Chinese internet slang, acronyms, and common expressions

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Of the many websites dealing with contemporary Chinese language and culture, chinaSMACK is one of the best.  So eye-popping is chinaSMACK's content that I could very easily spend nearly all of my time immersed in it.

One chinaSMACK feature that undoubtedly will be of considerable interest to Language Log readers is this glossary of terms frequently encountered on the Chinese internet.

What is striking about these Chinese internet memes is that roughly a third of them utilize the roman alphabet and / or English words.  This shows the extent to which the alphabet has been absorbed into Chinese writing.  See, for example, "The Roman Alphabet in Cantonese"

The subject of romanization of and in Chinese has also been discussed extensively in "Chinese Character Amnesia" and in the comments to that post, as well as in many other Language Log posts, especially this comment to the post on Jackie Chan's sensational "Duang" (3/1/15).

I believe that this phenomenon ("creeping romanization") is a natural consequence of the fact that all Chinese school children learn English and, perhaps more importantly, because of the fact that the vast majority of computer inputting and short text messaging is done via pinyin (romanization).  As Chinese writers become increasingly dependent on pinyin to write characters, they become ever more familiar with the former and estranged from active production of the latter.  Contrary to the early expectation that electronic information processing would be the salvation of the Chinese writing system, it is possible that it might lead to its gradual demise.

[A tip of the hat to Tansen Sen]


  1. Doreen said,

    October 13, 2015 @ 1:21 am

    What a coincidence – I just happened to learn of the existence of chinaSMACK a few days ago in an enjoyable piece on the BBC World Service. It's available to listen to here: (starts around the 26:30 mark).

  2. Scott Robinson said,

    October 13, 2015 @ 5:08 am

    In Taiwan, zhuyin is generally used for text input. Even there, many slang words include Roman characters. It's not just the use of pinyin.

  3. shubert said,

    October 13, 2015 @ 6:47 am

    Very good link!

  4. Guy_H said,

    October 13, 2015 @ 8:14 am

    I've always found it funny how even most well-educated Taiwanese can't use, read or input pinyin. I was taught zhuyin as a child and managed to pick up pinyin along the way after years of living in the West, but for many Taiwanese, pinyin might as well be heiroglyphics. I actually prefer pinyin to zhuyin now (mainly because its hard to find a Taiwanese keyboard outside Taiwan).

    I guess it shows you don't actually need romanization for a modern Chinese-speaking society to function, but at the same time, some sort of phonetic system does make it easier.

  5. Michael Watts said,

    October 13, 2015 @ 5:02 pm

    Guy_H: you can use "double pinyin" input modes, which are basically the same thing as zhuyin — a syllable is coded as an onset followed by a rime. Your keyboard won't have helpful pictures on it, though.

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