Archive for Language and entertainment

Your Pinky Heart

Phenomenally viral song by the Malaysian hip-hop artist, Namewee, "It might Break Your Pinky Heart. Namewee 黃明志 Ft.Kimberley Chen 陳芳語【Fragile 玻璃心】@鬼才做音樂 2021 Ghosician" — premiered on 10/15/21, and it already has nearly 9,000,000 views:

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New expressions for karaoke: the phoneticization of Chinese

My first acquaintance with the word "karaoke" was back in the 1980s, when I was visiting my brother Denis, who was then a translator for Foreign Languages Press in Beijing.  He lived in the old Russian-built Friendship Hotel, a very spartan place compared to today's luxury accommodations in big Chinese cities. There wasn't much unusual, interesting, or attractive about the place (though they had bidets in the bathrooms, as did many other Russian style accommodations in China at that time), but I was deeply intrigued by a small sign at the back of one of the buildings that led to a basement room. On it was written "kǎlā OK 卡拉OK". The best I could make of that novel expression was "card pull OK," and I thought that it might have something to do with documentation. I asked all my Chinese scholar friends what this mysterious sign meant, but not one of them knew (remember that this was back in the mid-80s). It was only when I returned to the United States that I realized kǎlā OK 卡拉OK was the Chinese transcription for Japanese karaoke. It took a lot more time and effort before I figured out that karaoke is the abbreviated Japanese translation-transliteration of English "empty orchestra," viz., kara (空) "empty" and ōkesutora (オーケストラ). When I reported this to my Chinese linguist friends (Zhou Youguang, Yin Binyong, and others) back in Beijing the next year, they were absolutely flabbergasted. They had been convinced that the OK was simply the English term meaning "all right," but they had no idea what to make of the kǎlā portion.

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China's Japan

According to this website of stars with the surname Chu 楚, Sara Chu was born in Japan, China:

Chǔ Jǐn (Sara Chu), shēngrì:  1974 nián 10 yuè 29 rì (xīngqí'èr), chūshēng dì: Zhōngguó Rìběn, xīngzuò: Tiānxiēzuò

楚谨(Sara Chu),生日:1974年10月29日(星期二),出生地: 中国日本,星座:天蝎座

Chu Jin (Sara Chu), birthday: October 29, 1974 (Tuesday), place of birth:  Japan, China, constellation: Scorpio

I've never heard of Sara Chu, and I've never heard of a place in China called "Japan", but it's possible that I missed both of them.

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Korean language in Chinese film

Until Chairman Xi started going after the entertainment world, and especially foreign entertainment, the Chinese people were deeply enamored of Korean soap operas, boy bands, K-Pop girl groups, and so forth.  They idolized the Korean stars, watched their performances, and would even go on pilgrimages to important places associated with them.  Moreover, as with J-pop, manga, and anime, which inspired many young Chinese to learn Japanese language, so were Chinese youth inspired by Korean pop culture to learn Korean language.  So it is not altogether surprising to hear a Chinese film star switch into Korean.

First listen, and see if you can distinguish between the Mandarin and the Korean.  Below I'll give a rough account of the background to this scene.

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"Washing" playing cards and Mahjong tiles

From Bryan Van Norden:

There is a style of shuffling that is used in both Western card games and in Mahjong, called "washing" in English and xǐ 洗 ("washing") in Chinese. As you probably know, a common theory is that playing cards were invented in China during the Tang dynasty, so I wonder if it is more than a coincidence that "washing" as a method of shuffling is a similar metaphor with poker and Mahjong?

Washing Playing Cards:

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"I am Chairman Mao's Bitch"

Jeff DeMarco saw this sign in the window of a building in Hong Kong’s Sheung Wan district in 2009:


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Topolects of The9

The9 is a Chinese girl group hailing from different parts of the PRC.  Here they are playing the telephone / Chinese whispers game with their own topolects*, which they refer to as fāngyán 方言, almost universally mistranslated into English as "dialect".

*See The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, q.v.

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“What’s it to you if I use my uterus or not?”

The actress Qin Lan, who is best known for her role in the wildly popular TV drama "Story of Yanxi Palace", said this in an interview:

“People have been asking me why I’m not getting married, and some have even suggested it’s ‘irresponsible’ if I don’t have a baby. I think it’s strange.

“What’s it to you if I use my uterus or not?”

That line went viral, garnering its own hashtag on Weibo (the Chinese equivalent of Twitter).

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Chinese idol names

[This is a guest post by Alex Baumans]

I recently became aware of the Chinese idol survival programme 'Youth with you', which has resulted in the formation of the group The 9. I got to wondering about the members' names. The group consists of XIN Liu, Esther Yu, Kiki Xu, Yan Yu, Shaking, Babymonster An, Xiaotang Zhao, Snow Kong and K Lu. Of these, only Zhao Xiaotang strikes me as an original Chinese name. As my Mandarin is non existent, I can only guess at the derivation of the other stage names.

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