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The word "irreverent" is often used to describe someone who can be sarcastic or biting but in a positive, humorous way. For instance, David Letterman is considered an irreverent comedian.

Dictionaries list 不敬,褻慢,輕慢, but these all seem to be derogatory terms.

What's the appropriate equivalent in Mandarin and Cantonese?

4 Answers 4

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玩世不恭

to trifle without respect (成语 saw); to despise worldly conventions; frivolous;

大卫莱特曼被认为是一位玩世不恭的喜剧演员。

玩世 = 玩耍人世 - playfully lives one's life/ treating the world

不恭 = 不恭謹 - disrespectful/ not serious

My personal favorite Dr. House is a typical 玩世不恭者 If you can treat life like a game, you obviously have some great ability or talent

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  • While 玩世不恭 is not a bad choice, I do think it has different connotations than irreverent, especially in this context. 玩世不恭 is traditionally a derogatory term. Also, it means not only to disrespect established authority and conventions, but also to treat life itself like a game, often in a cynical way. Lastly, 玩世不恭 is often used to describe a certain type of characters who spend money lavishly and womanise, so it's a little loaded.
    – EEQ
    Aug 3 at 14:51
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In this particular case, I think irreverent is less about directly disrespecting someone but rather a disregard of social norms and taboos. Therefore 不拘世俗/不循规拘礼/不羁 (and other similar words) are a good translation in this context. In general, you can also use 纵意/率性 etc to convey that a person disregards social norms. 脱略 is a good one, but is not very commonly used in mordern Chinese. These all have neutral to positive connotations.

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In addition to the primary meaning (lacking proper respect or seriousness), "irreverent" also means Lively and humorously cheeky or forward; and also, relates to the word "satiric". So I think the term in Mandarine should be "愛嘲諷的", or "愛挖苦的". I've no knowledge of Cantonese though.

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How about 挖苦?

不要挖苦我了。
don't dig the bitter things from me
Don't be sarcastic!

Greek sarkasmos "a sneer, jest, taunt, mockery,"

basically, a lack of respect.

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