In this article, I am not going to refer to words that are considered vulgar, but merely slang that could be regarded as respectable slang. Most vulgar slang in Chinese, as it is in most languages, involves sexual reference. We will be avoiding those, but looking at words to know, that will help you, if not to make friends and influence people, at least to understand more of what’s going on around you, if you’re a foreigner who happens to find themselves in China. Or, if not, just by understanding the slang used in modern China, you will gain deeper insight into the fastest changing country in the world.
A word that has been in vogue in China for some time now, and is first on our list of words to know, is ‘duang’. Duang has become somewhat international, particularly in certain social media circles. Duang, which is pronounced ‘dwong’, gained popularity, as most things do in the 21st century, on the internet and went viral in China, before spreading to other parts of the world.
Now, it can be heard on Chinese streets, on TV, in cafes, maybe even in the mouth of the Chinese president, in his lighter moments. Duang doesn’t have a meaning. It is a word that expresses excitement or describes something that occurs unexpectedly or is used as emphasis. It is onomatopoeia, I suppose you could say, where the sound of the word defines its meaning, like ‘oops’, or ‘bang’ or ‘ooooffff’ or ‘pow’.
Duang is often used as an adverb to describe a verb. ‘Ta duang,’ for example, ‘de y ixia shuai dao le,’ which means, ‘Suddenly, duang, he fell.’
The first time duang was used was in an interview with Jackie Chan. Jackie Chan was talking about shampoo he used and wanted to emphasize how great the shampoo was. ‘Just like magic,’ he said, ‘after a second duang your hair turns black again.’ As Jackie Chan is a popular celebrity in China and internationally, people started to use it and it has become one of the words to know.
It is still associated, to some extent, with Jackie Chan and martial arts, which is, of course, a very popular and respected activity in China. As duang couldn’t be written in Chinese because it didn’t have a character to express it, the Chinese came up with a combination of Jackie Chan’s name in Chinese with duang written in English above it.
Lèi chéng gǒu
A popular slang expression, ‘lèi chéng gǒu,’ which means ‘tired like a dog,’ is commonly used when they are feeling bored or tired and is another of the words to know. ‘lèi chéng gǒu,’ has come to be used as the simile, ‘like a dog,’ with an adjective placed before it: ‘hungry like a dog,’ ‘poor like a dog,’ ‘hot like a dog,’ or anything at all. Why or how a dog became synonymous with all these adjectives remains a mystery. That is just how it has evolved. Dogs are very expressive animals and are easy to relate to human emotions. If you have a dog, you know what I mean. When a dog is hot you know, when a dog is hungry you know, when a dog is angry you know.
Méng méng da
Méng means cute in Chinese and da is an adverb, which put together in the form ‘méng méng da,’ means ‘cutie pie’. The Chinese like to use words twice to emphasize something. Meng is cute, but méng méng da means exceptionally cute.
Méng méng da first appeared on a very popular website used by Chinese teenagers called Douban, where young people exchange ideas about things that are interesting them at the moment, such as books, music, movies, blogs, etc. On Douban, a post read: “Today I forgot to take my medicine, and I feel so cute.” The ‘so cute’ was written as ‘méng méng da,’ which had never been used before and is now clearly one of the words to know.
Like méng méng da, ‘momoda’ repeats a word to emphasize it, which can be seen when it is written in Chinese. Momoda means ‘kiss kiss,’ and is used by everyone in China, irrespective of their age, at the end of messages or letters, as a way of expressing affection to the recipient. It is high up on the words to know the list. It is again an onomatopoeia, in that ‘mua’ is the sound made when we kiss, which is how it is pronounced in Chinese. Teenagers also use 3333333 as the symbol for a kiss.
Yǒu qiān jiù shì rén xìng
Again ‘yǒu qiān jiù shì rén xìng’ is indicative of China’s newfound capitalist system. It means, ‘I have money; I can do what I want,’ which shows the attitude of the new China. It is impossible to imagine such an expression being used in the days of Chairman Mao, but it did originate in a real event and are surely words to know. In April 2014, a certain Mr. Liu, who had a lot of money, bought a health care product online for 1,760 RMB, which is about $250 USD. The company he bought it from, contacted him again and asked him to buy other products that would make the first product more effective. Mr. Liu knew it was a scam, yet he spent 540,000 RMB on fake products.
Mr. Liu said that he allowed the fraud to continue because he wanted to see how long the fraudsters would continue before they couldn’t do it anymore, out of a feeling of guilt. He said, “I just wanted to see how much they could take from me.” Chinese society was impressed, shocked and disgusted all at the same time and the expression, ‘I have money, I can do what I want,’ was born.
I’ve only touched upon slang that is popular in a very rich language. Modern Chinese loves innovation and fads. Other common slang terms I haven’t mentioned are, ‘yě shì zuì le,’ which means ‘crazy or drunk,’ ‘ni xing ni shang,’ ‘if you can do it, do it,’ and ‘jì mò dǎng’ ‘have yourself a loneliness party’.
Just by looking at the slang that has emerged in modern China, we can come to an understanding of their world. These slang terms are an expression of the new freedoms and new value systems that the Chinese are experiencing in the 21st century. They are words to know if you want to understand modern China and fit into a society that is changing at a rapid rate.
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