In Peter Hessler’s (何伟) latest article for The New Yorker, China’s Reform Generation Adapts to Life in the Middle Class, there is a paragraph which reads:

The man swore in dialect: “The Devil’s own uncle knows! We are talking about those people upstairs—what if they sell their apartments, or if the elevator has to be fixed?”

I’m trying to figure out the original topolectical phrase for: “The Devil’s own uncle knows!”

Peter seems to be writing from Fuling, which should be 涪陵 by all accounts. The local language there should, theoretically, be considered part of the Chengdu-Chongqing subgroup of Southwestern Mandarin.

My guess for the “Devil’s Uncle” would be something like:

  • 阎王老爷

In case, the translation mistakes 爷 for uncle, somehow.


  • 阎王老爷的舅子

If we’re going for something with a bit of a sting for “uncle.”

Unless it’s just: 鬼都晓得; and I’m reading too much into this?

But that all seems a bit to convoluted for such a specific translation that doesn’t seem to be an actual English phrase.


  • 3
    "The Devil's own " means "extremely difficult or bad" North was expressing his skepticism toward the chance of the upper-floor residents would pay the elevator's maintenance fee. so 鬼都晓得(even ghost knows) doesn't sound right, I suspect 天晓得 (Only heaven knows) might be closer. Since it was a swear, may be the original pharse was 鬼知道
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Jan 12, 2022 at 21:24

1 Answer 1


I have a feeling you're reading too much into this and there's no equivalent in Chinese of such. It's mostly likely a slight witty aberration of the original expression.

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