You can you up

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In "Chinglish in English?", we examined the expression "no zuo no die" and came to the conclusion that, no matter what it might mean, it has not — as has been claimed by devotees of Chinglish — become a part of English vocabulary; it has not even become a part of English slang.

No sooner have we dealt with "no zuo no die" than several other Chinglish "buzzwords" pop up, this time the allegedly hottest one being "you can you up".  Here are some of the articles that tout it:

"More Chinglish phrases enter US slang dictionary"

"Chinglish grows popular internationally: You can you up"

"Chinglish gains popularity overseas"

And here are the beginning paragraphs of the People's Daily article:

"You can you up, no can no bb." [VHM:  In Pekingese, "BB" apparently means "nag; complain".] The latest Chinglish buzz phrase, having swept through Chinese cyberspace and society, has now made a landing overseas, entering the US web-based Urban Dictionary where it has been liked nearly 4000 times.

According to the entry submitted by 'gingerdesu', "You can you up," meaning 'if you can do it go ahead and do it' , is a Chinglish phrase directed at people who criticize others' work, especially when the critic is not that much better. The entry continues: "Often followed by 'no can no BB', which means ‘if you can't do it then don't even criticize it'".

Linguists say the phenomenon shows that Chinglish is now being accepted by the rest of the world and has been integrated into daily life.

Linguists say no such thing, at least no linguists that I know say such things.  This is simply not the way linguistic borrowing works.  A word or expression from one language is borrowed into another language because speakers of the latter language feel that it conveys a meaning or feeling better than any term available in their own existing lexicon, not because someone in the source language wages a campaign to get it accepted.  But that is exactly what has been happening with "no zuo no die", "you can you up", and so on.  Native speakers of English are not using these expressions.  It is Chinglish speakers who are using them in their own circles.

For the subtle psychology of Chinglishisms like "gelivable" (awesome), "niubility" (brilliance), and "smilence" (soundless smile), see "English Banned in Chinese Writing" and "Ungelivable".

Judging the popularity of Chinglish within English by citing inclusion in Urban Dictionary is like measuring the growth of Mandarin speakers outside of China by counting how many hundred Confucius Institutes have been set up at a cost of how many hundred million dollars to the Chinese government.  The intent may be there, but the results are not.  Large numbers of non-natives will learn Mandarin when they perceive that there is value in doing so and when the methods for teaching it are relatively successful and not unnecessarily painful.  Similarly, large numbers of English speakers will employ Chinglishisms when they perceive that the latter are particularly apt for expressing something that they feel a need to say from their own vantage.

[Hat tip Ben Zimmer]

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26 Comments »

  1. Victor Mair said,

    May 12, 2014 @ 9:33 pm

    On BB, my hunch is that it is some form of the word pīpíng 批评 ("criticize"), but I await confirmation or correction from native speakers of Pekingese.

  2. Stephan Stiller said,

    May 12, 2014 @ 10:53 pm

    1. Who initiates these articles in the People's Daily? Dictate from above?

    2. We need to distinguish (pseudo-)Anglicisms in Chinese and Chinese English, which in turn depends on the social group (CN vs TW vs HK). I'm gonna use the expressions "(CN-/TW-/HK-)Chinese pseudo-Anglicism", "(CN-/TW-/HK-)Chinese Anglicism", "CN-English", "TW-English", "HK-English" from now on.

    3. Somewhat different issue: The word "Sinicism" seems to be quite rare in English.

  3. maidhc said,

    May 13, 2014 @ 5:01 am

    I see some phrases being used in the Chinese-American community. But outside of that I only see food words catching on. You can find plenty of white people around here who understand "shu mai" and XLB. The rest of these examples, not so much.

    Translations can catch on. A recent example is "tiger mother". That comes from a book by Amy Chua, a Chinese-American author. I don't know if there is an equivalent Chinese idiom. But "tiger mother" is a lot easier for Americans to latch onto than something in Mandarin.

