My favourite way to learn Vietnamese is to focus on its slangs — they make Vietnamese people laugh when I say them, they reveal the taboos and tacit anxieties of the culture, and of course you can hear them spoken in the bars and raucous cafes from the lips of roudy, uncensored people having fun.
Learn these 12 common Vietnamese slangs, not only for their only sake, but also to learn the broader lessons they encapsulate about Vietnamese culture.
- 12) Đỉnh Của Đỉnh – “Best of the Best” in Vietnamese
- 11) What Does “Hãm Lồn” Mean in Vietnamese?
- 10) Vãi đái – A Vietnamese Slang for “F**king Awesome!”
- 9) Chín Xáctly – Slang for “Exactly” in Vietnamese
- 8) Cục Cứt – How to Say “Sh*t” in Vietnamese?
- 7) Gấu – Slang for Boyfriend/Girlfriend in Vietnamese.
- 6) Bánh Bèo – Vietnamese Slang for a High-Maintenance Woman
- 5) Con Ông Cháu Cha (COCC) – The Vietnamese Slang for Untouchable
- 4) What are Hót Gơ / Hót Boi in Vietnamese?
- 3) Mặc Kệ Nó – “Whatever” / “Let it be” in Vietnamese
- 2) Đưa phong bì – How to “Pay Someone Off” in Vietnamese
- 1) What is DM in Vietnamese?
- How to be Polite in Vietnamese?
Some of these slangs are considered offensive within polite company, while others can be spoken anywhere with anyone. Learn more about Vietnamese norms about politeness and speaking with elders before you mistakenly use these in inappropriate situations.
12) Đỉnh Của Đỉnh – “Best of the Best” in Vietnamese
Pronounced like ding kew-ah ding, where each word has the low-pitch tone denoted by the ỉ/ủ diacritic (learn more about Vietnamese tones here)
The expression means “best of the best”, and can be used congratulate someone on an achievement or a welcomed surprise. For example, you could reply a hearty “Đỉnh của đỉnh!” to any of the following statements by one of your friends: “I just got promoted!”, “My baby can walk!”, “Try some of this awesome food I made!”
You can also use đỉnh của đỉnh as an adjective to describe some thing that is surprisingly good, like when you see a good movie, or taste something really delicious. This is an excellent slang for foreigners to know, because you can use it to delight anyone who provides you will good service.
Per-word, đỉnh của đỉnh literally means means “top of top”:
- Đỉnh – top
- của – of
- Đỉnh – top
Note, you cannot use this expression for bad surprises; for those, see “Đụ Má” below…
11) What Does “Hãm Lồn” Mean in Vietnamese?
Hãm Lồn is pronounced like ham luh where luh is just the Vietnamese sound for the letter “l” — they choose say l instead of the full word lồn, because the full expression is so gross to verbalize.
Hãm Lồn is a very inappropriate slang which describes someone very bad who disgusts you in the most grievous way, like saying “bl–dy c-nt” in American English. The full version is very offensive, but some versions are more acceptable and can be used in more delicate situations:
- Hãm – acceptable infront of most people, including elders and colleagues.
- Hãm luh – this truncated version is okay to use in public with people of your own age or younger.
- Hãm lồn – offensive version, only to be used in very informal settings, when you are extremely upset. Use sparingly.
The expression literally means:
- Hãm – Stuck/can’t move;
- Lồn – bad word for odorific female nether-regions.
Did you have a bad day? Suffer some bad event? Did a fiend cross you in a horrible way? Well, furrow your brows and say “hãm luh!”
10) Vãi đái – A Vietnamese Slang for “F**king Awesome!”
Pronounced like vie die? with an up-tone on the second syllable (đái)
So freaking good! So f**king awesome! So frickin’ cool. If you really want to emphasis an adjective, just add vãi đái after the adjective. For example, “so freaking beautiful!” would be đẹp vãi đái.
“Vãi đái” literally means something like: it is so [insert adjective] that I peed my pants. That may sound strange when translated literally, but it effectively has the same saucy meaning as placing a “f**king” or “frickin” before an English adjective.
