In this series, we explore Cantonese expressions seen in everyday life and others with more obscure origins.
How do you describe someone, or something, that is demanding a lot of your time, attention and effort — and causing you to feel overwhelmed?
Enter chur3, an expression prominently used in Cantonese conversations. That’s despite it being an English word — one that has been completely made up by Cantonese speakers. It has no relation to the picturesque alpine town in Switzerland.
There is no literal translation into English for this word, which emerged sometime around 2010. It is both a verb and an adjective.
Here are some examples of how you can use it in a sentence: “My husband was being chur today — he kept forcing me to listen to his pointless rants.” “Our client asked us to turn around a 50-page report in an hour, and I had to ask them not to chur us.” “I had so many household chores to get through and errands to run, I felt so chur.” “The government won’t address our demands, so we’re forced to escalate the way we express our opinions — it is all so chur.”
Some schools of thought online say that chur came from local universities, where students undergo curricula that are exceedingly demanding. Others say that it is almost an onomatopoeia to describe that suffocating feeling you get from a nagging other half, who leaves you no room to breathe.
Although no one is quite sure of the origin of it, in many ways it relates to the hardworking mindset Hongkongers grew up with.
Perhaps we are constantly under so much pressure to deliver, to attend to things, and to handle matters in our personal and professional lives that we have lost the ability to come up with a sensical word in our own language to describe that over-the-edge feeling.
But who knows? If “add oil” made it into the Oxford English Dictionary, maybe one day chur will have its place on the world stage as well.