  4. Victor Mair said,

    May 13, 2014 @ 6:17 am

    @maidhc

    What you say makes sense.

    "XLB" is xiǎolóngbāo 小笼包 (lit., "little-basket buns")

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xiaolongbao

    And "shu mai" is shāomài 烧卖 ("pork dumplings" — shumai / siumai / shaomai).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shu_Mai

    These are real borrowings that are finding currency in a certain segment of the American population, namely those who like dim sum (Cantonese dim2sam1; when pronounced in Mandarin as diǎnxin, the characters [点心 / 點心] mean something else, viz., "dessert").

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dim_sum

    The word "dim sum" is discussed extensively in these posts and in the comments thereto:

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=10172

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2311

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2619

    In actuality, "dim sum" is a truly American expression, since the Cantonese themselves would be more apt to refer to the same thing as jam2caa4 飲茶 ("drink tea").

  5. JQ said,

    May 13, 2014 @ 7:51 am

    Anyone can write entries in urbandictionary, but the people's daily appears to look up to it because it is "US-based"…

    To clarify VHM's comment, "going for dim sum" is referred to as 飲茶 in Cantonese, but the dishes themselves are obviously still called 點心

  6. Jens Fiederer said,

    May 13, 2014 @ 9:08 am

    Actually, that one really MIGHT convey a meaning better than any term available in my own existing lexicon. I would seriously use it if I thought anybody would understand it.

  7. Ellen K. said,

    May 13, 2014 @ 9:16 am

    Seems like some people don't get how the Urban Dictionary works. The same thing that makes it a great slang dictionary, in the specific sense of a place to find the meaning of a slang term one sees used and doesn't know, also makes it meaningless for determining if and to what degree something is a real word in English or learning much about it's general usage. Namely, anyone can add an entry, with no quality control (very different from Wiktionary), and anyone can vote on an entry, votes which are not always going to be based on usefulness. A useful resource if I'm trying find out what a word or phrase means in a specific context, and not useful for much if anything else beyond entertainment.

  8. DMT said,

    May 13, 2014 @ 1:28 pm

    @VHM, JQ:
    AusEng uses "yum cha" where BrEng and AmEng use "dim sum." Even among AusEng speakers who know the etymology, "yum cha" is always a noun referring to the food itself – e.g. "Let's go and eat some yum cha."

  9. Bruce said,

    May 13, 2014 @ 8:00 pm

    We should push our own word in urbandictionary, and get all LL readers to upvote it into fame. One of the classic bits of linguistic balderdash, perhaps an Eskimo word for snow or . Too bad "crisitunity" is already in there.

  10. Victor Mair said,

    May 13, 2014 @ 8:59 pm

    Comments on BB by two native speakers of Pekingese

    ========

    Jing Wen:

    Maybe it is de1de instead of BB? For de1de, I think it can be written as 得得. People usually say 瞎得得, which means 瞎说 or 胡说 (to talk nonsense, to blather). People also say de1bo, which has the same meaning as de1de. I do not know how to write de1bo, maybe 得波.

    He Ziwei:

    BB is usually used in a negative meaning.

    For example, when I am writing a final paper, there is someone who keeps talking to me which distracts me a lot and I get a little angry for it. At that time I will say:"別BB了。” ("Stop BBing".) I think it probably means "talking", but this kind of talking or speaking really bothers others and make them angry. I think it's a little rude.

    ========

  11. Bob Ladd said,

    May 14, 2014 @ 2:23 am

    "A word or expression from one language is borrowed into another language because speakers of the latter language feel that it conveys a meaning or feeling better than any term available in their own existing lexicon."

    Well, or because the donor language is so trendy that speakers of the recipient language will go out of their way to import words. Italian is full of English words that many see as unnecessary. (The Italian government set up a ministry of "Welfare" a few years ago, and recently initiated a "spending review".) They also make up English words that don't exist in English, like lifting for 'facelift' and pressing for 'political pressure'. Similar things are true in German as well.

