Mal calls the duel with Atherton “stupid” (Ep4, “Shindig” 34:55)

Chinese: 愚笨的 (yúbèn de)

Translation: foolish 

Context: After Mal unintentionally challenges Atherton, a master swordsman, to a duel, he is sequestered for the night. Inara comes to check in on Mal and give him some pointers on how to fight. Mal calls Inara a “whore” and they get into an argument, with Mal expressing disgust at the situation.

Usage: Yup, that’s how you use yuben de. Yuben on its own is an adjective that can mean “stupid,” as in “lacking sense” or “clumsy.” De generally indicates possession (我的书 means “My book”), but can also be used to link adjectives to the noun they modify, though it can often be omitted since it’s obvious and redundant. But some things sound better with the de between them: yuben is one of them.

Execution: Not bad at all!!! For Mal, could this be a breakout moment, after which he’ll realize that Chinese characters shouldn’t be treated as words (all of which are pronounced in the same fourth tone) and start to link connected syllables together? Tune in next week and find out…

Pronunciation: Mal gives a fairly reasonable pronunciation so I’ll let him bask in his glory and have you learn from him.

Kaylee says, “No way!” in a conversation about engines (Ep4, “Shindig” 25:20)

Chinese: 才不是 (cái bù shì)

Translation: No way!

Context: After getting rescued by an older gentleman (Murphy) from the pack of mean girls, Kaylee is the center of attention amongst a group of lads, excitedly engaging in some engine talk.

Usage: Cai bu shi is a sort of slangy Beijing way of saying “Hell no!” when you object to a statement someone else has made. Bu shi means “no” and cai, in this case (it usually means “until,” among other things) emphasizes your disagreement.

Execution: The incorrect falling tone on cai throws off the whole phrase and the rhythm is not there; Kaylee pronounces it as if cai, bu, and shi are three separate words when in fact bushi together means “no” and should be pronounced with less of a pause between.


Kaylee asks, “What?” (Ep4, “Shindig” 20:40)

Chinese: 什么 (shénme)

Translation: What?

Context: Mal brings Kaylee along to a ballroom party on Persephone in order to meet a potential client. Kaylee is wearing a dress that she had seen in a shop window earlier in the day. At the party, Kaylee approaches a group of fashionable-looking young women. After being subtly criticized by the group of girls, the ringleader of the group finally makes an insult that Kaylee can’t ignore, saying the dress looks like a store-bought one.

Usage: Shenme is a word that is used to introduce “what kind” or “what type” questions. For example, 这是什么? (“What is this?”); 你喜欢什么? (“What do you like?”); 你吃什么? (“What are you eating?”). Said on its own, it means roughly the same as in English: either the cool “What do you want (don’t waste my time)?” or the surprised/confused “What did you say!”/”What do you mean?” Implicit in the latter is that the asker wants the statement repeated either because they didn’t understand or because they are so flummoxed that they can’t think of a proper response and want confirmation from the speaker about what they said.

Execution: Oh poor Kaylee! She just wants to fit in, but those mean girls want nothing to do with her. Kaylee’s tone implies she’s more confused than flummoxed; she simply doesn’t know what they mean by “your girl” (that is, servant). If you add a little extra flutter to the end of your me, you indicate shock, but Kaylee’s tone is a flat, neutral one, indicating she’s still clueless and doesn’t get the implicit criticism just yet.

Pronunciation: Absolutely perfect on Kaylee’s part, but listen below in case you want to hear what an annoyed shenme sounds like compared to a surprised or confused shenme. It’s pretty much just like English. (1=What do you want? 2=Surprised. 3=Confused.)

Inara says “Crap!” (Ep4, “Shindig” 14:40)

Chinese: 狗屎 (gǒushǐ)

Translation: shit

Context: Inara accepts Atherton’s invitation to a ballroom party. At the party, after she is escorted around and says her hello’s, Atherton proposes that Inara stay on Persephone as his permanent companion. A moment later, she hears Kaylee’s name announced to the room: she and Mal enter the ballroom together. 

Usage: Clearly, the usage of goushi here is a callback to just a few moments earlier when our most cultured lady chided Atherton for using the same mildly profane word. However, whereas Atherton’s usage was correct: goushi is literally “dog shit” and used to describe worthless things or situations that have gone bad—in his case, Serenity and Inara’s life aboard it—in this case I’m not sure it works. Clearly, she’s surprised and annoyed at Mal’s appearance at her oh-so-proper event, what with his propensity for fisticuffs, but you probably wouldn’t call him showing up “dog shit.” Maybe if she were disgusted by having to deal with him or thought his appearance would mess up a valuable deal she had going on, it would fit better, but she’s registering more annoyance than repulsion. For situations like this where in English we’d say “Crap” as opposed to “Dog shit!” I’d probably go with the familiar tamade, the all-purpose aiya, the exasperated cao wo (“fuck me” ), or even gaisi (“damnit”), all of which have been previously used on the show.

