A dog might be “man’s best friend,” but alas the word for “dog” doesn’t always have a friendly meaning in Chinese, as the fashion house Christian Dior is finding out.
Dior just released promotional “lai see” red packets (used for gifting cash) for the upcoming Lunar New Year, which heralds the Year of the Dog. The packets are printed with just a single Chinese character, in gold. The character, pronounced “guo” in Putonghua, means “dog.”
Unfortunately, the same word is widely used to express anger toward someone or something. Some Chinese netizens have expressed offense. While dogs are the embodiment of honesty and loyalty in the west, most “dog” references in Chinese culture are negative.
“Guo pi” refers to some who talks bullshit, while other phrases include “guo niang yang” (“son of a bitch”), “gou nan nu” (used derogatorily about illicit lovers), and “guo guan” (a corrupt official). “Hanging a sheep’s head while selling dog meat” essentially means dishonest advertising. The most hated journalists are the paparazzi – or “gou zai dui.”
In Cantonese, the word “gau” for dog is even more of a curse word. Depending on the tone used, it can mean someone who cheats or be a synonym for the male genitalia.
Confusingly, when pronounced with yet another tone, “gou” means “longevity,” which is considered a pleasant greeting at Lunar New Year.
Poor Dior. In a country where dog meat is still openly consumed, it seems that, Year of the Dog or not, simply mentioning the word is fraught with sensitivity.