǎonímǎ, 草泥马, literally “grass mud horse” when sung, sounds just like  càonǐmā, 操你媽, “f*ck your mother.”

From a Singapore Angle points out how respect for elders and ancestor worship colors Chinese swearings:

The Chinese believe that to directly insult a person’s character (the Anglo-American way) or belittle his abilities (the Japanese way) are not the best methods; rather only by abusing the person’s elders and ancestors can the biggest insults be achieved. For this reason the “national swears” of the Chinese: ta ma de (他媽的; lit. “his mother’s…”), cao ni ma (操你媽; lit. “—- your mother”), etc., all do not directly abuse the person being swore at, but abuse the person’s mother; cao ni nainai (操你奶奶; lit. “—- your grandmother”), cao ni zuzong (操你祖宗; lit. “—- your ancestor”), etc., on the other hand, are intensified versions of cao ni ma.

But we’re not just talking about curses here. The video, which is becoming increasingly popular, is basically a commentary on the frustration of political censorship. (via Ethan Zuckerman writing up a talk by Rebecca MacKinnon onWorldchanging.) China Digital Times has an in-depth write up of the lyrics, which offer a coded song of struggle with internet censors, represented by “river crabs” 河蟹 héxiè, a homophone for 和谐   héxié “harmonious.”

If you want more, Ten Legendary Beasts of Baidu offers up other species whose names map to juvenile puns for curse words or genitalia.

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4 Responses to “The Fun of a Naughty Pun: 草泥马 Cao Ni Ma”


  1. 1 First dog March 17, 2009 at 9:31 am

    This is how it happens in China, things are told indirectly, but they are told anyway. This is good to see that in China too, people are able to stand up for their rights.

  2. 2 RaiulBaztepo March 30, 2009 at 12:23 am

    Hello!
    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language 😉
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

  3. 3 PiterKokoniz April 8, 2009 at 7:34 am

    Hi ! 😉
    I am Piter Kokoniz. Just want to tell, that your blog is really cool
    And want to ask you: will you continue to post in this blog in future?
    Sorry for my bad english:)
    Thank you!
    Your Piter

  4. 4 web page September 6, 2013 at 7:33 am

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