Cantonese Phrase of the Day – Thank You

Nei hou.

We learned to say “hello” – or more accurately, “how are you?” Nei hou.
We learned how to say “I’m good.” Ngo hou.
Now we should know how to say “Thank you”.

唔 該 M goi. Note, m goi is can also be “please”, and “excuse me”.

The Jyutping for m goi is m4 goi1. M4 is a level mid pitch tone, just as you might think, like “mmm good”, but don’t hum it like you would in the Campbell’s soup commercial.

Goi1 sounds like Boy or Goy. It is pitched higher than m4.

If you are saying thanks, but you want to say a bit more, like “Thank you very much”, add saai3. 晒 Saai sounds like “sigh-ee”. The pitch rises and the last syllable is elongated. Thank you very much – M goi saai.

M goi and m goi saai are informal, casual. As noted, m goi can also mean “please”. Like, m goi, pass the sugar, or pass the sugar m goi. It can also mean “excuse me”. If you need the waiter, you might speak out, “M goi.”

In an interesting linguistic twist, m literally translates as “no” and goi as “should”. Combined they directly translate to “shouldn’t”, as in, “Oh, you shouldn’t have.” Hence, it becomes, “Thank you”.

If you are in a formal situation, or addressing someone with seniority, you may wish to say,
多 謝 Do1 ze6. This is literally “Thank you” in a formal way.

Do1 sounds like “dough”. It is high pitched and level, though it ends abruptly – the “o” does not linger or trail off. To the western ear it may almost sound like “dough-t” with a soft “t”. Ze sounds like “shay” – a soft “z”. The pitch rises and the e (sounding like “ae”) is elongated.

As with m goi, you can add saai to do ze – Do ze saai. This is a very formal “Thank you very much.”

A little cultural note: Perhaps you want to get some sugar. You might point at the sugar and say, “m goi saai”. However, pointing can be tricky. If you want the waiter and point at him saying, “m goi” – you probably just pissed him off. A point of this nature is aggressive. Generally, never point at people. In a similar way, a hard stiff-fingered point at the sugar can be seen as an aggression toward the person from whom you are requesting the sugar. In this case, the arm, hand, and finger should be relaxed – a sort of casual indication of the item.

As noted yesterday, “m” is not the number 5, as I was originally taught. As we just learned, it is “no” or part of “Thank you”, “Please”, or “Excuse me”.

So let’s take a look at another number.
1=壹 jat1. I was taught that 1 is Yut. Jat sounds very much like yut. You might think of it as either yut with a hard y, or jat with a soft j. It is a sound somewhere between the two. Additionally, instead of the soft “u” often used, it is closer to soft “a” like in “ah”.

Given that translations are Romanized, and Romanizing has been organized under several standards, such as Yale, Jyutping, Pinyin (usually reserved for Mandarin) if you write “yut” you may not be understood. It does not fall into any of these standards for the number 1. The closest might be “yt”, which is Pinyin for one.

As such, though we think of it as “Yut Jeet Kune”, it is more correctly Jat Jeet Kune. Would you be faulted for using Yut? No. This slur has become rather pervasive. Languages, and translating them, are dynamic.

Sifu Keith Mosher

About Sifu Keith Mosher

My new book, "Astro Boy, Sensei, and Me" is available now, as is my Sci-Fi joy ride, "On a Sphere's Edge". I have a Bachelor of Media Arts degree from USC. I have been an Audio Producer / Engineer, a Law Office Manager, and I am currently an Author and a Martial Arts Instructor.
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