Homonyms of Hong Kong

Dictionary definition: two words are homonyms if they are pronounced or spelled the same way but have different meanings.  Chinese is a monosyllabic language, where a single sound represents one word.  Since there are tens of thousands in the everyday vocabulary, there are numerous homonyms, and this gives ample opportunity for intentional wordplay.

Yesterday, Ho Tsu-Kwok, the chairman of the Sing Tao Newspaper Group, delivered a speech.  He said that he was watching television, and he saw a well-known lawyer (大狀) declaring that one must have a conscience (note: the reference was probably to the moment of silence at the Hong Kong Legco; see post).  When he heard that, he picked up the telephone immediately and called a well-known lawyer who works for his group.  He asked: "Our company uses the services of more than a dozen lawyers.  If they all insist that they must act according to their consciences in their work, how will we handle all those lawsuits?"

The lawyer replied: "There are true as well as false consciences.  So which lawyer did you hear speak about having a conscience?"

"Oh, it was a Legislative Councilor who is a lawyer as well."

"Oh, but that was not a lawyer talking.  That was a politician talking."

When he heard that, Ho immediately remembered being told about a Chinese-run grocery store in Kuala Lumpur.  The name of the store was:


The three words are translated as respectively 'trust', 'rightetousness' and 'honesty.'  So he said that since the lawyer/politician spoke about having a moral conscience, he would agree that one must act with those three attributes.  At this point, he made a V sign with two fingers, and he pronounced again:


These three words sound exactly the same (in Cantonese) as the three previous ones, except that the last two words have been replaced by homonyms.  These three words are now transated to mean 'trust twenty percent.'  The audience totally got the joke and burst out laughing.

This particular speech was delivered in humor at an award ceremony organized by Sing Tao Daily and The Standard to recognize outstanding citizens.  It was not meant to be an attack on any specific individual(s).

It does point out that confusion occurs when indviduals have multiple roles, some of which have different professional or ethical standards.  In the case of lawyers, they cannot let their personal moral consciences interfere with their legal work, which may involve defending the most notorious and obviously guilty criminals.  The whole legal system would collapse if even just a few lawyers begin to let their own moral consciences influence their work.

Meanwhile, this would have been a hard joke to tell in English ...