A Sino-English grammatical construction

« previous post | next post »

As I was preparing a recent post comparing Pekingese and Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) sentences, I encountered an unusual (to me) expression that, at first, I didn't know how to interpret, namely "笑CRY".  The two morphemes (pronounced "xiàoCRY", one Chinese and one English, mean "laugh" and "cry".

This "笑CRY" occurs adjectivally in the prefatory note to the list of two dozen pairs of Pekingese and MSM sentences to modify jiézòu 节奏 ("rhythm").  The author says that "our Pekingingese speech is so adorable and funny, with its 笑CRY rhythm."

"Laugh and cry"?

Still not sure of the exact meaning of 笑CRY, I googled it for more examples and was just blown away when I found that "笑CRY" garnered 8,470,000 ghits!

As I have learned to do since studying medieval vernacular manuscripts during the 70s and coming across terms for which there were no dictionary entries, I started to read dozens of occurrences of "笑CRY" in context.  It didn't take me long to realize that it's a calque for English "laugh so hard you cry".  This means that the relationship between "笑" and "CRY" is that of verb + complement.  How hard do you laugh?  You laugh so hard that you cry.

This is by no means the first time we have encountered an English morpheme being used to play a Chinese grammatical role:

"Once more on the present continuative ending -ing in Chinese " (3/21/14)

"A new way of 寫ing Mandarin" (1/13/08)

"A New Morpheme in Mandarin " (4/26/11)

What floors me, however, is the degree to which such usages are occurring in contemporary Chinese languages and the naturalness with which they are employed.  This direct use of English words as morphemes in thoroughly Chinese grammatical patterns is one giant step beyond the use of Roman letters to write Sinitic morphemes, as we have discussed at great length in "Duang" and in many other posts.


  1. Jacob Li said,

    March 23, 2015 @ 1:04 pm

    This originated from Baidu Tieba. Basically it is from a set of neologisms called "淋语" that some fans of Japanese pop music used to satirise Taiwanese singer Jolin Tsai, which got popularized later.

  2. Victor Mair said,

    March 23, 2015 @ 1:42 pm

    I've seen línyǔ 淋语 referred to as "Linglish".



    But "Linglish" also means this, which is quite different:

    "Where English meets Linguistics"



    Nor is it this:

    "Linglish, or, some thoughts on a scripting language for the Linux desktop"


    I think that we're gonna have to revisit línyǔ 淋语 after my next post, which discusses the form "Xvb.", where "X" is the Roman letter and "vb." is a Chinese verb written with a character.

  3. Yu Renye said,

    March 23, 2015 @ 3:05 pm

    i'm still waiting for people to start asking each other if they're "O不OK"?

  4. Oona Houlihan said,

    March 23, 2015 @ 3:47 pm

    Well, there s an interesting development in Asia: learned societies and generally Asian supranational associations, working groups etc. etc. by over 90% use English as their working language for various reasons. Not only are their languages often much less related than are Indo-Germanic languages in Europe, where French is often used for diplomatic documents/charters etc. but also due to Sino-Japanese and Japanese-Korean strained relationships due to various atrocities etc. it would probably be rather unwise to vote for either of these three languages as a working language in an Asian academy etc. That said, maybe English now plays a much greater role for younger people in Asia than we might imagine.

  5. JC said,

    March 23, 2015 @ 3:57 pm

    it's commonly associated with the emoji

  6. JC said,

    March 23, 2015 @ 3:59 pm

    Whoops, my last comment was cut short.. I was gonna say similar constructions include 笑尿 and 笑出翔

  7. Victor Mair said,

    March 23, 2015 @ 5:35 pm

    @Yu Renye

    On a search for "O不OK", I got 59,000 ghits. In the same search, there were a lot of other interesting constructions that turned up, such as:






    OK啦 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OK)

    O 唔 OK

    你O 不OK



  8. Luo Bande said,

    March 23, 2015 @ 5:44 pm

    @ Dr Mair – should've checked, but thanks for listing all those great examples. "OK啦" is just inserting English alongside the mandarin, fairly ordinary stuff, but ostensibly weird and nonsensical constructions like "O不OK" have irresistible logic to them (both from Western and Chinese speaker angles) that's really interesting – why does that feel right?

  9. Michael Watts said,

    March 23, 2015 @ 6:36 pm

    What is 笑CRY bringing to the table that 笑哭 doesn't? Do you have to be sad to 哭?

  10. Eidolon said,

    March 23, 2015 @ 6:45 pm

    @Michael Watts: memetic potential. 笑哭 is already an acceptable construction in MSM and does indeed express "laugh so hard as to cry." But it's too banal to be an internet meme. 笑CRY sounds trendier, and this does play into the tendency in East Asia to regard English as a prestige language of sorts, especially in internet culture.

  11. Victor Mair said,

    March 23, 2015 @ 9:15 pm

    From Bob Bauer:

    As for OK, indeed it's very common in Cantonese speech and has become thoroughly integrated into the Cantonese lexicon and syntax.
    I hear it all the time in the speech of all kinds of speakers, regardless of age.

  12. Victor Mair said,

    March 24, 2015 @ 4:56 am


    "memetic potential"

    Your whole answer is the most succinct, cogent, and intelligent explanation for this phenomenon that I have ever seen. Thanks!

  13. Jacob Li said,

    March 24, 2015 @ 11:30 am

    Just to add a little:

    The use of "Cry" seems to be initially influenced by a Japanese internet memetic form "(ry" [the first character is the left parenthesis, not "C"], where "ry" is a shorthand for Japanese "略" (りゃく), which itself is a shorthand for "以下略" [which approximately means "et cetera"].

    After all, the inventors of "淋语” were mostly J-Pop fans (who fumed at Jolin Tsai's alleged plagiarism from J-Pop) well-versed in Japanese internet culture.

    It seems that when popularized in the greater internet population in China, it lost the original Japanese meaning and picked up the meaning of the English word "cry". But people still tend to capitalize the C while use small letters for ry.

RSS feed for comments on this post