PiaPiaPia

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As soon as I saw the reports about the mobile PaPaPa vans roaming the streets of Chengdu (see “PaPaPa” [2/15/17]), I immediately thought of a similar expression with a similar meaning that I heard forty years ago.  On that occasion, someone described to me the actions of a man who was trying (unsuccessfully) to get an erection as “PiaPiaPia”.  Since that was the first time I had heard that expression, I didn’t know for sure what it meant, but I could pretty well guess.

The person who used that expression spoke the purest, clearest Pekingese I have ever heard, but what struck me particularly about “PiaPiaPia” is that the sounds of which it is composed are not included in the standard inventory of possible Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) syllables.

Even though theoretically “pia” is not a permissible MSM syllable, still it is widely spoken.  The question arises of how to write this word in the spoken language in characters.  The usual way is simply to use Pinyin:  pia.  Some people say it is 1st tone, some say it is 4th tone.  It is onomatopoeia for the sound of slapping.  It is often used with reference to slapping someone in the face and can also be used to describe someone making a pratfall.  It usually occurs in threes:  piapiapia!

The online encyclopedias baike has an article about the origin of this expression (from the Northeast / Manchuria) and the consternation people feel over how to write it.  Some people resort to the Sinographic makeshift of pā 啪, and there have been other attempts to write “pia” with characters, but they are all unsatisfying to those for whom “piapia” or “piapiapia” is a kǒutóuchán 口头禅 (“stock / pet phrase; mantra; favorite expression”).  Most people simply use Pinyin and write it as “pia”.

The Baidu encyclopedia article on “piapia” is brief and confusing.

Here are some other buzzwords that are outside of the standard syllabic inventory for MSM and do not have a fixed orthography in characters:

“biaji-biaji” — used in connection with noisy eating, especially with regard to people smacking their lips; akin to “om nom nom” in English (where did THAT come from?); sometimes written as bāji bāji 吧唧吧唧 (“yum[my] yum[my]”)

“QQ” — ubiquitously written just like that, but theoretically might be pinyinized as kiūkiū (that’s the way it is typically pronounced); for the various meanings and derivation of QQ, see “A New Morpheme in Mandarin” (4/26/11)

“muà” — a kissing sound, borrowed from English “mwah”; I don’t know of any attempts to write this in Chinese characters.

Here are some earlier posts on words of this type:

Kiss kiss / BER: Chinese photoshop victim” (7/22/14)

Duang” (3/1/15)

More on “duang”” (3/19/15)

Creeping Romanization in Chinese” (8/30/12)

Nerd, geek, PK: Creeping Romanization (and Englishization), part 2” (3/5/13)

Writing Chinese characters as a form of punishment” (11/1/15)

The Awful Chinese Writing System” (Geoffrey Pullum, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 1/20/16)

When Mandarin speakers resort to Pinyin to write sounds and morphemes that do not exist in the standard syllable inventory for MSM, that is one important factor in the emerging digraphia to which we have often referred here on Language Log and elsewhere.

[Thanks to David Moser, Jonathan Smith, Brendan O’Kane, Fangyi Cheng, Yixue Yang, and Jinyi Cai]


			

			



12 Comments

  1. Jon Lennox said,

    February 16, 2017 @ 9:46 pm

    “Om nom nom” is from Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cqz9ZXUoUcE

  2. Victor Mair said,

    February 16, 2017 @ 9:58 pm

    From Jinyi Cai:

    I think of:

    bia (the noise that some people make when they eat. It usually goes like “bia唧嘴”,but I don’t think there is a character for that bia. People usually just write 吧唧嘴);

    pia (the sound when you slap someone, such as: pia pia两个大嘴巴, and people would just use pia pia if they really want to write this down);

    biu (usually it’s used to imitate the sound of shooting guns, spoken as “biu biu biu”);

    chua (used to describe something goes by fast, for example: 车chua的一下就开过去了)

  3. Roger said,

    February 17, 2017 @ 1:41 am

    “muà” — is written 么么哒

  4. Jen said,

    February 17, 2017 @ 4:19 am

    But the cookie monster is presumably just a more emphatic version of the usual ‘mmm’ for tasty things and ‘num’ as a child’s variant of ‘yum’ – all of which the OED just says are ‘imitative’

  5. Victor Mair said,

    February 17, 2017 @ 8:30 am

    The Pinyin for 么么哒 is “memeda”, so it’s not a way to spell out the sounds of “mwah” in MSM. Although there is some overlap in the use of memeda 么么哒 and mwah, they are clearly not the same thing. For example, memeda 么么哒 is often used as a suffix, and, it has been around independently of mwah for quite a while.

    For many online references to memeda 么么哒, what it means, how it functions, how to render it in English, recordings of it being pronounced, songs in which it is featured, how to say it in Korean, variant sinographic forms (e.g., méngméngda 萌萌哒), and so forth, see here, here, here, and here.

    The Pinyinization of “mwah” is “mua”, or with a fourth tone as it is often spoken, “muà”.

  6. Homer said,

    February 17, 2017 @ 8:54 am

    I wonder if
    biu (usually it’s used to imitate the sound of shooting guns, spoken as “biu biu biu”);
    is not the same as “pow, pow, pow”? Re: Peking / Beijing

  7. Mark Metcalf said,

    February 17, 2017 @ 9:44 am

    (NSFW)
    This website: http://wangci.net/word/papapa.html
    1) provides a one-word English equivalent for ‘PaPaPa’,
    2) explains the onomatopoetic origins of the term, and
    3) includes a video clip of two monkeys demonstrating the term [NSFW]

  8. KeithB said,

    February 17, 2017 @ 10:56 am

    In the new Lego Batman movie it is “Pew! Pew! Pew!”

  9. Craig said,

    February 17, 2017 @ 3:41 pm

    I concur with Jon Lennox, that Cookie Monster is the source of Om Nom Nom. It’s the sound of his *eating* rather than a sound of appreciation imho.

  10. John Rohsenow said,

    February 17, 2017 @ 8:36 pm

    “On that occasion, someone described to me the actions of a man who was trying (unsuccessfully) to get an erection as “PiaPiaPia”. Since that was the first time I had heard that expression, I didn’t know for sure what it meant, but I could pretty well guess……
    “It is onomatopoeia for the sound of slapping. It is often used with reference to slapping someone in the face and can also be used to describe someone making a pratfall. It usually occurs in threes:piapiapia!”

    Whack, whack, whack?

  11. Mark Mandel said,

    February 18, 2017 @ 12:09 am

    Fap.

  12. エリック・ビニール said,

    February 20, 2017 @ 10:39 pm

    See also Schultz’ Japanese sex comics onomatopoeia glossary. (Please don’t click that and then be like shocked by what you find.)

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