Sino-English neologisms

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As I've mentioned before, Chinese feel that they have every right to experiment with English, make up their own English words, and compose their own locutions which have never before existed in the English-speaking world.  In recent years, they have become ever more playful and emboldened to create new English terms that they gloss or define in Chinese.  Here are ten such new English terms, or perhaps in some cases I should say modified English terms, together with their Chinese explanations:

1. Democrazy 特色民主 (tèsè mínzhǔ ["democracy with special characteristics"]) — "special Chinese characteristics" (Zhōngguó tèsè 中国特色), of course.

2. Z-turn 折腾 (zhēteng [lit. "fold / bend / break / fracture / bend / twist / roll over / snap soar / rise / leap / prance / gallop / hover";  "turn from side to side; toss about; do something over and over again; cause physical or mental suffering; jactitation {pathology} extremely restless tossing and twitching usually by a person with a severe illness"] — undoubtedly strongly influenced by President Hu Jintao's famous "bù zhēteng 不折腾", as explained by Caijing editor, Hu Shuli (胡舒立), in her March 25, 2009 blog entry (has been removed from the web):

Many translations of this term have so far come out among everyone from journalists to Chinese officials, including “don’t make trouble, “don’t do something that will finally prove useless,” “don’t do something that only wastes time,” and even “don’t flip flop,” “don’t get sidetracked,” “don’t sway back and forth” or “no dithering.” There is also the more down-to-earth version “no major changes.” But there has so far been no translation everyone is satisfied with. At a State Council Information Office press briefing on December 30, not long after the term first emerged, a use of the term by [Information Office director] Wang Chen (王晨) [VHM:  link removed from the web] was rendered simply [in pinyin] as “buzheteng."

[VHM:  I might add the following:  "prevaricate; waffle; waver; be evasive; beat about the bush; hedge; fence; shilly-shally; shuffle; dodge (the issue); sidestep (the issue); pussyfoot; equivocate; be noncommittal; parry questions; be vague; vacillate; quibble; cavil".  Whatever it was that Hu Jintao's "bù zhēteng 不折腾" pointed to in the Chinese sociopolitical psyche, it certainly struck a raw nerve.  The whole brouhaha over "bù zhēteng 不折腾" reminds me of one of my favorite Chinese expressions:  "dǎ bùdìng zhǔyì 打不定主意" {"indecisiveness; the 'ism' of being unable to make up one's mind; like an ass between two bundles of hay"}]

See David Bandurski, "Musings on a CCP buzzword that has everyone stumped", China Media Project (3/27/09).

3. Departyment 国家部门 (guójiā bùmén ["state / national department / sector"])

4. Chinsumer 中国购物人 (Zhōngguó gòuwù rén ["Chinese shopper"]) — that looks bland and innocent enough, but it has a deeper meaning that exposes some troubling global aspects of the Chinese economy.  Namely, any transnational reference to "Chinese shoppers" unavoidably evokes the phenomenon of the dàigòu 代购 ("purchase on behalf of; act as a purchasing agent") phenomenon, for which see:

"Daigou: a Mandarin borrowing-in-progress in English" (10/27/16)

The daigou are especially conspicuous in Australia, but I've also seen abundant evidence of their existence right here in Philadelphia, and they are active in Japan and elsewhere.  Basically, what the daigou do is go overseas and buy things like milk powder, medicines, fancy toilets, high tech rice cookers, fashion accessories, name brand cosmetics, expensive handbags, etc. in considerable quantity, then transport them back to China to sell at a handsome profit.  This type of under-the-radar commerce flourishes as a means for Chinese consumers to avoid taxes, tariffs, surcharges, quotas, and so forth.

5. Gunvernment 枪杆子政权 (qiānggǎnzǐ zhèngquán ["gun barrel regime"]

6. Propoorty 房地产 (fángdìchǎn ["real estate"])

7. Shitizen 屁民 (pìmín ["buttocks / fart / shit people / civilians"])

8. Smilence 笑而不语 (xiào ér bù yǔ ["smile without speaking"]) — presented as a literary phrase

9. Vegesteal 偷菜 (tōu cài ["steal vegetables"} — a part of gaming culture

10. Circusee 围观者 (wéiguānzhě ["onlookers"])

It is clear that the Chinese take great delight in coining these new English terms.  One serious side-aspect of such terms that we should not overlook is their ability to function as social and political critique.

Reading

[Thanks to Zhou Ying]



14 Comments »

  1. Jin said,

    April 14, 2019 @ 12:58 pm

    "Chinese feel that they have every right to experiment with English, make up their own English words" — sure, and why shouldn't they? That's the beauty of language, it's the ultimate collaborative worldbuilding project.

