Biscriptal juxtaposition in Chinese, part 2

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When Tom Mazanec came home from Fudan University in Shanghai a few nights ago, he found this leaflet in a baggie hanging on his door:

It advertises a food delivery service called Líng hào xiàn 零号线 ("Line 0"), with a series of cartoons on the inside illustrating how speedy food delivery can solve all of one's problems. Only the cover is pictured here; for the inside contents, see Tom's blog post.

One might suppose that the pinyin (with tones carefully indicated) was meant to phonetically annotate the two characters with which they are matched, but such — as we shall soon see — is not the case.

There's also quite a good mix of characters, pinyin, and English on the inside (Tom transcribes and translates one whole panel out of four).

Momentarily setting aside the pinyin, this is what's written on the front cover of the leaflet:

yī gè chénggōng chīhuò de qiāngdiào 一个成功吃货的腔调
("the air / pretension of a successful chowhound").

chīhuò 吃货 ("food aficionado; chowhound; foodie")
qiāngdiào 腔调 (usually means "accent; intonation; tone of voice", but here it refers more to "pretension" or "stylishness")

If we convert the pinyin (bī) (gé) to characters, we obtain 逼格, which is an expression that occurs frequently on the internet. This bīgé 逼格 (lit., "forced style" [though both characters have many other meanings]) is like zhuāngbī 装逼 ("pretend to be awesome –> elegant / sophisticated / intelligent / fashionable / upper-class"). The irony of this expression is that, while the zhuāng 装 ("pretend") portion is straightforward, the bī 逼 part, which can also be written as "B" or more straightforwardly as 屄 (though this character is avoided by most folks), is a vulgar term referring to the female genitalia.

This bī 逼 / B / 屄 (the first two forms, 逼 and B, are euphemistic transcriptions of the third, 屄, the real McCoy) is short for niúbī 牛逼 ("cow cunt / vagina"), a vulgar expression that is usually bowdlerized as "awesome" or something of that sort. Niúbī 牛逼 is explained in "Beat of the person awarded", with links to earlier posts and comments dealing with this colorful term that is so ubiquitous nowadays.

The question, then, is how this "(bī) (gé)" (i.e., bīgé 逼格), which is apparently some sort of annotation, relates to qiāngdiào 腔调 ("air; pretension"). Basicallly, bīgé 逼格 ("cuntish / awesome style") is a randy takeoff of qiāngdiào 腔调 ("air; pretension"). Thus, taking the phrase on the cover as a whole, we have

yī gè chénggōng chīhuò de qiāngdiào (bī) (gé) 一个成功吃货的腔调(bī)(gé)
("the air / pretension [i.e., cuntish / awesome style] of a successful chowhound")

This type of pinyin annotation of Chinese characters is a phenomenon that I discussed at length in "Biscriptal juxtaposition in Chinese" (8/17/14).

This usage of pinyin is very popular on the Internet. Here's a simpler example than the one explicated above: tā shì yīgè měishí (chi1) jiā (huo4) 他是一个美食(chi1)家(huo4). Ostensibly, this says tā shì yīgè měishíjiā 他是一个美食家 ("he is a gourmet"), but, with the pinyin annotation, it takes on an additional nuance: tā shì yīgè chīhuò 他是一个吃货 ("he is a chowhound / foodie").

Similarly, we may now reinterpret the phrase on the leaflet cover thus:

yī gè chénggōng chīhuò de qiāngdiào (bī) (gé) 一个成功吃货的腔调(bī)(gé)
("the air / pretension [i.e., cuntish / awesome style] of a successful chowhound")

yī gè chénggōng chīhuò de qiāngdiào 一个 成功吃货的腔调
("the air / pretension of a successful chowhound")

yī gè chénggōng chīhuò de bīgé 一个成功吃货的逼格
("the cuntish / awesome style of a successful chowhound")

That's what you'll be if you use our food delivery service!

Incidentally, Tom makes some nice discoveries in his explication of the contents on the inside of the leaflet. For instance, the èrbī 二B (a vulgar, slang term for "fool; idiot; dolt; dunce") is depicted in the cartoons as the one who's always making instant noodles instead of calling up the food delivery service. This is just another reason why opening up an Arby's in China would be taking quite a risk.

As Chinese become more familiar and comfortable with the Latin alphabet through pinyin (romanized) inputting, learning English and other Western languages, looking things up in alphabetically ordered indices and dictionaries, seeing advertisements and signs, and so forth, they are increasingly willing to engage in the sort of biscriptal word play described in this post, to substitute pinyin for characters they can't recall (i.e., character amnesia) or that are taboo, to use pinyin in e-mail and SMS / texting, etc. All of this stands as confirmation of the emergence of digraphia. See the many posts listed here.

[Thanks to Jing Wen and Fangyi Cheng]


  1. Tom said,

    October 15, 2014 @ 11:35 am

    Thanks for helping to solve the mystery, Prof. Mair! One of my friends also pointed out that there's another level of punning going on: bīgé 逼格 has also been used as a transcription of the English "bigger," as in this iPhone ad:

  2. Victor Mair said,

    October 15, 2014 @ 3:39 pm


    Bīgé 逼格 as a transcription of the English word "big" is discussed here: "Applenese2" (9/13/14)

  3. Ken said,

    October 15, 2014 @ 4:28 pm

    Is there any significance to the two distinct stroke widths in the top lines?

  4. Rubrick said,

    October 15, 2014 @ 4:30 pm

    Interesting as always. I can't help but feel that there must be a better word than "biscriptal", though. It feels asthetically clunky to me.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    October 16, 2014 @ 11:03 am


    No significance whatsoever. Striking, yes, but purely stylistic.


    I agree that "biscriptal" sounds clunky, but can't think of anything better.

    One reason that it sounds so odd may be simply that it refers to a phenomenon that is rare in the experience of most people. But we'd better get used to it, since the simultaneous use of two scripts in the same sentence / passage for special effect is something that is happening more and more in Chinese. It's different from digraphia, which we've also often discussed on Language Log (see the last two sentences of the main post above).

  6. Ken said,

    October 16, 2014 @ 11:59 am

    @Victor, thanks. I thought it might be some kind of hidden message, where if you step back and squint, or superimpose those strokes, you see other characters.

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