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



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


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

  • 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, 2022 at 14:51

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.


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.


How about 挖苦?

don't dig the bitter things from me
Don't be sarcastic!

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

basically, a lack of respect.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.