Since the beginning of history

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I have mentioned chinaSMACK before on Language Log, but have never featured it so directly as in this post.  The reason is that this time there's an interesting language aspect to one of their articles that is hard to pass up.

chinaSMACK specializes in translating trenchant, amazing stories from the vast amount of traffic that flows through China's microblogs and on the internet more generally.  Sometimes they are so bizarre and surreal that my initial reaction upon reading them — after being shocked senseless or laughing myself silly — is to dismiss them as Onionesque.  But that is usually impossible because they are so well documented.  In the present case, there is an initial news report and five stunning photographs.  Because the photographs are so gross and graphic, just downright disgusting, I won't show them directly on Language Log (especially not during the holidays), but readers can go to the link and see them with their own eyes.

"Excrement Tanker Explodes, Covering Everyone in Human Waste"  (12/28/14)

The first comment, which occasioned this post on Language Log, is as follows:

Yǒu shǐ yǐlái zuì rènxìng de pēnzi 有屎以来最任性的喷子
(N.B. I should mention that, for all the English translations on chinaSMACK, if you mouse over them, the original Chinese text will appear.)

Here's chinaSMACK's translation and explanation

"The most headstrong sprayer since the beginning of shit."

[Note: This comment involves multiple puns. Pēnzi 喷子 “sprayer” also means hater, flamer, a netizen who complains too much or attacks others. It is used here to echo the excrement that was sprayed in the explosion. Yǒu shǐ yǐlái 有屎以来 is a pun of yǒu shǐ yǐlái 有史以来, the latter which means “since the beginning of time”. Taken together, the comment doesn’t really say anything but simply involves puns relevant to the story and to Chinese internet culture.]

VHM:  yǒu shǐ yǐlái 有史以来 could also be translated as "since the beginning of history".

The last of the Chinese comments on the story is:

zìyóu fēixiáng 自由飞翔……

chinaSMACK translates this as "[Shit] freely flies…"  Fair enough, but I would add that this is a magnificent double entendre that may also be rendered as "freedom soars" or "freely soar".

After the last Chinese comment, there are links to related articles, links for sharing, a few ads and notices, but then down at the bottom, there are comments written originally in English, which should not be overlooked.  The very first one, by biggj, is this:  "The shit hit the fan….literally" — complete with photographic illustration.

Unless the Chinese government shuts down the internet entirely, they will never be able to bring a halt to the unbridled penchant for punning of China's netizens.

If they ever tried that, what a waste it would be!


  1. Joe said,

    December 28, 2014 @ 8:21 pm

    Thanks for the link, to clarify 自由飞翔 comes from a viral song that we pointed out. In the online context xiang usually means shit such as Lanxiang vocational school, which netizens nicknamed blueshit

  2. Victor Mair said,

    December 28, 2014 @ 8:36 pm


    Yeah, blueshit || bullshit.

    Thanks for calling your article on Lanxiang Vocational School to our attention. I had no idea it was THAT place where all those things happened.

  3. Victor Mair said,

    December 28, 2014 @ 8:37 pm

    An alternative title for this post might be "When history hits the fan".

  4. Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong said,

    December 29, 2014 @ 12:23 am

    Dr. Mair,
    It is nice to find out that you blog here.

    At LinkedIn, we have a good discussion forum (mostly Chinese language teachers) at . We had some great discussions there. You are welcome.

    For someone is not a member of that group, I have put some discussion at .

  5. Bill Benzon said,

    December 29, 2014 @ 4:11 am

    FWIW, there is an incident in the Winnebago Trickster cycle where Trickster ends up covering the earth with his own excrement and has to climb a tree to get above it all. It starts when he ingests a plant that, unknown to him, has laxative properties. The plant asked him to eat it, so he did. At first he just breaks wind. But the wind, as it were, takes on substance until it becomes an unstoppable torrent.

    1956. The Trickster: A Study in Native American Mythology (New York: Schocken Books, 1956). Commentaries by Karl Kerenyi and C. G. Jung. ISBN 0-8-52-0351-6.

  6. Bill Benzon said,

    December 29, 2014 @ 4:12 am

    Oh, the Trickster cycle was collected by Paul Radin.

  7. Geoff said,

    January 3, 2015 @ 6:09 am

    More like "The most headstrong sprayer in the anals of history".

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