What to say to someone who's annoyed you, different ways to say "a waste of time" in Chinese

Slow Chinese 每周漫闻

Here’s the latest edition of my Slow Chinese Learning 每周漫闻 newsletter, a collection of Chinese words, phrases, idioms and slang to help you maintain and improve your Chinese language skills, and keep on top of the latest language trends in China.

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What’s in it? Each week I highlight two ‘Conversations worth Consuming’ with authentic and actionable language for you to try out to improve your spoken Chinese. I also gather together up to 12 ‘Words of the Week’ to add to your vocab - idioms, on-trend words and colloquialisms to impress your Chinese colleagues and friends with how amazing your Chinese is.


1. Criticism of power cuts: what to say to someone who’s really annoyed you

Power outages happened in parts of China this week.

Basic words you need to know to talk about them:

  • 拉闸限电 (lā zhá xiàn diàn) - power cuts

    拉闸限电的“阴谋论” - the conspiracy theory of powercuts

  • 双控 (shuāng kòng) - ‘two controls’, lowering energy consumption and energy intensity

    能耗双控不宜一刀切 - [policies] for lowering energy consumption and energy intensity cannot be a 'one size fits all approach

The lack of transparency from government led to rumours and conspiracy theories circulating online - 阴谋论 (yīnmóu lùn) , also known as a ‘big chess game’ (大棋论 - dàqílùn).

This was soon put right by a piece on CCTV’s WeChat feed (The Paper - in Chinese). Netizens were quick to criticise - using some good words you can drop into convos about someone who’s let you down or really annoyed you.

Useful words

  • 坑了 (kēngle) - hurt; done one over on

    懒政!坑了老百姓,损害了政府公信力,肥了自己的腰包 - This is lazy governance! This has hurt the people, damaged trust in the government and allowed some people to fatten their wallets [influences online spreading rumours who get paid for web traffic]

    • 懒政 (lǎn zhèng) - lazy governance (a common criticism on social media)

  • 无语 (wúyǔ) - speechless

    就很无语,为啥带节奏呢 - I’m totally speechless. Why are [the government] misleading the public?

  • 定心丸 (dìngxīnwán) - reassurance pill

    出面解释就成,大家吃定心丸 - [the Government can just] explain what’s going on. This will give certainty and comfort to the people.


Social media comments also simmered with some useful idioms about gossip and confusion:

  • 众说纷纭 (zhòngshuō fēnyún) - people have different opinions

    大家肯定众说纷纭猜测很多啊 - this will of course lead to lots of different opinions flying around

  • 胡乱猜想 (húluàn cāixiǎng) - wild guesses

    老百姓胡乱猜想很正常 - it’s perfectly normal that people then go on to make wild guesses about what’s going on

  • 谣言止于智者 (yáoyán zhǐ yú zhìzhě) - gossip stops with the wise

    谣言止于智者,也需要惩罚坏人,要不它们下次还敢 - rumours stop with the wise. Bad people also need to be punished, or they will do it again.

    • Originally from Xún Zi (荀子), who lived during the Warring States Period c. 300BC; a fave of Xi Jinping when he wants to wax lyrical about governance, the environment or making things happen. Such as:

      善学者尽其理,善行者究其难 (Shàn xuézhě jìn qí lǐ, shànxíng zhě jiū qí nán) - Good scholars do their best to learn, those that are good at taking action find [solutions to] problems (From Xi speech in Geneva in 2017)

Want to learn more slang words like 坑了? Try this previous newsletter with this and more ways to say you’ve been “hard done by”.

2. Ultraman censorship: different ways to say “a total waste of time“

Cartoon character Ultraman (迪迦奥特曼 - dí jiā ào tè màn) content disappeared from some streaming services with no explanation last weekend, apparently linked to a blacklist of inappropriate content for kids published by the Jiangsu government (Sohu - Chinese) earlier this year.

Hidden in the angry comments on social media are useful words for letting someone know how you feel when they’re wasting your time.

Useful words

  • 个鬼 (Gè guǐ) ‘a ghost’; a load of rubbish; pointless

    这波是谁赢了?几天能审个鬼,没点明争暗斗我不信 - so who’s won here? Censoring it within a couple of days is a total waste of time. I can’t believe there’s no infighting [between government departments] going on here.

  • 瞎折腾 (xiā zhēteng) - doing things that are totally meaningless and a waste of time

    一天到晚闲得慌,浪费社会资源,瞎折腾,一群没脑子的玩意 - these people [the local government] have nothing to do all day, they waste resources of society, what they do is completely pointless. They’re a bunch of mindless idiots.

    • 玩意 (wányì) - ‘stuff’ or ‘things’, but i’m fairly sure this netizen meant ‘idiots’

  • 食飽飯等屎屙 (shí bǎo fàn děng shǐ ē) - eating until you’re full and waiting to sh*t; a waste of time (a Cantonese phrase but also crossed over into Pǔtōnghuà)

    那帮人就是食飽飯等屎屙 - that lot are just wasting everyone’s time!


Had enough with the relevant departments of your local government? Here are some classic idioms to express your frustration:

  • 朝令夕改 (zhāolìng xīgǎi) - issue an order in the morning and rescind it in the evening; keep changing policies

    谁下令下的架,这样朝令夕改 - who’s ordered this to be taken down? These changing policies [are ridiculous]

  • 杯弓蛇影 (bēigōng shéyǐng) - the shadow of a bow is mistaken as a snake in a cup; scared by an imaginary fear

    盲目跟随下架作品就很离谱,杯弓蛇影 - it’s madness to blindly follow suit and take these products down. What are they scared of?