Learn more about this rude and crude and fun slang on our post dedicated to Vãi đái, including polite variants that you can use more routinely.
9) Chín Xáctly – Slang for “Exactly” in Vietnamese
Audio Pronounced like chin sa kuh lee, which is a portmanteau of chính xác and exactly
One of our favourite types of Vietnamese slangs is the blending of Vietnamese and English, the latter being like a secret language among the youth to circumvent the piqued ears of older listeners.
Chính xác means “exactly” or “precisely”, and can be used in the confirmatory way as “yes, that is correct” or “yes, that is precisely correct”.
Chính xác is pronounced like chin? sac? with an uptone on either syllable. Some clever Vietnamese student blended them with exactly to yield Chín xáctly. The slang is only used by Gen-Z’ers or younger, for whom English is quite common. So, as a foreigner, it may be best to learn the full expression Chính xác as way to say a hearty “yes!”
8) Cục Cứt – How to Say “Sh*t” in Vietnamese?
Cục Cứt is pronounced like kew(k) kuh, with a short-down tone on the first syllable (and almost inaudible k) and the cuh is just the Vietnamese sound to represent the letter “c”.
This vulgar expression is used liberally to describe things that aren’t very good, like the English word “sh*t“. You can use it to described shitty music, shitty food, shitty movies, shitty colour-combos, and even shitty people. It is less offensive than Hãm luh, but still should not be used among polite company or older people.
The full expression cục cứt is nasty on the ears, whereas the truncated version, which replaces the second word cứt with cuh (the Vietnamese spoken-version of the letter “c”) is slightly less offensive, so stick to saying cứt cuh (listen to the audio above)
7) Gấu – Slang for Boyfriend/Girlfriend in Vietnamese.
Pronounced like gow? with an up-tone.
One cute Vietnamese slang for boyfriend and/or girfriend is gấu which means “bear”.
- Có gấu chưa? – Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend yet?
- Hôm nay dẫn gấu đi ăn – Take the bear out to dinner today
If you want to learn the proper way to say boyfriend/girlfriend/lover, see our post dedicated to the topic: “How to say boyfriend/girlfriend in Vietnamese?”
6) Bánh Bèo – Vietnamese Slang for a High-Maintenance Woman
Bánh bèo pronounced like bang? bee-ow, with an up-tone on the first syllable (bánh), and a long down-tone on the second syllable (bèo).
Literally, bánh bèo is a delicious little Vietnamese dish consisting of a steamed-rice cup with a savoury proteinaceous interior. It is also a slang for a high-maintenance woman who is “too much”. The stereotype is that she is overly concerned for her appearance to an extent that creates an inconvenience for those around her (like wearing high-heals to a hike). She is overly-demanding and condescending of the servant-class; she thinks very highly of herself; and her problems become everyone else’s problems. Imagine an exquisitely dressed lady yelling at a waiter: that is a bánh bèo.
How did the bánh bèo, the delicious little rice-cup, become synonymous with a self-centred princess? It could be due to the association between bánh bèo and Huế: the once-imperial capital of Vietnam and centre for high-society. Huế is famous for its refined and sophisticated traditional manners, like the Vietnamese version of Victorian England.
However, we found the people of Huế to be extraordinarily nice and polite, which is why we rated it one of the most underrated places to visit in Vietnam — the opposite of a condescending and mean bánh bèo! So… the origins of the slang are a mystery.
5) Con Ông Cháu Cha (COCC) – The Vietnamese Slang for Untouchable
Pronounced like con ung chao? chah, with an up-tone on the third-syllable cháu.
There is no English equivalent for Con ông cháu cha, which is often abbreviated as COCC and pronounced as “coh-cah”. The nearest approximation in English could be “princeling”, or “untouchable son of a mob-boss” or “bratty son of the CEO”.
COCC refers to someone at work with high-ranking familial connections, so they can do whatever they want, to whomever they want, without consequence. Their colleagues are nervous around them — the COCC can use their connections to make their lives miserable.
