Cantonese expressions are not always filled with niceties. In fact, you could probably say the opposite about them.
Enter 小三 siu2 saam1, yet another kind of sexist term that describes mistresses. Literally “little three,” it refers to the “third person” who comes in between a couple — basically, “homewrecker.”
In Cantonese, “Homewreckers” used to be more commonly known as yi nai, literally “second milk” but often translated as “mistress” or “concubine.” Siu saam, which originated from mainland China, made its way into Hong Kong Cantonese vocabulary in the last decade or so.
Since then, the expression has penetrated everyday gossip as well as the pages of salacious tabloids. And it always, always refers to a woman becoming involved with a man in a heterosexual relationship.
Here’s what we think about this term, though. It takes two to tango — and when cheating occurs, it’s never just one person’s mistake. So why do we pin the blame on the woman, the “third person,” when really the man is equally at fault? In fact, you could argue that since the man is the one who’s breaking his commitment to his partner, that he should take a larger part of the blame.
But until society in Hong Kong wakes up to the everyday sexism we continue to perpetuate with these expressions, sadly siu saam seems to be here to stay.