  • 指鹿为马 (zhǐlù wéimǎ) - refer to a deer as a horse; swear black is white - deceive

    指鹿为马,广电总局,绝对是受贿重灾 - the State Administration of Radio Film and Television is deceiving people, they are totally corrupt

The word 折腾 (zhēteng), ‘flip-flopping’, is a versatile word. Read more in this earlier newsletter about its different meanings, including how to use 瞎折腾 to be modest.

Slow Chinese 每周漫闻
Feeling fish, injecting chicken's blood and flip-flopping - a typical day at the office in China
Hi, Welcome to the Slow Chinese newsletter - 每周漫闻. It’s a weekly dose of useful words and phrases from the news for learners of Chinese who lack the time, motivation, materials or environment to keep their language skills going. This week: Word of the week: 折腾 (Zhē Téng…
Read more


This week’s words of the week are from…

3 x three-character words

  • 大不了 (dàbuliǎo) - at the worst, if it comes to the worst

    大不了尝试所有业务都失败了,新东方账上没钱了 - at the very worst, all the different businesses that New Oriental have tried will fail and have no money left.

  • 摸不准 (mō bù zhǔn) - inaccurate; unclear

    摸不准消费者口味 - they have lost touch with their consumers

  • 扛把子 (káng bǎ zi) - leader (slang); top dog

    作为中国汽水“八大厂”统领江湖,是当时汽水界的扛把子 - at the time [Wahaha] was one of eight main soda water manufacturers that dominated the sector, it was the market leader.

5 x Idioms

  • 风生水起 (fēngshēng shuǐqǐ) - the wind picks up and the water rises; active, successful

    在饮料细分赛道一时混得风生水起 - they enjoyed great success quickly within the soft drinks sector

  • 一炮而红 (Yī pào ér hóng) - overnight success

    一炮而红后就迎来了水逆之年 - they became an overnight success, growing against the tide

    • Also: 一夜爆红 (yīyè bào hóng) - overnight success

  • 势不可挡 (shìbù kědǎng) - unstoppable

    面对新零售的势不可挡,宗庆后的执拗并没有让他延续娃哈哈的辉煌 - in the face of China’s unstoppable ‘new retail’, not even Zong Qinghou’s will was enough to maintain the glory of Wahaha

  • 龙争虎斗 (lóngzhēng hǔdòu) - fighting dragons and battling tigers; aggressive competition

    饮料行业龙争虎斗,单一产品已经无法长久撑起一个品牌 - the drinks market is so competitive, there is no way a single product can support the survival of a brand.

  • 老骥伏枥,志在千里 (lǎojìfúlì, zhì zài qiānlǐ) - “An old steed in the stable still aspires to gallop a thousand miles”

    “老骥伏枥”的意志让人崇敬,但也让人有一些唏嘘 - his ‘old steed in the stable’ ambitions are admirable. But some people also don’t buy it.

2 x Colloquialisms

  • 师夷长技以制夷 (shī yí zhǎng jì yǐ zhì yí) - learn from the barbarians in order to compete with (and beat) them at their own game

    国产饮料欲借助外资企业的力量“师夷长技以制夷”,结果大多数不成功 - domestic drinks companies had hoped that through working with international brands, they could learn from and then compete with their international counterparts, but most companies were unsuccessful

  • 赶鸭子上架 (gǎn yāzi shàngjià) - force a duck to sit on a perch; ask someone to do something that’s completely beyond them

    你这真是“赶鸭子上架”啊 - you really are asking me to something I have no clue how to do!


Chinese words you REALLY should know by now

There were lots of ‘words of the week’ from previous newsletter that were in news stories covered in this issue.

Here are some of the best ones that came up this week that readers of this newsletter really should know:

  • 一刀切 (yīdāoqiē) - one size fits all (see 17 July newsletter)

    有人盲目一刀切 - some people blindly implement policies that are out of touch

  • 带节奏 (dài jiézòu) - misleading the public (see 24 April newsletter)

    有人乱带节奏 - some people are carelessly misleading the public

  • 悄无声息 (Qiāo wú shēngxī) - quietly, without a sound (see 20 March newsletter)

    娃哈哈悄无声息地从年轻人的饮料待选库中消失了 - Wahaha silently disappeared from the minds of young consumers

  • 跑马圈地 (pǎomǎ quān dì) - make pre-emptive investments in new markets (see 14 August newsletter)

    他们主要想利用这些汽水品牌的渠道和知名度在中国“跑马圈地” - they intended to leverage the brand recognition and sales channels of these soda brands to gain ground in this sector

  • 腥风血雨 (xīngfēng xiěyǔ) - a foul stench and rain of blood; a ‘foul atmosphere’ - used in official narratives to describe the online environment (see 22 May newsletter)

    管管自媒体吧,腥风血雨 - social media needs to be managed more, [some of the content] is foul

  • 杀敌八百,自损一千 (Shā dí bābǎi, zì sǔn yīqiān) - kill 800 enemy soldiers but lose 1000 of your own; one step forward two steps back (see 11 September newsletter)

    为了“杀敌八百”而宁可“自损一千”,那不叫未雨绸缪而是瞎折腾 - killing 800 enemy soldiers while losing 1000? This is not a precautionary measure, it’s completely pointless.

That’s it for this week - thanks for reading.

All of the ‘words of the week’ will soon be uploaded onto…

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