Employees will derisively warn each other through secretive texts about who is a COCC and should not be messed with, least one incur their wrath. Not surprisingly, these COCC’s are stereotypically spoiled, petulant, barely competent, and don’t have a hard time accruing wealth and status.
The words’ literal meaning is as follows:
- Con – child
- Ông – grandfather (or some senior man)
- Cháu – grandchild
- Cha – father
If the above patrilineal sequence of words seems confusing — well, you’ve got a lot to learn about Vietnamese! In any case, watch out for the coh-cahs at work and don’t upset them.
4) What are Hót Gơ / Hót Boi in Vietnamese?
Hót Gơ, Hót Boi
These English-inspired slang-words for attractive people are super-fun to say — trying saying them with an exaggerated Vietnamese accent, like in the above audio.
- Hót Gơ sounds like hot gu(rl) with a french “u” and suppressed /rl/. Mind the up-tone on hót.
- Hót Boi sounds like hot boy — duh!
3) Mặc Kệ Nó – “Whatever” / “Let it be” in Vietnamese
Pronounced like ma ka nuh? with two short down-tones on the first syllables (mặc kệ) and an up-tone on the third syllable (nó)
Mặc Kệ Nó is a useful Vietnamese slang that can be used as a drop-in for a variety of pacifying expressions in English, including: “let it be”, “let it go”, “ah nevermind”, or “yeah whatever”. For example, when something annoying happens to you, you can look up to heaven and ask ‘why hath thou forsaken me?’ or just sigh under your breath and say ‘mặc kệ nó!’ and let the matter go.
Or, imagine you are with two friends who are unproductively arguing and you just want to move-on from the matter: you can instruct them to “mặc kệ nó” and drop the matter.
Does the phrase sound like a Hawaiian word or an English nut or Scottish Clan? It show — in fact, the youthful invention of the phrase mặc kệ nó arose as a playful variant of the official expressions “Kệ nó đi” and “Kệ mẹ nó” (a cuss-word), both of which mean “let it go” in Vietnamese. The hip Vietnamese youth invented “mặc kệ nó” because it sounds fun and vaguely English/foreign. It reminds me of Macadamia nuts.
2) Đưa phong bì – How to “Pay Someone Off” in Vietnamese
The expression is pronounced like du-uh phung bee, with a down-tone on the 3rd word (bì). The expression translates to “give him the envelope”:
- Đưa – give
- phong bì – envelope
What is in the envelope? Money. To whom are you giving the envelope? Someone important who needs an extra incentive to do something for you. Also, there may not literally be an envelope, but perhaps you give them something nice and rare like an authentic Scotch Whiskey.
1) What is DM in Vietnamese?
Đụ Má is pronounced like Do! Ma? with a short down-tone on the first syllable (Đụ) and up-tone on the second syllable (má).
Perhaps the most popular and versatile slang in Vietnamese is DM or Đụ Má. It is the Vietnamese equivalent of “Mo Fo”: in the same way that Mo Fo is truncated-abbreviation of the infamous English cuss-word “mother f**ker”, so too is Đụ Má just the letters of a more offense Vietnamese expression “địt mẹ”, which translates literally to “mother f**ker”,
We have a whole post dedicated to delightful slang: What does Du Ma mean in Vietnamese?
It can be used for both good and bad surprises, people, events, situations, etc. For example, if your friend texts you and says “I got a promotion!”, you could text-back “DM!” as an exclamation of joy and wondrous surprise. However, if your friend texts “I got fired!”, you could also replay “DM!” as an exclamation of shock and dismay. This is almost exactly like in English, in which expressions like “Holy F***!” can be an expression of joy as well as an expression of dismay.
However, like most Vietnamese slang, this should not uttered within earshot of an elder or high-status person.
How to be Polite in Vietnamese?
After learning fun slangs and offensive lingo, you should balance your lessions with tips about how to be polite in Vietnamese. For example, being polite in Vietnamese is not just about avoiding improper cuss-words and slangs and smiling pleasantly, it is more active in terms of: sentence completion, using appropriate honourifics, and adding linguistic garnishments like Ạ.
Therefore, in the presense of elders, the worst and most-offensive slang to not complete your sentences.