Archive for Neologisms

Brain hole

Neologisms pop up so fast in China that it is almost impossible to keep abreast of them.  Furthermore, it is very hard to figure out where many of them come from.  Some of them are undoubtedly borrowed from other languages, but given such a twist that it is difficult to recognize the original source.  Others are just made up by imaginative netizens.  If they are taken up by others and catch on, they become part of contemporary vocabulary.

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East Asian multilingual pop culture

Currently circulating political poster in the PRC:

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It's in the was

The marvellous New Zealand-born opera soprano Kiri Te Kanawa announced that she has now retired from performance. Talking to the BBC about it this morning, she said of her voice: "It's in the was."

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Ask Language Log: splittism and separatism

From Elijah Z. Granet:

I am an avid reader of Language Log, and am writing with a question that has puzzled me for sometime, and which, as far as I can tell, has never been addressed. I would be quite grateful if you could spare a moment of your valuable time to help me figure out this odd occurrence.

I do not speak Chinese (or any East Asian language, for that matter), but I do try to follow the news coming out of China.  For several years now, especially as unrest in Xinjiang has increased, I have been growing increasingly puzzled by the insistent use of the calque “splittism.”  Official sources (e.g., Xinhua) will always say “splittism”, and many English sources will  also use it (albeit with a qualifier along the lines of “the Chinese authorities have condemned what they call ‘splittism’”).  A cursory search of Google Books and News suggests the use of “splittism” in reference to China dates back decades.

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Cheater's stocks in Hong Kong and on the Mainland

Until three days ago when I read the following article in the South China Morning Post, I had never heard of this expression:

"Opinion: All you need to know about cheater’s stocks: its lures, its victims and the key opinion leaders" (Shirley Yam, 5/10/17)

She calls these stocks LAO QIAN GU in Chinese, but since I was not familiar with the expression, I was unable to think right away what characters she had in mind.

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The language of homophobia on a Chinese campus

Banner displayed on the main campus of Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, capital of Hubei Province, by members of the women’s basketball team:

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Straight man cancer

In "Last new term of the year in China" (12/16/16), we encountered a very recent neologism in Chinese: hánzhàoliàng 含赵量 ("Zhaoness") (220,000 ghits).  The expression we examine in this post — zhínán ái 直男癌 ("straight man cancer") has been around a bit longer, for at least a couple of years, and circulates even more widely, with 1,830,000 ghits.

The following passage from an article in Chinese about this new term explains what it means:

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Last new term of the year in China

Starting around a year or two ago, the expression "Zhào jiārén 赵家人" ("Zhao family member") emerged as a coded reference for politically powerful and wealthy elites in contemporary Chinese society.  See Kiki Zhao's penetrating post on the NYT Sinosphere blog:

"Leveling Criticism at China’s Elite, Some Borrow Words From the Past" (1/4/16)

For the literary background of "Zhào jiārén 赵家人" ("Zhao family member"), see this post:

"Lu Xun and the Zhao family" (1/5/16)

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A new English word

Since I began the study of Chinese languages half a century ago, there's one word that I have found very useful and versatile, but extremely hard to translate into English, so in this post I'm going to propose that we might as well just simply (gāncuì 乾脆 = the previous five English words) borrow it into English and be done with it.  That word is the almighty, inimitable, the one and only:  lìhài!

lìhài 厉害 (simplified) / 厲害 (traditional)

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Empty heart disease

In "Life is Meaningless, Say China’s Top Students:  A Peking University professor reports that students have full course loads and ‘empty hearts’", Fu Danni (Sixth Tone, 11/23/16) introduces us to a newly minted term:  kōngxīn bìng 空心病 ("empty heart disease").

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"Cyber-Enabled Bionic Organisms"?

One of the many interesting talks next week at Penn will be one by Alper Bozkurt, on the “Internet of Bionic Things: Cyber-Enabled Bionic Organisms for Environmental Sensing". His abstract:

The present day technology falls short in offering autonomous mobile robots that can function effectively and efficiently under unknown and dynamic environmental conditions. Insects and canines, on the other hand, exhibit an unmatched ability to navigate through a wide variety of environments and overcome perturbations by successfully maintaining control and stability. In this talk, Dr. Alper Bozkurt will present how microsystems based neural stimulation and physiological monitoring systems are used to wirelessly navigate cockroaches and train dogs to enable cyber-physical working animals. These biobots can potentially assist humans in environmental sensing and search-and-rescue applications to pinpoint hazardous material or to find earthquake victims. This is one of the on-going efforts under Integrated Bionic MicroSystems Laboratory (iBionicS Lab) which has a vision to introduce conceptually novel neural engineering methodologies and systems to interface artificial systems with biological organisms towards the next generation bionic cyber-physical systems. Such cyber-physical systems would be the building blocks of a new era where everything is connected to each other through the Internet of Things.

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Freedom of speech vs. speaking rights

Bill Holmes, who is familiar with the language of Chinese law, writes:

With greater frequency over the past ten-odd years, I have run across the phrase “话语权", typically in commentary on (more or less sophisticated) mainland websites. This phrase can be put into English, clumsily, as “speaking rights” — though I believe it extends to written as well as oral communication. I have wondered whether this is a Chinese neologism, or an import — it doesn’t seem to resemble (older) Chinese usages with which I am familiar. Insights appreciated.

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English-Japanese neologism

Japanese is full of loanwords from English, a phenomenon we have often discussed on Language Log, e.g.:

"Too many English loanwords in Japanese?" (7/12/13)

Not only does Japanese like to borrow words from English, it is fond of borrowing parts of words and combining them with Japanese morphemes to make hybrid coinages.  It's not always easy — even for a native speaker of Japanese — to figure out some of these inventions, because you only have part of a katakanized English word fused with part of a Japanese word.

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