草 (Pinyin: Cǎo) is a commonly used term in modern-day Chinese culture, often as a curse word or negative expression. It is a popular curse word used by younger generations of Chinese speakers. A deeper analysis of the current use of 草 allows us to understand how traditional definitions are reconstructed and modified to become compatible with contemporary societies and cultures.
草 (Pinyin: Cǎo) is a phono-semantic character containing a semantic 艹 (grass/plant) and a phonetic 早 (early).
Dictionary Meaning, Application, and Examples
The meaning of 草 in old Chinese culture depends on the part of speech.
草 can be used as a noun or an adjective; however, regardless of its parts of speech, it is typically quite vulgar. When used as a noun, it has one literal meaning: grass/straw.
• When my relatives visited Texas for the first time, they commented that “得州有很多草地”—“Texas has a lot of grass fields.”
However, in popular culture, there are two popular definitions: the word “f*ck” (an instance of having sex) and marijuana/weed.
- When used by itself, “草” means “f*ck.” When I run into an unfortunate situation, I typically sigh (or sometimes exclaim) “草.”
- Similar to how weed is referred to as “that grass” or some sort of green plant/vegetable, Chinese people do the same.
When used as a verb, it is quite two-sided as well. On one hand, it can be defined as draft, write, or sketch.
• As a child, my mother always told me “去草你的作業!”—“Go write your homework!”
On the other hand, it is slang for vulgar curse words. In English, it can be understood to be used as the word “f*ck” or “sh*t.”
- If I mess up, I typically exclaim “我草!” (wo cao)—“Sh*t!”
- “我草” can also be used to exclaim “what the f*ck”.
- If someone is angry and cursing at someone, they could say “草你妈” (cao ni ma)—“f*ck your mom”
In Chinese popular culture, especially among the younger generation, 草 (as slang/curse word) is an indispensable part of the language. Similar to how the average American curses at least eighty to ninety times per day, the word 草 is a word used by millions every day.
You can find the use of 草 in basically any movie, book, or popular media that is Chinese.