Execution: Like Atherton, she pronounces it in a Taiwanese manner with an “s” sound as opposed to “sh” (in Cantonese it’s also said with an “s” rather than “sh”). Tones are flukey, but for some reason, I like her rendition better than Atherton’s.


Kaylee says “Thank you” (Ep4, “Shindig” 16:10)

Chinese: 谢谢 (xièxie)

Translation: Thank you.

Context: Mal brings Kaylee as his partner to the ballroom party that Inara and Atherton are also attending. Mal tells Kaylee to be on the lookout for Harrow, the man who has a smuggling job for Mal. Kaylee jokingly points to the buffet table, wondering if Harrow might be there. Mal grudingly consents, telling Kaylee to go ahead and eat, and Kaylee says thank you to her captain.

Usage: You say it when you want to say thank you. Probably one of the five essential phrases anyone visiting China should know along with “Hello" and "Where’s the bathroom?

Execution: So adorable. Though the tone on the second xie could be less pronounced (it’s usually said with a neutral tone), Kaylee pretty much nails it.


Badger says Mal has a stick up his ass (Ep4, “Shindig” 10:50)

Chinese: 屁股 (pìgu)

Translation: butt

Context: Badger, an underworld crony who previously walked out on a deal with Mal, invites Mal and Jayne in to talk about a new smuggling opportunity for a mystery bigwig named Harrow. However, Badger says that the man is pretty uptight and unwilling to work with a ruffian like himself. He thinks “pretentious” Mal will have a better chance with the man.

Usage: Heh, he said pigu. To me, pigu is a little kid’s word, which is why it sounds a bit odd coming out of a roughneck like Badger. But yes, it means your buttocks, and though I’m not sure there’s an equivalent idiom in Chinese for “a stick up your ass” to express how uptight the other person is, it’s perfectly clear what they’re doing here in this case.

Execution: The Cockney (or whatever it is) accent makes this even funnier. I bet a Chinese person has never heard quite this combination before. But all in all, not bad. The way it flows naturally from Badger’s mouth makes me think he uses the term liberally in his daily conversation.

Pronunciation: Badger says it close enough (you can listen to some of the pronunciations at Forvo to get the tone on the second syllable right) plus it’s pretty hard for me to channel my inner five-year-old today so I’ll leave it to him to teach you.

Atherton calls Serenity a flying piece of dog shit (Ep4, “Shindig” 14:10)

Chinese: 狗屎 (gǒushǐ)

Translation: dog shit

Context: Atherton proposes to Inara that she should give up her life as a nomadic companion and live with him. Inara is flattered, but does not outright accept. Atherton insults Serenity, calling it a flying piece of dog shit and Inara chides him for his language.

Usage: Goushi is literally dog excrement, but you can use it to insult anything you consider worthless junk. Your shoddy research paper is goushi, your car that won’t start is goushi, your boyfriend who won’t call you back smells like goushi. It’s not exactly a profanity per se, people don’t recoil in horror when kids point to dog droppings in the street and say “Look! Goushi!” but it’s a very visceral word (my body cringes a little and I can almost smell it when someone says goushi in a way I don’t when someone says “dog shit” in English), and if amongst polite company you would rightly chide someone for saying it, especially when using it figuratively to describe something they know and love.

Execution: Three times in the span of a few seconds! Atherton lets it fly. He pronounces the shi as si, which is a very Taiwanese thing to do. Otherwise, fine except for the incorrect tones, which frankly, don’t bother me too much here since he’s just dropping a short word seamlessly into an English sentence. What he’s saying is totally understandable even without proper tones.


Inara says hello to an old friend (Ep4, “Shindig” 12:20)

Chinese: 老朋友,你看起来很有精神。 (Lǎo péngyǒu, nǐ kànqǐlái hěn yǒu jīngshén.)

Translation: Dear friend, you look well.

Context: Atherton has invited Inara to be his companion to Persephone’s social event of the season. Inara agrees and Atherton is now escorting her through the ballroom. Inara says hello to a number of people including an elderly gentleman.

Usage: Lao literally means old, and though it can indeed refer to someone who’s old in age, when used to describe a pengyou (friend) it generally means “dear” or old in the “we go way back” sense. Jingshen is “spirit” or “liveliness,” so the sentence is not just a conventional greeting but also a statement that the friend looks physically well—both a statement on how much effort he took to dress for the evening as well as how healthy he looks for his age. 

Execution: It sounds like Chinese, which is half the battle. The rhythm is a bit halting, but overall quite good (especially if we’re grading on a curve—a curve that Mal has obliterated with his hilarious ineptness). The tones are actually almost all there too, but the incorrect falling tone of hen throws the second half of the sentence all out of whack. If she nails that tone, I’d have to say this would be one of the most fluent full sentences said on the show to this point. B+