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I want to describe people wearing clothing as totally indecent and obscene, for instance because the clothing doesn’t remotely cover the buttocks. I am not talking about ordinary mini skirts or hot pants, but about something like this.

I definitely want to sound judging and don’t care to be nice to the person in question, but I don’t want the word in itself to be vulgar/ unsuitable for use in writing. I checked dictionaries for 'obscene' and found 下流. My Chinese friend says 下流 is very, very bad and out of proportion and recommended 輕佻, but dictionaries say this means 'skittish, flippant, giddy, frivolous'. These words seem much too cute to me, almost like I am not scolding the person.

How to grasp the difference between the two words?

  • I would say 有失体面 for indecent, and 放荡/浪荡 (similar to bitchy, a very offensive word) for obscene. So: 甲的衣着有失体面,看起来浪荡。 – WDC Jun 19 '18 at 1:44
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    Why don't you care to be nice? – Rodrigo Jun 19 '18 at 3:23
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    @WDC If the Queen of England having an argument with a commoner, that would be 有失体面 (not befitting of one's status and reputation); 放荡 means 'wanton' , someone dress provocative doesn't mean she is wantonly acting out her desire – Tang Ho Jun 19 '18 at 4:00
  • Is there a reason not to use the common terms 变态 ('perverted') or 黄 ('dirty')? – lly Jun 19 '18 at 7:52
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    I'd say being a moral police in modern China already seems very out of place, if that's part of your motive. (I'm still not sure what's your relation with that person and why you'd be able to "warn" them from your point of view.) Also I very much suspect the item you linked to to be some type of cosplay costume intended for sex plays/special occasions as nobody should seriously wear it in daily lives. (This culture apparently also originated in Japan, which has things much more exaggerated than this.) Though of course it's also your freedom to say whatever you want to another person. – xji Jun 19 '18 at 16:05
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'Obscene' is not 下流(no class/ bad taste) or 輕佻 (frivolous)

One definition of obscene is 不堪入目 , it is used to describe perverted, immoral act or behavior

For example: Taking a child from his mother and claim it is all for enforcing the law (which is not true) is an obscene (不堪入耳- too perverted and immoral to the ears) argument

Another definition of obscene is 淫褻 or 不雅 (also means 'unsightly'), it is used to describe extreme sexually suggestive content or display

I would describe the skirt 不雅, 不堪入目 or 淫褻 if I was judgmental, but I rather call it 大膽 (bold) or 開放 (open)

暴露 (revealing) is also a fitting description of that skirt

Edit: from all the answers: "下流, 輕佻, 不堪入目, 大膽, 開放, 淫褻, 變態, 不三不四, 有伤风化" are all 'subjective opinions' (you can't say any of them is wrong, but you can disagree with all of them)

Only 暴露 is an 'objective description' (it is a correct statement based on fact. You can't argue with fact, that skirt does expose a lot of skin)

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下流 describes indecent action or person, sexually harass is the typical 下流的行为, a voyeur is a 下流的人.

輕佻(轻佻) is slightly literary, only used for woman, it describes her characteristic.

This word is not very popular in modern times due to the opening up of society.

For the picture in you question, I would say it is a:

有伤风化的衣服

People could imagine it immediately.

  • 輕佻 apply to men too. 做人輕佻浮躁 – Tang Ho Jun 28 '18 at 16:04
  • @TangHo It makes sense. – Jacob Jul 5 '18 at 14:15
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My Chinese friend says 下流 is very, very bad and out of proportion and recommended 輕佻, but dictionaries say this means 'skittish, flippant, giddy, frivolous'. These words seem much too cute to me, almost like I am not scolding the person.

How [does one] grasp the difference between the two words?

Sexism

You're not misunderstanding your vocabulary; you're misunderstanding the beliefs of the Chinese. Having talked this over with my Chinese friends, their understanding is that

下流變態的人

Xiàliú ('indecent, base') or biàntài ('deviant, perverted') de rén are objectionable men.

輕佻的人

Qīngtiāo ('flirty') de rén are women who take their social responsibilities lightly. Your photo can't be too objectionable because the woman is attractive; she's displaying herself openly and not being careful with her virtue, but she's nonetheless a prima facie object of beauty and grace.