  12. George said,

    May 14, 2014 @ 5:13 am

    @Bob Ladd,

    Interesting that 'pressing' refers to political pressure in Italian. It's used as a noun in French to refer to a dry cleaner's.

    For a less obviously 'wrong' but nonetheless odd (to me at least) use of -ing in a non-Anglophone context, I was recently in Brussels and saw a coach/bus with the company name 'Eurobussing' written on the side. (The registration/licence plate was French). The term 'bussing' for me (I'm Irish) immediately brings to mind school desegregation in the U.S., not tourism in Europe.

    Somebody here presumably knows a bit (or more) about the history of not-quite-English words ending in -ing in other languages… My rule of thumb when helping Francophone friends with their Englsih is: "If it ends in -ing and means something in French, then you can be pretty sure that it means something quite different in English and is probably an entirely different part of speech".

  13. V said,

    May 14, 2014 @ 5:33 am

    ""If it ends in -ing and means something in French, then you can be pretty sure that it means something quite different in English and is probably an entirely different part of speech".

    That's true of pretty much all European languages, not just French. And while it is a good rule of thumb, it does not cover most cases by far… Maybe it does for French, though.

  14. George said,

    May 14, 2014 @ 7:14 am

    @V

    Indeed, it is just a rule of thumb but where French is concerned it covers most cases. The issue is usually one of taking a word that, in English, denotes the act of doing something, such as 'parking', and using it to denote a thing (as in 'un parking' – a car park). This is what I meant by 'entirely different part of speech', even if that is not necessarily the most technically accurate way to get the idea across.

    There are obviously exceptions, such as 'le shopping', which does denote the act of buying stuff, but even here the French term has a different, more limited, sense than the English term. (It would not be used for grocery shopping, for example.)

  15. Victor Mair said,

    May 14, 2014 @ 7:20 am

    "Once more on the present continuative ending -ing in Chinese"

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=11204

    "A new way of 寫ing Mandarin"

    http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/005318.html

  16. Victor Mair said,

    May 14, 2014 @ 7:33 am

    Another explanation of "BB" by a native speaker of Pekingese, this time a male (the first two cited above are female speakers), Zhao Lu:

    =======

    This is interesting! The word sounds to me like 逼逼. It has the connotation of "talking vagina," but in the pejorative sense. More interestingly, the second syllable of this word should be unstressed. Otherwise it will become a word for vagina (the repetitive form of 逼).

    =======

  17. Brett said,

    May 14, 2014 @ 8:32 am

    I wonder now in what context "talking vagina" would not be pejorative.

  18. Brendan said,

    May 14, 2014 @ 12:10 pm

    “BB” as “talk/complain/嘮叨” is new to me — but that doesn’t necessarily mean much. The nice thing about slang — especially online slang — is that there are always native speakers who don't get it either, so online Q&A sites are fantastic resources for the working translator. There’s a Baidu Zhidao thread about it from 2010 in which one of the commenters speculates that it might be related to 辯辯, but I haven’t seen that explanation anywhere else and it doesn’t seem to match the meaning as I understand it. A 2009 thread on Sogou Wenwen has one commenter tracing the origins of “BB” to the game “CF” (perhaps Tencent’s Crossfire?), but I’m in no position to say how plausible that is or isn’t.

    From what people say in a more recent Zhihu thread, it sounds like it might be similar to “bitching” in English — something that could be used playfully around friends (“別瞎 BB 了” -> “Ahhhh, quit yer bitching”), but would be considered offensive in other contexts.

    Zhao Lu's suggestion that it might come from 逼逼 is interesting too — certainly things like 別裝逼了 ("quit being a wanker," more or less) are common.

    I’ll ask around, though if the comment threads are anything to go by here then my informants might be a little on the old side.

  19. Stephan Stiller said,

    May 14, 2014 @ 6:29 pm

    In English syntax, "you can you up, no can no BB" is such a deformed monster – anyone at Xinhua or the People's Daily using this unwieldy abomination as an example for the influence of Chinese on English has got to be incompetent or nuts. Noone with decent knowledge of English would entertain the possibility of adoption of such a phrase.

