The fabrication of "taikonaut" is not the first time that an attempt has been made to insert a made-up Chinglish word into English. There have been a number of such instances in recent years. A particularly notorious one that I recall is the case of bùgěilì 不给力 ("ungelivable", lamer variant "ungeliable"). Bùgěilì 不给力 is the antonym of gěilì 给力 ("astonishing, powerful, fantastic, cool, awesome, exciting, effective, enhancing"). The wide range of meanings and nuances for gěilì 给力 does not bode well for an easy translation of its opposite, bùgěilì 不给力, into other languages. I shall return to the meaning and translation of bùgěilì 不给力 below. But first let's take a closer look at gěilì 给力.
Gěilì 给力 had already been a wildly popular internet meme for some time when, on November 10, 2010, it appeared on the front page of the People's Daily — in the main headline no less.
This sent China's netizens and journalists into a frenzied search for the right English word to convey the significance of this formerly hip word which had now been sanctioned by the staid and stuffy flagship newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party. It would seem that no single English word was considered up to the task, so "gelivable" was concocted as a hopeful Chinglish candidate.
One could write a small treatise about the recent history of the term gěilì 给力. For present purposes, I shall mention only that it first became au courant when it was used in the Chinese dubbing of a Japanese anime version of the late Ming (16th c.) vernacular novel, Journey to the West (Xī yóujì 西游记).
There is apparently also a Taiwanese twist to the story of gěilì 给力 that particularly endeared it to speakers of Minnan topolects. For those who are interested, fuller accounts of the rapid ascent of gěilì 给力 in modern parlance are readily available here (in English), here (in English), and here (in Chinese).
Now we can turn to the question of how to handle bùgěilì 不给力, the antonym of gěilì 给力, in English. For what they're worth (not much!), here are the translations given in various online resources:
Baidu Fanyi offers "it sucks"
Google Translate and Babel Fish both have "not to force"
nciku provides four definitions: "give me strength!"; "fall (all) over oneself"; "mortmain"; "intuitionism"
mdbg presents three definitions: "utterly disappointing"; "huge letdown"; "to not try at all"
After inventing such a breathtaking Chinglish equivalent of bùgěilì 不给力, the campaign was on to get it accepted by Western media. As a matter of fact, I myself was approached several times and asked to help popularize this new "English" word. Deeming "ungelivable" to be ungodly, I didn't lend a hand. There are quite a few other words of this sort for which I have not been able to summon up any enthusiasm, e.g., "niuability" ("having the ability of a bull", i.e., "strong, expert, powerful").
In trumpeting the appearance of such Chinglish words, Chinese English-language media will generally exclaim that they represent the growing economic strength and cultural influence of China in the world, the so-called "peaceful rise" of the PRC. Like the establishment of Confucius Institutes on our campuses or the purchasing of space in American newspapers by the New China News Agency (Xinhua), the infiltration of Chinglish words like "ungelivable" and "taikonaut" are supposed to be examples of China's soft power. The problem is that none of these things are happening naturally as a result of their innate attractiveness. Instead, they are forced and awkward, which makes them essentially unviable from the get-go.
Fortunately, "ungelivable" failed, as it surely should have, but unfortunately it seems as though the equally ungainly "taikonaut" has been getting a bit too much traction for comfort. Judging from the comments on Language Log, however, "taikonaut" doesn't have much of a long-term future either.