Puzzling out a Hong Kong bumper sticker

In Hong Kong’s “new town” of Ma On Shan, I spotted this eye-catching sticker on the back of a delivery truck:

Expat Lingo loafers prohibited photo

This was an image and meaning I simply had to deduce! Here is what is written on the sticker:

只為錢狂 嚴禁蛇王

(In pinyin, this is: zhǐ wèi qián kuáng yánjìn shéwáng. In fully simplified Chinese, this is 只为钱狂 严禁蛇王.)

Scrambling through the radical index in a traditional character Chinese dictionary takes some doing, but I finally had my translation. I thought the sticker must have something to do with hating snakes, but no, the message reads:

“Only for the money-mad; loafers prohibited”

No lazy moving men for this furniture company, apparently! 

Two questions for the language geeks:

  1. One Cantonese speaker from Macau told me that the sticker might have a double-meaning, with one meaning being an inducement not to catch wild snakes to sell for money. Any other takers on this theory? Sleuthing does reveal that “蛇王” in addition to meaning “loafer” can also mean “cobra.”
  2. Why, since the rest of the sticker is in traditional characters, is “只” simplified? The dictionary tell me that the traditional form of “只” is “隻.” Any insights?

For everyone else:

Isn’t this a much cooler image than the still ubiquitous (at least in Hong Kong) “baby on board” sticker? I have two children and yet the circa 1980s “baby on board” sticker simply makes me want to ram any car displaying it.

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As you read this, I am in Yunnan, China where the forbidden fruit of WordPress blogging (and Facebook and Twitter) are blocked by the patronizingly paranoid Chinese government. Too short a trip to bother with a VPN circumvention, but I’ll be back in touch soon.

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14 responses to “Puzzling out a Hong Kong bumper sticker

  1. My dad is a native Mandarin and Cantonese speaker and believes this sticker refers to people smuggling as people smugglers are called “king cobras” in Chinese so this says, “they are crazy for money, ban the people smugglers.”

  2. From my wife (native mandarin with help from Cantonese coworkers):
    The top four characters mean: “Only Mad for Money” or you can say” Only Money Mad”
    The bottom four characters mean: Lazy bumps (lazy people) Seriously Prohibited” or “No Lazy Bumps/sloucher”.

    Snake King, the last two character, usually mean king of snakes. However, in Cantonese, it also mean lazy people. I think it means “lazy people” in this context.
    I checked/confirmed with a native HK person.

    • Hooray! Glad my stab in the dark wasn’t completely off base. Thanks to you (and your wife and her coworkers!) for taking the time to look at this and offer your ideas!

  3. Regarding the character 只. The simplified character maps to two traditional characters:
    1) 只 when it means ‘only’.
    2) 隻 when it’s a counter for certain animals.

    So in this context 只 is traditional meaning ‘only’.

    • Ah ok! Interesting. Thank you for taking the time to explain. This makes sense (and is something that was not clear in any of the references I was checking: Pleco and a paper dictionary).

  4. I can’t help you with the Chinese but I have all the sympathy for the Baby on Board thing. I hate them! New trend here: making it personal. Apparently the sticker “Johanna on board” is much more effective than a generalized “Baby”. LOL.

  5. 只 is not a simplified word. The dictionary reference of traditional form might have meant the usage of the word instead of classical vs simplified version of the word. The word has different meaning depending on the context of the sentence and in this case it meant ‘Only’. The same word is also used to describe the number of animals in a sentence (as in 1, 2, 3 ‘只 ‘ dog etc) and is interchangeable with 隻. 隻 is mostly used in Cantonese in this case. Mandarin can use either one but I think 只 is used in more traditional settings.

    蛇王 translates literally to ‘snake king’. You’d likely see them on signs outside restaurants specializing in snake soup in HK. It is also a Cantonese slang for lazy bum or laggard. The Canto slang for human smugglers is 蛇頭 or ‘snake head’ and could be easily mistaken for the former.

    Based on the context of the words on the sticker I will have to agree with your interpretation.

    • Thank you very much for taking the time! The explanation that this form of ”只” is a traditional form is very interesting (and was not at all clear in the resources I was consulting: Pleco and a paper dictionary). Very helpful.

  6. Well, I agree with the first part of the statement that the “person” is crazy for the money (money hungry, greedy) – but I don’t know the Cobra King part and probably it’s a slang or colloquialism and not a literal translation. I do remember you said there are snakes where you live in HK. Just don’t sell them for cash, OK? Looks like there are some mighty harsh consequences.

    • Since the comments above indicate a few possible meanings, perhaps there is also a completely different meaning that can be deduced from Taiwanese-based Chinese speakers? Can your dad consult a few neighbors? 😉 I’m sure they’ll come up with 10 additional theories.

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