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The Chinese words you need to know in 2021
Slow Chinese 每周漫闻
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Two year-end lists of popular slang and internet words were published on Monday and Wednesday. Here they are in Chinese:
Sohu: 2021年十大网络用语发布，“ 觉醒年代”“双减”等上榜 (top Internet words)
Yaowen Jiaozi: 《咬文嚼字》编辑部发布“2021年十大流行语” (2021 in 10 words - more interesting)
There are a total of sixteen words in both lists. I wrote about them in my favourite source of China news, SupChina!
See link to the article below.
I’m sticking with the ‘words of the year’ theme for this conversation in what you’ll read below:
My five favourite words from the year-end lists - taken from the SupChin article
Words that netizens say should be on the lists but weren’t
And some of the more interesting comments social media about the lists
Finally, in the recommendations at the end, I share another Substack newsletter for advanced learners of Chinese who want to improve their reading skills, which complements this newsletter nicely.
1. WORDS OF THE YEAR
My favourite five
Nine of the sixteen ‘words of 2021’ were covered in this newsletter through the year.
I’ve included five of my favourites below. For the full list, and fuller explanations, check out the SupChina article, and there’s also Slow Chinese archive links below if you still want more.
破防 pòfáng - Overwhelmed
网友们瞬间集体破防 - Netizens were instantly overwhelmed
Background: Originally from the gaming world, pòfáng refers to breaking through or tearing down the opponent’s defenses. It means emotionally overwhelmed, losing all control of emotions, being brought to tears. Pòfáng can be used in the negative, and also have positive connotations, meaning ‘deeply touched’ or moved to tears.
鸡娃 jī wá - Chicken babies
给孩子打鸡血，望子成龙、望女成凤的“虎妈”“狼爸”们为了孩子能读好书，不断地给孩子安排学习和活动，不停地让孩子去拼搏 - Tiger mothers and wolf fathers inject their children with chicken’s blood in the hope that sons will become dragons and daughters become phoenixes. Parents are continually signing their kids of for after-class tutoring and extra curricular activities so they can learn and compete.
Background: chicken (jī) comes from the colloquial expression dǎjīxiě 打鸡血 “injecting chicken’s blood”, which means giving yourself a pickup, motivating yourself or someone else, or plucking up the courage to do something you’d rather not. For parents and their kids, injecting chicken’s blood is to muster the courage to take the competitive pressures of schooling in China.
赶考 gǎnkǎo - A quest to take on the challenges of a generation
踏上了实现第二个百年奋斗目标新的赶考之路 – [The Chinese people] have taken a step towards taking on the challenges of a generation in achieving [China’s] second centenary goal.
Background: gǎnkǎo meant to take the examinations to enter the civil service system in Imperial China. In 1949, Máo Zédōng 毛泽东 said: “Today is the day we enter Beijing and take the national examination” (今天是进京赶考的日子) at Xibaipo 西柏坡, a township in Hebei Province, where the Communist Party’s army gathered before its final assault on Beijing. In July 2013, Xi Jinping traveled to that town where he recalled Mao’s words, saying that although China had made great strides, and “stood up” in the intervening 60 years, there were still great challenges on the road ahead (赶考之路 gǎnkǎo zhīlù) that were far from over. In his speech for the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CCP this year, Xi again spoke of the need to maintain the spirit (赶考之心 gǎnkǎo zhīxīn, or 赶考精神 gǎnkǎo jīngshén) of taking on “tests” facing the next generation.
野性消费 yěxìng xiāofèi - Wild consumption
老板的劝告也阻挡不了善意网友野性消费的热情 - The plea from the boss could not stop the wild consumption and passion of netizens.
我看不懂，但我大受震撼 wǒ kàn bùdǒng, dàn wǒ dàshòu zhènhàn - I didn’t get it, but I was in awe
这条信息我看不懂，但我大受震撼 - [On seeing this information] I did not understand it but I was in awe.
Background: “I didn’t get it, but I was in awe” is how Taiwanese-American film director Ang Lee (李安 Lǐ Ān) described his reaction when watching the 1960 movie The Virgin Spring in an interview for a 2013 documentary about its director, Ingmar Bergman. The phrase has crossed over into mainstream use in China, describing confusion, shock, or being totally lost.
2. CONVERSATIONS ABOUT THE WORDS
- Was your favourite word in there?
As with any top ten list, there’s always some disappointment about the things that didn't make the cut.
Here are some words that netizens claim should have been included, but were not.
内卷 nèijuǎn - involution, intense social competition
没有人比鸡娃的父母，更能理解深陷教育内卷的煎熬与无奈 - No one can appreciate the pain and helplessness more than parents of “chicken babies” falling into the trap of intense competition in education.
Background: ‘Involution,’ or intense social competition, was one of the top 10 words of 2020. It’s become more mainstream this year with the backlash against 996 work culture and the ridiculous pressures on children at school. Both issues have resulted in policy pushes from the government - cutting working hours for employees and reducing pressures on kids - the “Double Reduction Policy” which did make into the words of 2021 list.
