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I had heard a husband refer to his wife in Cantonese as 師奶 (pronounced "see lai"). The way he said it sounded like an insult but I was told it's not a bad word.

How would 師奶 be described in English? Is it a word that carries any negative connotations? Would certain women be offended if they are addressed as 師奶? Is it ever appropriate to call a woman 師奶? Is 師奶 unique to Cantonese? Is there an equivalent word in Mandarin?

The impression I get is it carries the same weight as the Japanese おばさん (obasan), which Japanese women do not like to be called. Obasan means a woman has passed her youth (青春 seishun) and is now a middle aged "aunty" who is no longer attractive to men. Is 師奶 similar or different to this?

I'm not sure if 師奶 is a slang. If it's not, let me know so I can remove the tag.

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Yes, I do think it's strictly a Cantonese word. Many Chinese may not know the word unless they have a lot of exposure to Cantonese culture (for instance, Hong Kong TV series or films) –  user58955 Feb 8 at 19:38
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I know 師奶杀手 (auntie-killer) refers to a man who attracts older women with his boyish charm. –  杨以轩 Feb 9 at 7:31
    
I'm not Cantonese but I know the word. Mainland China has been greatly influenced by Hongkong's pop culture. –  hrzhu Feb 10 at 15:11

5 Answers 5

up vote 4 down vote accepted

"師奶(师奶)" refer to a married woman, and is popular used in Southern China. Is is rarely used in Mandarin.

師奶(「奶」字要讀高N音,同「拉」嘅音調一樣),太太嘅俗稱。主要係街坊之間用嚟打招呼嘅用詞。哩個詞語亦都可以用嚟取笑嗰啲唔多化粧,外表睇起上嚟土土地好似傳統家庭主婦咁嘅未婚女士,有所謂「師奶仔」嘅叫法。1

translate to Simplified Chinese "师奶(‘奶’字要读高N音,和‘拉’到音调一样),太太的俗称。主要是街坊邻居用来打招呼的词。也可以用来嘲笑不修边幅,看起来向像家庭主妇的未婚女士,这些未婚女士也会被叫做‘师奶仔’。"

translate to English "师奶,refer to 太太(太太 is not wife but married woman in here). It is often used among the neighbors. A makeup-free unmarried woman who looks like a housewife is mocked and called '师奶仔'. "

粤语维基百科

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I choose your post as the answer because the Wikipedia link answered all my questions. –  amateur Feb 9 at 4:54

From a Hong Kong person's perspective:

師奶 is indeed a term that is rather offensive to most ladies in today's context.

In my experiences, it tends to be used to refer to one or more of the below characteristics:

  1. Horrible lady drivers
  2. Ladies who love to gossip
  3. Housewives with too much time on their hands
  4. Bargain hunters
  5. Poor fashion sense, or wearing very "aunty" clothes
  6. Out of shape
  7. Loves mahjong, loves drama serials on TV

This is a link from Hong Kong's phrase dictionary.

Sorry it is written in Cantonese Chinese. I can try translate any parts of it for you if you want.

I would never try calling any lady a 師奶, at all. I will stick to 家庭主婦 (jiā tíng zhǔ fù), which means housewife instead.

And yes it counts as slang.

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Note: I'm only answering from my experience, so my extrapolation of meaning/connotation may not be completely correct.

師奶 (I'm not sure about the exact characters used, since the second character as a different tone than that of 奶) generally refers to a married woman, as stated here by Wiktionary. It generally has fairly negative connotations: e.g. uncouth, gossipy, etc. - perhaps the stereotypical uncultured housewife. (See this student feature in The Standard for some examples.) Thus, the term probably generally offensive if said to someone's face, although at times it might be used more neutrally, depending on the context. In this way, the term seems different from おばさん, given that the latter seems more of a comment on the addressee's age.

Judging from the first site, it seems to be chiefly a Cantonese term. However, I don't know enough informal Mandarin to be able to give an equivalent term in Mandarin.

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The word 師奶 is (1) exclusively Cantonese, (2) the equivalent of 太太 (meaning "Mistress", "madam" or "lady" here, not "wife") when used in a neutral manner, and (3) not a slang. It was used as a compliment in old Hong Kong (around WWII, for instance). The commentary from this blog (written by a book editor) says it well:

十九世紀初香港曾有一場反蓄婢運動,有心人成立反對蓄婢會,1933年出版了《反對蓄婢史略》。把書借了一看,從頭翻到尾,卻找不到有助解答的蛛絲馬跡。反而,在書中見到一個反映語言演變的有趣證據。

先施公司創辦人馬應彪夫人(霍慶棠),是當年大力推動反蓄婢運動的女將。這本書中提到馬夫人的名字,都稱為「馬應彪師奶」。今天的「師奶」近乎貶詞,令人聯想到貪小便宜、老土庸俗的女性,當年卻是可以登大雅之堂,可以印在書上的尊稱。

However, this complimentary usage is now lost, and the word is either used in a casual but neutral manner or as a pejorative to signify ignorant housewives.

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"奶" in "師奶" means a respected madam (夫人) in a family.

"師" means that she is a good model for other women. (又《玉篇》範也。敎人以道者之稱也。《書·泰誓》作之師。《禮·文王世子》出則有師。師也者,敎之以事而喻諸德者也。又《玉篇》象他人也。《增韻》法也,效也。《書·臯陶謨》百僚師師。《傳》師師,相師法。)

Hence we had the term "馬應彪師奶".

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