The exact. same. outfit. worn by an overweight, aged, or otherwise unattractive woman would not be understood as xiàliú or biàntài and doesn't get the benefit of being considered qīngtiāo. They're just 噁心 (ěxin): 'nauseating, revolting, disgusting'. This is where Tang Ho's 不堪入目 (bùkānrùmù) comes in, which is why your teacher and friend didn't think of it. Your ultraminiskirt model is objectively not 'unsightly' nor 'hard to look at'.

不三不四

''Bùsānbùsì'' (lit. 'neither three nor four' meaning 'neither one thing nor the other, shady') is the closest you can get to being judgmental towards attractive women (also men!) without slipping into full-on animalistic slurs and swears.

露骨

The dress itself is tài lùgǔ de ('too open; blunt; lewd'). SXZM's 情趣用品 (qíngqù yòngpǐn)—lit. 'funtime product(s)'—is the Chinese for anything you'd find in a sex shop, incl. those cheap overly skimpy costumes. There's no strong tradition of strippers in China so, to describe the women who wear qíngqù yòngpǐn, you have to just say 'she looks like a whore' or—what they do have a tradition of—'she's xǐtóufáng de' (洗頭房的). She looks like she works at a 'shampoo place'.

  • I strongly believe that 輕佻的人 is incorrect in this answer, as least it has nothing to do with genders. – Alex Jun 27 '18 at 21:46
  • And you'd be wrong, so you should work on that. – lly Jun 28 '18 at 13:54
  • Note to OP: this answer is subjective / bias and misleading with some of the word's meaning. – Alex Jun 28 '18 at 14:40
  • 輕佻: baike.baidu.com/item/%E8%BD%BB%E4%BD%BB/9732891 – Alex Jun 28 '18 at 14:40
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    露骨 means 'obvious / undisguised' not suitable in this instance – Tang Ho Jun 28 '18 at 15:56
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maybe "情趣用品 (sex toys) 耶?" with "asking attitude"

imo, a "real" miniskirt would be described as 輕佻, at least, it could be wear in public.

the link you provided, it could only be wear before. . .

describe people wearing clothing as totally indecent and obscene

another word would be "變態㗎" (~abnormal), with disapproval attitude :)

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    Not sure 变态 can be applied here for my best knowledge in Mandarin and Cantonese. Usually 变态 is for describing people, not clothing. – WDC Jun 19 '18 at 1:49
  • then i must be 古老石山 lah :) – 水巷孑蠻 Jun 19 '18 at 2:51
  • btw, my suggestions are based on that "super-mini-skirt" of the link,not derived from the word "obscene" :) – 水巷孑蠻 Jun 19 '18 at 3:23
  • @WDC If the morality (more open or more closed) towards sex varies, thus will the word chosen, won't it? – Rodrigo Jun 19 '18 at 3:28
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    @WDC 变态 means 'perverted', it is an adjective, sure it can be used to describe objects like publications or clothing – Tang Ho Jun 19 '18 at 4:07
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In your case I think "猥琐" is nice to use, and it's frequently used in oral Chinese.

"轻佻" occurs more in classical or written Chinese, normally we would not speak it out.

"下流" is more about immoral behavior, less about clothing.

  • zh.wiktionary.org/zh-hant/%E7%8C%A5%E7%90%90 猥瑣,原指舉止扭捏、拘束、不自然;或形容人體貌、氣質不佳。貶義詞。 常同時有自私的表現。 猥瑣 is mainly a description of one's disgusting behavior, personality or physical appearance. – Tang Ho Jun 19 '18 at 7:06
  • further, as i think of, "猥瑣" is for male only, e.g. 猥瑣佬. absolutely not for female wearing such mini-mini-skirt :) – 水巷孑蠻 Jun 19 '18 at 9:05
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轻佻 describes flippant/brazen behaviors, e.g. 他的行为举止很轻佻, or a person in general.

下流 can be more widely applied and is also more usual in modern Chinese. A behavior can be 下流, so can a book, a word, a gesture, a video etc. Also it is almost strictly constrained to sex-related connotations.

Neither of the words sounds really appropriate in this context of describing clothing though, especially if you don't know the person well. You may say the clothing looks too 开放,暴露,有伤风化 etc., which are somewhat more neutral in their connotations. It's not really a problem of being "nice" or not as you described in your question; you'd sound outright unnatural if you used either of those two words in this scenario.

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