Vietnamese Language Blog

Year of the Tiger – Talk about “Tiger” Posted by on Feb 7, 2022 in Culture, Literature, Vocabulary

Image taken and used with permission from Kandle Dart

In the Vietnamese lunar calendar, 2022 is called the Year of the Tiger or năm Nhầm Dần. Dần is positioned the third of the twelve Chinese/Vietnamese zodiac symbols, after the rat and the ox. In Vietnamese culture, the tiger is considered “chúa tể sơn lâm” (king of the jungle), a well-respected animal frequently mentioned in literature and is worshipped in some temples. The tiger is an animal representing strength, courage, and wisdom.


There are many words to mean “tiger” in Vietnamese. Let’s have a look.

  • Dần, cọp, hổ, hùm: all these words mean tiger.
  • Ông ba mươi: Literally means “Mr. Thirty” but figuratively means “tiger” in a respective way.
  • Chúa tể sơn lâm: Literally means king of the jungle but culturally means Tiger.

In some scenarios, being respectful, the Vietnamese may refer to a cọp (tiger) with the pronoun “ông” (Mr.) such as ông cọp.


This is tricky. You know the word “cọp” means tiger as an animal. However, it depends on the context, the same word cọp could mean something else. Here are some examples.

  • Coi cọp: “coi” means to see/look. “cọp means the tiger. Therefore, “coi cọp” means to see the tiger. Well, figuratively, it means to sneak in to see something for free.
    • Example: Đi coi phim cọp literally means to see the tiger movie. Figuratively, it means to sneak in to see a movie without purchasing a ticket.
  • Đi cọp: This means to hitchhike on a train or bus without buying a ticket.
  • Cọp dê: This is the French borrowed word “copier” (copy). However, it doesn’t mean “tiger goat” (when referring to an animal, means goat). It also doesn’t really mean “copy” but means to illegally copy instead.
    • Example: Bởi nó cọp dê bài tao nên mới đậu (he/she passed because he/she copied my paper)
  • Cọp cái: Literally means female tiger. Figuratively, it can mean a fierce lady with a negative connotation.


  • Hổ tướng (Tiger General) – It means the talented and courageous General.
  • Hổ quyền – When talking about location, Hổ quyền means the Tiger Arena, an historical site in Hue. When talking about the martial arts, Hổ quyền means a specific martial art with moves inspired by the tiger. See below YouTube for Long Hổ quyền, a martial art move in Vovinam (short name of Võ Việt Nam – Vietnamese Martial Arts; or Việt Võ Đạo – Vietnamese Way of Martial Arts)
  • Hổ cốt (Tiger bones): Many Vietnamese believe in the medical use of tiger bones as an aphrodisiac, to improve physiological reflexes. and reduce arthritis pain.
  • Rắn hổ mang: uhmm, not a tiger but a cobra, a fierce snake!


  • Hổ phụ sinh hổ tử: literally means a baby tiger is born from a tiger father. Figuratively, it means like father like son. Both have similarities of strength and courage.
  • Dưỡng hổ vi hoạn: literally means raising a tiger would bring disaster one day. Figuratively, it means nurturing people of poor character can eventually lead to disaster.
  • Một rừng không thể có hai cọp: Literally means a jungle can’t have two tigers. Figuratively, it means two leaders competing with each other in a circumstance causes harm.

Image taken and used with permission from Tram-Thien Le

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