    Borrowing happens in many ways; I'd recommend they try with cultural exports instead of malformed gibberish.

  20. Matt said,

    May 14, 2014 @ 7:04 pm

    AusEng uses "yum cha" where BrEng and AmEng use "dim sum."

    Yes, and maybe this happened because AusEng had already borrowed 点心 as "dim sim" (apparently as early as 1928).

  21. John Swindle said,

    May 14, 2014 @ 8:38 pm

    I take "BB" and "逼逼" and for that matter "XX" all to be ways of avoiding another, strongly taboo Chinese character without stinting in the sexism of the reference.

  22. Victor Mair said,

    May 14, 2014 @ 9:45 pm

    @John Swindle

    I think that Zhao Lu, Brendan, and you have nailed it.

    For those who don't know what the real word we're talking about is, see, for example:

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=4035#comment-211038

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1108#comment-21676

  23. Victor Mair said,

    May 15, 2014 @ 12:41 pm

    In a few more notes, Ziwei He told me that she knows how to use the expression, but doesn't know exactly what it means or how to write it, except as BB. She said she'd try to find it in dictionaries. Her brief report:

    =====

    I didn't find it in the dictionaries. I am not sure about whether this one is the same with B in 牛B. It appears that sometimes people write 逼 for B, such as 牛逼.

    =====

    I think that she may be embarrassed to talk about it more directly. It seems to be mainly an expression used by males, at least not by well-mannered females.

  24. Jenny Tsu said,

    May 16, 2014 @ 12:09 am

    Slightly OT, but it seems to me that "Chinglish" is still being treated here as a pidgin as opposed to a creole. I wonder when that will change? I believe that in Hong Kong, there are certainly strong signs of a Chinglish be[com]ing a creole like Singlish. Example: my children go to a primary school which is officially trilingual/biliterate medium-of-instruction (Cantonese/English/Putonghua). But sometimes I have heard them make casual comments to the effect that there is a fourth language, "Chinglish", spoken primarily by the students. Example: "Mommy, my English teacher, Miss Chan, always speaks English in class. But I think she might be Chinese because sometimes she speaks a little bit of Chinglish. But you know she doesn't speak Chinglish as well as the kids."

  25. Wentao said,

    May 16, 2014 @ 11:14 pm

    Having grown up and lived in Beijing for 15 years, I see myself as a Beijinger. I totally agree with Zhao Lu, Brendan and John Swindle on the vaginal connotations of "BB". This is the simplest, most likely explanation, and spares us of tricky questions such as why the nasal endings of 辩辩 are dropped, and why is the word changed to the first tone. However, how this word became a verb is unclear, though it seems that swearwords can have very flexible grammatical functions. (I believe this is also the case in many languages other than Chinese.)

    Professor Mair, is your interviewee Jing Wen from Beijing? In my memory, the word he/she mentions is almost invariably pronounced de1be rather than de1bo. Emphatically it can be repeated: "他整天就知道de1bede1 de1bede1." Perhaps Jing wishes to Mandarin-ize the second syllable because "be" is not allowed in MSM phonology. But this is a highly dialectal term which I believe to be onomatopoeic and does not have a written form. I will write it as 嘚啵 before the invention of an apt phonetic system for informal colloquial Chinese, like kana.

    Also, on the phrase "you can you up": I would like to point out that it is often used in a sarcastic, mocking context, showing that the refutal is in fact unreasonable, over-simplistic and logically fallacious. I've seen it put this way, "I don't have to be a master chef to complain about bad food."

  26. SJ said,

    June 28, 2014 @ 3:46 pm

    BB is not related to "批评 piping", it is some kind of slang, a bit rude but not so rude today because of its wide use. No BB is more like "shut up" in English, rather than "don't criticize".
    BTW i am a native Chinese speaker :)

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