I've read an article which says that "Mao Li" in cantonese means "fool" in English.

What is the mandarin equivalent of "Mao Li"?

MandarinTools does not seem to return any useful results for Cantonese look up of "Mao Li".

3 Answers 3


It is one of the obscene language in Hong Kong. It can be write as 茂利/茂李 (mau6 lei2 in cantonese, Màolì in mandarin), sounds like an English word "mullion" In Cantonese, we use the word to describe a man standing still like a pillar, later use to describe stupid person.

Reference from https://hk.knowledge.yahoo.com/question/question?qid=7008062100602, I did a simple translation on the important parts

是由20世紀初,英國人在香港教中國人建築而來。 當時英式建築有好多大型窗戶和陽台,例如港督府, 這些窗戶和陽台的主要支柱,英文叫mullion。 當時的mullion全部都是使用很粗大的木柱,但只有立著的才叫mullion, 橫的叫transom。當時香港人又不懂英文,聽見那些洋人指著一大根木桿猛叫[mullion] 漸漸就學著叫[茂利],意思是一根根木棍或木柱, 就像傻愣愣站著的人,後來變成用來形容一些愚鈍之人。

  • If "mao li" is actually in mandarin, why doesn't the term show up on Nciku nciku.com/search/all/pinyin/maoli ?
    – Pacerier
    Apr 14, 2014 at 5:18
  • Sorry for late reply, have been hospitalized for whole week... As a Hong Kong Citizen who speaks Cantonese everyday, I can say that 茂利 is not a daily used word, and normally obscene language will not be put in dictionary in China or Hong Kong Apr 23, 2014 at 14:34
  • Wow China censors even hit the dictionaries?
    – Pacerier
    Apr 24, 2014 at 10:52
  • I don't know if there are censors or not, but 茂利 or other obscene language is in spoken Cantonese, not for written, it is not common to found spoken words in dictionary. some common phrases and words in spoken language like 咗, 嚟, 嘅 cannot be found in printed dictionary too. (Cantonese is quite different in spoken and written) Apr 24, 2014 at 12:09

You're probably referring to 無厘頭 (mou4 lei4 tau4), which in Cantonese refers to something illogical or nonsensical and gave its name to a genre of surrealistic comedy.


@Newman's answer about its origin should be right. "Mao Li" has the meanings of "fool" and/or "stupid person".

And it also means "jerk", "bitch" and/or "son of bitch". In my opinion these meanings are used more often. When two people (Cantonese speakers) are quarreling with each other, one may say "你条茂李!", meaning "you son of bitch!"

"Mao Li" is used in Cantonese context. No one uses it in Mandarin context, though you can write it down as "茂李" and pronounce it in Mandarin.

Mandarin equivalent of "Mao Li" can be "傻逼"(fool) or "贱人"(jerk, bitch, son of bitch). Attention! These are dirty words! Everyone should not use them in formal (or informal) occasions.


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