普信男 pǔxìnnán - average but over-confident men
男生为什么明明看起来这么普通，但是他却可以那么自信 - Why do men look so average, and yet they are so confident?
Background: This is a line from a sketch by stand-up comic, Yáng Lì 杨笠. The shortened version, 普信男 pǔxìnnán, has become a popular phrase as China’s #MeToo movement has gained some momentum.
摆烂 bǎilàn - go to sh*t; could not get any worse, give up on something intentionally to achieve another objective
评论一件你想要摆烂的事 - Share something [in a social media post] you’d like to leave to go to sh*t.
Background: bǎilàn is originally a basketball phrase, meaning intentionally losing to get a lower ranking in the following season in order to be pitted against easier opponents. It’s now in mainstream use and means something that’s got so bad that there’s no way back, so just let it run its course.
Related: 破罐子破摔 pòguànzi pòshuāi - smash a pot to pieces just because it’s cracked.
我比狗困 wǒ bǐ gǒu kùn - I’m more tired than a sleeping dog
爬不起来，我比狗困 - I can’t get up. I’m more tired than a sleeping dog.
Background: ‘I’m more tired than a sleeping dog’ is linked with involution and lying flat. It has become a popular Internet word and meme this year, used to describe the feelings of not being able to get out of bed to go to work or class.
emo (情绪化 qíngxù huà) - emotional (negative)
我太emo了 - I’m so emotional
Background: There’s some debate online about what this means. The ‘official’ translation is ‘emotional hardcore’. It means to get emotional - similar, but to a lesser degree, as 破防 pòfáng.
- What are people saying about the words of the year?
There’s some colourful language in the social media commentary.
One creative netizen produced a paragraph tying together all of the top ten Internet words according to the National Language Resources Monitoring and Research Center.
Try making sense of this:
Thanks to the Double Reduction Policy, I was able to finish work early. On seeing this news item, I felt it was amazing. I remembered that I’d recently watched The Age of Awakening, and it was truly brilliant. At that time, I thought to myself, ‘we are ready to build a powerful China’ but all I could do was to lie flat. I’m too old to catch the wave of the Metaverse; it doesn’t hurt, but it is really embarrassing. Here, I feel overwhelmed. I can’t understand this, but I am in awe.
There’s also some excellent Internet slang and idioms to learn too.
蚌埠住 bēngbù zhù - can’t stand it (same as 绷不住 or 受不了)
蚌埠住了是哪年的 - I can’t stand it. What year is this supposed to be?
Background: 蚌埠 bēngbù is a prefecture-level city in Anhui Province with a population of 3.1 million. Netizens repurposed it in online chatrooms and social media to mean “I can’t stand it”, or “I’m about to lose control with laughter/crying” because it sounds and is pronounced the same as 绷不住 bēngbù zhù - ‘can’t stand it’ (including bù which becomes neutral tone here).
不咋的 bùzǎde - nothing special (northern dialect - same as 不怎样)
绝绝子，破防这俩都不咋的，极度不舒适 - Juéjuézi and pòfáng - these words are nothing special. I don’t like them.
村通网 cūntōngwǎng - connect [my] village to the Internet; I’m so far behind
没见过有人用强国有我 今天是第一次见这个词 我村通网了看来 - I have never seen ‘we are ready to build a powerful China.’ This is the first time I’ve seen it. It would seem that I am so out of touch!
Related: 村断网 cūnduànwǎng - cut off from the Internet; totally out of touch
有聊 yǒuliáo - very boring (ironically the same as 无聊 wúliáo but stronger)
真够有聊的，什么鬼就破防了玩意儿绝绝子 - This really is so boring. What are these people on about with Juéjuézi and pòfáng?
牵强附会 qiānqiǎng fùhuì - far fetched
网络用语真是牵强附会，谁会这样在网上说话 - Internet buzzwords are a bit far fetched. Who actually speaks like this online?
狗屁不通 gǒupì bùtōng - this sh*t doesn’t make sense
“今天我觉醒时代了”“昨天那家餐厅真觉醒时代啊”这狗屁不通啊 - Today I am “The Age of Awakening” yesterday that restaurant was “"The age of Awakening” - this sh*t doesn’t make sense.
This week I’d like to recommend a weekly newsletter by fellow Substackers and Chinese language enthusiasts/addicts, Peter Braden and John Pasden.
Their newsletter, ARC, is often recommended alongside this one in social media posts!
ARC offers a simple solution to a big problem for advanced Chinese learners, including myself, which is most news articles in Chinese are WAY TOO LONG AND BORING!!
Each week they share 3-5 shortened Chinese news articles for the advanced learner. The length keeps them from becoming a slog, and you can always learn something in the process.
Here’s their latest newsletter:
That’s it for this week - thanks for reading.
All of the ‘words of the week’ will soon be uploaded onto…
our Hack Chinese page to help you remember them
and Pleco downloads are here. (If you get an error message first time, try again and it should work). And don’t worry, the Pleco download this week includes ALL words in both ‘words of the 2021’ lists so you haven’t been short-changed ;).
Spotted any more mistakes?
Like to share new words you learned this week?
Hit reply to this email and just let me know.