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Chinese Slang Series – Lesson 6: 辣妹

August 6, 2011

辣妹 (làmèi, hot girl)

辣 (là, spicy) is a word that many people are already familiar with if they’ve been to China.  A lot of foreigners have learned this word the hard way, and make a habit of asking for their food 不辣 (bú là, not spicy).  When coupled with 妹 (mèi, girl), the term refers to an attractive girl. 

So how, exactly, did the term for “spicy” come to mean “physically attractive”? To begin to understand, we can look to the English analogue of 辣: “hot.”  While the Chinese word only refers to women, the language also has terms for physically attractive men-猛男 (Měng nán, masculine guy).

“Hot” refers most often to temperature, so how did it come to refer to an attractive person?  Well, when a human being notices someone attractive, their heart rate speeds up and their blood pressure rises, making them feel hotter. The same thing happens when we eat spicy food.  In English, spicy food is also termed “hot,” but in Chinese there are distinct words for heat and spiciness—the connection between the physical effects of 辣菜 (là cài, spicy food) and 辣妹(làmèi, spicy girl) is immediate and direct.

And here you can find an application of this slang from the Cheng & Tsui staff: