Tormented in Taiwanese

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A couple of weeks ago, we encountered the case of Chang Chun-ning being asked by her fěnsī 粉絲 ("fans") on the Mainland to change one of the characters in her name that they weren't familiar with:

"7,530,000 mainlanders petition Taiwan actress to change her name" (5/14/15)

After the incident about the bank in China telling Chang Chun-ning to change her name that was quoted and translated by K. Chang here ("Even the bank wanted me to change my name. I've had enough!!!!!!"), there is another clause that finishes her Weibo (microblog) post, as quoted in the China Times article:

hái fù shàng 'zhuākuáng' de tiētú 還附上「抓狂」的貼圖。

I could figure out the general meaning without too much difficulty ("and she added a 'crazy' sticky picture"), but there were two parts of it that I wasn't entirely clear about:

1. the precise nuance and topolectal status of zhuākuáng 抓狂 ("grab crazy")

2. exactly what a tiētú 貼圖 ("sticky picture") is

The second item is easier to handle, although the answers I received from people in Taiwan and on the Mainland about it were somewhat different.

1. Taiwan

As for 貼圖, it means "stickers" that you use in FB messages, Weibo, or Line (an APP for instant communications on electronic devices). There might be different types of stickers to describe your emotions or feelings or facial expression right now.

2. Mainland

It means "[she] also enclosed/attached the maddening picture."

Sometimes people upload (an) image(s) as an evidence of what they talk about on social media. It's sometimes called "上圖" (verb+object), or less frequently, "貼圖" (verb+object). Although I don't often see "貼圖" functioning as a noun, it's understandable given that words like "截屏" (crop from the screen) are often used as a noun in addition to their literal (verb+object) meaning.

3. Mainland

贴图 refers to photos posted on social media, including weibo, facebook, twitter, etc.

4. Mainland

I think that sentence means adding the [Tormented] sticker at the end of the sentence. It is very usual to put these stickers in Weibo post or conversation in the internet. I think it is even more popular in Japan.

Judging from the sample illustrations that were sent in to accompany these explanations, it would seem that Chang Chun-ning attached an emoticon indicating frustration and vexation.

Turning to 抓狂, which is read as "zhuākuáng" in Mandarin, speakers of Mandarin understand that it means something like "going crazy from being tormented", yet they sense that it isn't really a Mandarin expression, but rather is a more or less (whole or partial) Taiwanese expression.  The question is, how much of it is Taiwanese and how much Mandarin.  The responses of my informants are not in agreement with regard to what degree and in what way zhuākuáng 抓狂 is Mandarin and to what degree and in what way it is Taiwanese.

1. Mainland northern Mandarin speaker

"抓狂" is close to "crawling up the walls"–being in an agitated or restless, or more often, very crazy and excited state.

2. Mainland Amoy (Southern Min [as is Taiwanese]) speaker

Both characters are direct transcriptions of Taiwanese word 抓狂 lia̍h-kông.  抓狂 in Mandarin means "being pissed off," while in Taiwanese it is used to describe extreme outrage, as if "a real fight is about to start."

3. Taiwan Mandarin speaker of Taiwanese descent

As far as I know, both characters are semantic translations of the Taiwanese morphemes. This term is pronounced as "liaʔ⊦-kɔŋ´" in Taiwanese. The first morpheme means "to catch" and the second morpheme means "crazy, insane." The term, as you mentioned, means "going crazy."

Here's a webpage that provides detailed explanations of this term.

4. Taiwan Mandarin speaker of Taiwanese descent

抓狂 is a term from Taiwan Mandarin. I listed it in my paper collected by the Sino-Platonic Papers. 抓狂 means going crazy. The first character is a transcription of its pronunciation in Taiwanese and the second word is a semantic translation.

5. British specialist on Taiwanese language

The first character (not the second) is a semantic translation. The Taiwanese term is lia̍h-kông, with the lia̍h being one of those characterless morphemes that so annoy the Hanzi completists. It means "catch, grab" and is also heard in tabloid news in the colourful expression lia̍h-kâu ("catching monkeys"), used to describe police busts on motels with the intent of apprehending adulterous couples in flagrante delicto (adultery being a criminal matter in Taiwan). I don't think there's any great mystery to the second morpheme: kông and kuáng are semantically identical, both derived from the Middle Chinese and divergent only in pronunciation.

If you're wondering about 抓 in Taiwanese, it has two pronunciations. Jiàu has a more restricted meaning than the Mandarin equivalent, being limited in my understanding to "scratch/to scratch". The other, less common pronunciation (likely the "reading" pronunciation) is choa (much closer to the Mandarin pronunciation), and is used solely in stock collocations like it-pá-choa (一把抓; "to take everything into one's own hands").

Summarizing the points regarding 抓 in Taiwanese, it has 3 pronunciations, each with its own meaning and usage:

1. lia̍h — where it is being used as an ad hoc, makeshift semantic translation for a Taiwanese morpheme for which there is no known Chinese character

2. jiàu — Sinitic pronunciation meaning "scratch; to scratch"

3. choa — Sinitic pronunciation meaning roughly "grab"

By "Sinitic" in items 2 and 3, I mean that these pronunciations, together with their ascribed meanings, can more or less roughly fit within or be accounted for by the framework of traditional Chinese phonology (rime dictionaries, etc.).

To end this post, here is a  delightful "lia̍h-kông song" 抓狂歌 by Miku.

Kawaii desu ne!

[Thanks to Michael Cannings, Grace Wu, Rebecca Fu, Sophie Wei, Melvin Lee, Fangyi Cheng, Wei Shao, and Xiuyuan Mi]


  1. K. Chang said,

    May 31, 2015 @ 1:08 pm

    Regarding "tietu"… it's literally sticky pictures, or just stickers. WeChat (another chat app) lets you "stick" them in messages. More expressive than emojis, and often animated. Here's an illustration from WeChat's Google Playstore listing. (It is, of course another source of revenue if they license well-known cartoon characters)

    The song you found was not the original. The original was a MInnanyu / Taiwanese song that dated back to 1989, which combines rock/techno and tongue twister with Minnanyu which was a revolution at the time. Had something to do with "Taiwan Pride", it seems.

    There is a song just called 抓狂 by Mayday 五月天 whose music video seem to have used some random footage from HALO the game, i.e. "makes no sense".

  2. K. Chang said,

    May 31, 2015 @ 1:12 pm

    Come to think of it, could 抓狂 be a Taiwanese/Chinese/Minnanyu eggcorn?

  3. K Chang said,

    May 31, 2015 @ 4:32 pm

    Here's a the "tietu" that may have been used by her… It's basically equivalent of American "AAUGH!!!!" (Charlie Brown from Peanuts)

  4. Poagao said,

    May 31, 2015 @ 4:34 pm

    抓狂歌 was one of my favorites when it came out here. I was in college in Taichung; I listened to it all the time. I still have the tape. Just hearing that "What the hell are you doing?" takes me back to those awful Tunghai dorms.

    I also like 阿爸的話 and 計程車 from that album。

  5. Victor Mair said,

    May 31, 2015 @ 4:41 pm


    I taught at Tunghai University from 1970-72 when it was still a beautiful campus with unified architecture, surrounded by sugar cane fields, woods, and pleasant open spaces. Very different from now!

  6. Jeff W said,

    May 31, 2015 @ 8:27 pm

    …it would seem that Chang Chun-ning attached an emoticon indicating frustration and vexation

    Certainly emoticons are not stickers and stickers are not emoticons and neither are photos (image files) that one would attach. Based on the responses, Chang either used a sticker or attached an image (or possibly linked to an image).

    Emoticons use typographic displays—this :-) is one example.

    Emoji are characters adopted by the Unicode Consortium—which will include, in its latest update, bacon, avocado, but no taco (Taco Bell’s reaction: “devastated”)—that have pictures associated with them, in fact different pictures by different vendors (so the bacon I send on my mobile might look different from the bacon you see on your mobile).

    This piece in The Guardian elucidates the crucial—if not inviolable—distinction between emoticons and emoji, and mentions that “emoji” itself is derived from e and moji [文字] (“character”)—so the word is not even related to “emoticon” and has nothing to do with “emotion.” Emoticons and emoji, being character-based, appear in line with text—they’re not attached, at least not in the way an image or video file is.

    Stickers are not like either—they’re not based in the native SMS application but in specific apps like LINE and are not character-based. And, at least on the LINE app, they appear as standalone images (examples here)—in any case, they aren’t attached either. LINE retains the distinction between emoticons, emoji, and stickers—they appear under separate tabs—but appears to have dropped emoticons entirely in a pretty recent upgrade in its mobile app.

  7. Richard W said,

    May 31, 2015 @ 11:29 pm

    Out of curiosity, why were the Tunghai University dorms "awful"?

    Tunghai was a pleasant place to visit in the late 90s when I was living in Taichung. We used to stroll around the campus and stop in at the bookstore. What's Tunghai like now?

  8. Victor Mair said,

    June 1, 2015 @ 9:51 am

    @K. Chang

    If you think that 抓狂 could be a "Taiwanese/Chinese/Minnanyu eggcorn", you need look into the relationships among Taiwanese and Mandarin which I was at pains to explain in this post and in many other Language Log posts. You also need to inform yourself about what an eggcorn is.

  9. Rodger C said,

    June 1, 2015 @ 11:23 am

    “emoji” itself is derived from e and moji [文字] (“character”)—so the word is not even related to “emoticon” and has nothing to do with “emotion.”

    While knowing very little Japanese, I have to say I'm suspicious on principle of explanations like this. I suspect that at least a deliberate Japanese/English pun was intended. It reminds me of the notion that "poke salad" was somehow named, not after the humble pokeweed* from which it's made, but after President J. K. Polk.

    *"Poke" here is from Algonkian, "dye."

  10. K Chang said,

    June 1, 2015 @ 11:24 am

    My thought on 抓狂 was based on your summary of pronunciation 1)

    1. lia̍h — where it is being used as an ad hoc, makeshift semantic translation for a Taiwanese morpheme for which there is no known Chinese character

    Where you basically said somebody simply use that word, seemingly unrelated, to stand in for a Taiwanese morpheme that previously never HAD a Chinese written character. I was pointing out the POSSIBILITY that someone may have meant for some OTHER character but did an eggcorn (bad transcription/rhyme) and the eggcorn became the popular expression because the result is a much cooler expression/phrase.

    Or did I completely missed the point about eggcorn? Yes, I did read your previous post on it, and the Time article. I thought I saw a parallel between this and "Chomp at the bits" (where it really was CHAMP at the bits, except nowadays everybody says "chomp")

    Or perhaps you're commenting that once the expression became popular, it can no longer be considered an eggcorn, esp. when the origin is unclear?

  11. K Chang said,

    June 1, 2015 @ 11:26 am

    For those who have a Facebook account, there's Facebook's explanation about stickers / tietu 貼圖.

  12. E-Ping Rau said,

    June 2, 2015 @ 12:43 am

    According to the Taiwanese Minnan Dictionary of Ministry of Education, the "lia̍h" in "lia̍h-kông" corresponds to the hanzi "掠" (the dictionary entry is here). Its Mandarin pronunciation is "lyuè", so it's not implausible, though I do not have sufficient knowledge in historical Chinese phonology to confirm or refute the correspondence (the stance of the panel in charge of compiling this dictionary is, admittedly, one of Hanzi completists.)

  13. Mark Dunan said,

    June 2, 2015 @ 9:54 am

    絵 (e, picture) + 文字 (moji, written characters) is right in line with many other words formed from adding some description to moji, such as 象形文字 (pictographs), キリル文字 (Cyrillic letters), 楔形文字 (cuneiform glyphs), and many others.

    I had one of the first cell phones to feature emoji (I almost italicized this, but it's practically English by now) back in 2004 or so. Very few of the "pictures" had much to do with emotions; most were ways to express full words with single pictures. Bank, train, convenience store, secret, e-mail envelope, and things like that. They were not as popular as they could have been because each phone provider had their own emoji so you had to know whether the recipient could read them before sending a message.

  14. Mark Dunan said,

    June 2, 2015 @ 9:55 am

    Oops, forgot to say who I was replying to. That was for Rodger C.

  15. Rodger C said,

    June 2, 2015 @ 12:03 pm

    Ah. Thank you.

  16. Rodger C said,

    June 2, 2015 @ 1:01 pm

    For some reason my comment appeared and then disappeared. Once more, thanks for the correction.

  17. Rodger C said,

    June 2, 2015 @ 1:01 pm

    And there it is!

  18. K Chang said,

    June 2, 2015 @ 1:23 pm

    @E-Ping Rau — so the official hanzi is 掠? My exposure to that word is as a part of 掠擊者, which somehow was the Chinese name of the Grumman A-6 Intruder. :)

    I've always gotten the impression that the word has something do with with plunder. :D Not sure how did that word came to be associated with Minnanyu "liah" other than sound. I'll defer to Prof Mair on that.

  19. K. Chang said,

    June 2, 2015 @ 4:31 pm

    @Victor Mair — no idea how accurate this is, but Baidu Knows! Crowd-sourced knowledgebase indicated that 抓狂 was the Chinese title of some Japanese Manga that featured a bit of violence humor popular in grade schools.

    Baike referred to both the Minnanyu origin and the Manga origin, but has no details.

    Apparently the Japanese Anime / Manga was 抓狂一族 (Taiwan title), 浦安铁筋家族 (China Title), or うらやすてっきんかぞく (Yrayasu Tekkin Kazoku) original title.

    Which suggests that the Minnanyu origin was the real one, and the Manga/Anime title is derivative.

  20. K. Chang said,

    June 2, 2015 @ 4:45 pm

    Found another entry that claimed this is one of those "using Mandarin to approximate sounds in Minnanyu" instances, like 蝦米 (xiami) to stand for 社麼 in Minnayu (pronounced a bit like sha-mee) but my Minnanyu is “爛 lan" enough to not recognize the original expression.

  21. Richard W said,

    June 2, 2015 @ 7:51 pm

    The derivation of the Japanese word "emoji" from "e" (picture) and "moji" (character) may have "nothing to do with 'emotion' ", but the loanword "emoji" in English, as defined in Merriam-Webster, is linked with emotion:

    The Merriam-Webster unabridged dictionary has added 1,700 new entries, including Internet slang words such as "emoji" and "meme." Merriam Webster defines "emoji" as "any of various small images, symbols, or icons used in text fields in electronic communication (as in text messages, e-mail and social media) to express the emotional attitude."

    American Heritage Dictionary's definition, on the other hand, is closer to modern Japanese usage of "emoji" in that it doesn't say that the icons express emotion:

    1. A standardized ideogrammatic icon, as of a face or a heart, used especially in electronic messages or on webpages.
    2. Such icons considered collectively.

    At any rate, in Japanese, "emoji" has a wider range of meaning than either of these two English definitions. For example, the Wikipedia article on "emoji" says 絵文字は象形文字の前段階と考えられている。 (Pictograms (絵文字 or "emoji") are regarded as a precursor of hieroglyphics.) and mentions the use of 絵文字 in the Edo period.

  22. E-Ping Rau said,

    June 2, 2015 @ 8:24 pm

    @K. Chang: well, that is the officially recommended hanzi, at least in Taiwan. I'm not sure if in Fujian they designate another character for the word.

    Again, I'm no expert, but to me the semantic connection is made via "to plunder" — "to take, to catch (in a concrete sense" — "to get, to become (in an abstract sense)". The first meaning is the modern Mandarin one, while the second meaning is actually the most common meaning in Taiwanese/Hokkien, and the third meaning exists in a set of fixed expressions (like this one).

    (If you read Mandarin, in the link I provided the entry for "lia'h" lists seven distinct but related meanings)

    On another note, the official recommended hanzi for "what" (siánn-mih/siánn-mi'h, the actual pronunciation varies a lot) is "啥物" or "啥乜", according to different theories. Using "蝦米" is definitely just using the approximate Mandarin sounds, though.

    Finding a hanzi for every Taiwanese/Hokkien word is hard business, in part because there was little – if at all – formal education in the language, and etymology was often not completely documented, and in part because it's likely that past language contact with indigenous languages in southern China and Southeast Asia led to many loan words that are not apparent (and there are numerous loanwords from Japanese into modern Taiwanese, which are usually more apparent).

  23. K. Chang said,

    June 2, 2015 @ 11:07 pm

    FWIW, I asked my dad who's much better in Minnanyu than I do. I asked him about the expression and he immediately knew the meaning and he pronounced it l'iah-kwan. He didn't know the origin either, but it had existed for a VERY long time, probably when he was in school (he's well past 60 now) or even before that, may have been phrase native to Minnanyu and the two Hanzi picked were only approximations, and the fact that they seem to fit the meaning (claw one's hair out, etc.) would… oh, what's the equivalent of an eggcorn when it happens ACROSS languages in the process of transliteration / Romanization / etc.?

  24. Jeff W said,

    June 4, 2015 @ 12:30 am

    @ Richard W

    The derivation of the Japanese word "emoji" from "e" (picture) and "moji" (character) may have "nothing to do with 'emotion' ", but the loanword "emoji" in English, as defined in Merriam-Webster, is linked with emotion.

    Well, sure, I think that little images of people’s faces inserted into messages would be linked to emotion in some way in terms of a definition. The point in the piece I was referring to—and my point in referring to it—was really about the derivation: (1) English speakers, if they were looking at the word “emoji,” could not correctly think “‘Emoji’! Aha, coming from ‘emotion,’ of course!” and (2) not only are “emoji” and “emoticons” distinct from each other in a design sense, they don’t even have similar derivations.

  25. Richard W said,

    June 4, 2015 @ 1:33 am

    I have no argument with either (1) or (2).

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