    I also feel like "democrazy" and "shitizen" have some real potential for being exported to the English-speaking world at large, though their implications might change a bit in the borrowing.

  2. Ross Presser said,

    April 14, 2019 @ 1:22 pm

    I've seen "democrazy" before, in the novelette "The Coon Rolled Down and Ruptured His Larinks, A Squeezed Novel by Mr. Skunk" [1] by Dafydd ab Hugh in 1990.
    Screenshot from Google Books is here [2]

    [1] https : // en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Coon_Rolled_Down_and_Ruptured_His_Larinks,_A_Squeezed_Novel_by_Mr._Skunk

    [2] https : // i.imgur.com/lm1bbXh.png

  3. Outeast said,

    April 14, 2019 @ 1:42 pm

    Those are pretty cool. I like "z turn" a lot and am frankly surprised to encounter it as a novelty. (I'm sure it wasn't meant that way but "the Chinese think they have every right" makes it sound like it's a presumption. Why on Earth would they not have the right? No one owns English.) Shitizen is great too – I want "shitizen of nowhere" on a t-shirt. And we're all living in a democrazy now.

  4. Joseph Bottum said,

    April 14, 2019 @ 1:45 pm

    VHM: As far as translating "bù zhēteng" goes, there's always the underemployed "abulic" or "aboulic," with the lovely general noun of "abulia." As anyone who's sat through faculty meetings knows, the condition of neurotic inability to arrive at a decision is more widespread than may be supposed by those without the experience of university meetings.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    April 14, 2019 @ 2:16 pm

    @Joseph Bottum

    Thanks for giving a name to what I've been experiencing at faculty meetings for the past 40 years. Usually what I do during such abulic hours is stare out the window or look at little specks on the walls of the room.

  6. Michèle Sharik Pituley said,

    April 14, 2019 @ 2:31 pm

    Hey do they say zee-turn or zed-turn?

  7. 번하드 said,

    April 14, 2019 @ 3:15 pm

    Some of these are really worth stealing back!

    Re Chinsumers/Daigou: Yes, that's a thing here in Germany, too, and has been for quite a few years.
    Some drugstore chains reacted by rationing milk powder and baby food!
    One of them, to my surprise, now started proactively going after this new customer group.
    https://www.rossmannchina.cn/
    Maybe they built a stockpile.

  8. Bathrobe said,

    April 14, 2019 @ 5:28 pm

    I've always thought of 折腾 as meaning 'f**k around (with), f**k someone around'. It fits at least some of the senses.

  9. jp said,

    April 14, 2019 @ 7:55 pm

    Shitizens of Democrazy

  10. Duncan said,

    April 14, 2019 @ 11:09 pm

    Many of these definitely fill gaps that otherwise take several words to get the desired nuance of meaning, and I hope to start using them immediately!

    But while I can read "democrazy", I'm having a hard time saying it. In ordered to provide appropriate contrast and be understood, I instinctively want to emphasize -crazy, but then I can't get demo- to come out well. It either sounds like a demo, or if I emphasize the -o- as I would with democracy, I can't appropriately emphasize -crazy, and I expect people unfamiliar with the -crazy variant wouldn't catch it, thinking it just a peculiar pronunciation of the more familiar term. A link to someone saying it appropriately might be helpful.

  11. Andreas Johansson said,

    April 15, 2019 @ 12:02 am

    Like Ross Presser, I've seen "democrazy" before, in contexts that don't suggest (but hardly exclude) a Chinese origin. It's probably obvious enough to have been repeatedly coined independently.

  12. John Finkbiner said,

    April 17, 2019 @ 12:28 pm

    “Basically, what the daigou do is go overseas and buy things like milk powder, medicines, fancy toilets, high tech rice cookers, fashion accessories, name brand cosmetics, expensive handbags, etc. in considerable quantity, then transport them back to China to sell at a handsome profit. This type of under-the-radar commerce flourishes as a means for Chinese consumers to avoid taxes, tariffs, surcharges, quotas, and so forth.”

    Is this different from smuggling? If so, how?

  13. B.Ma said,

    April 19, 2019 @ 1:45 am

    @John Finkbiner

    It may or may not differ from smuggling, as some of it is probably done legally and some of it isn't. For example if you are a parent who wants a lot of milk powder and there is a limit on what you can personally transport, you can get 5 people to separately transport their personal limit and then sell it all to you later.

  14. Philip Taylor said,

    April 19, 2019 @ 3:39 am

    John F — I would regard it as "smuggling" if and only if the goods concerned were (a) listed as goods that must be declared on entry to the PRC, and (b) were not so declared. Otherwise it seems to be pure entrepreneurship to me, something that is completely in accordance with the ethos of both the PRC and of Việt Nam today (and perhaps of other theoretically communist countries as well).

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