New Mandarin words: "pā" (part) and "lūsě" ("loser")

« previous post | next post »

There is a lively March 25, 2015 lecture about the First Emperor of the Qin (260-210 BC), the ruler who unified China by force and bequeathed the name of his dynasty to China for all time.

The lecture, with the title "Qín shǐhuáng zài yǐnmán shénme? 秦始皇在隐瞒什么?" ("What was the First Emperor of the Qin hiding?"), is on YouTube.  The name of the speaker is Luó Zhènyǔ 羅振宇.  He's got the gift of gab, and is one of the best Chinese speakers I've ever heard.  Luo was a journalism major, a field in which he earned both an M.A. and a Ph.D.

The name of the series in which this lecture occurs is "Luójí sīwéi 逻辑思维" ("Logical thinking").  For a series with an academic title like that, it has somehow attracted an extremely large amount of funding.  It received an undisclosed amount of "seed" money on 3/1/15, and as of 10/20/15, it is said to have garnered a whopping US$207,000,000!  [Source]  The man obviously has unusual talent, not only for speaking, but also for raising money.

Luo speaks with rapid fluency and exudes obvious confidence.  His pronunciation is precise and clear, his vocabulary rich and exact.  He is not one given to hesitation or code switching.  Cf. "An orgy of code-switching" (11/6/15).  And yet, at 30:54 he says:  “dì yī pā 第一 pā… dì èr pā 第二 pā", making pā sound like a thoroughly assimilated Mandarin word, but — as shown in the subtitles — "pā" comes from the English word "part".  Luo had used other Chinese words (e.g., jié 截) to express the idea of "section" or "part" elsewhere in the lecture, so I suppose he says "pā" here for the sake of variety.

At 38:50 Luo says, "Qínguó, Chǔguó, dōu shì lūsě 秦國,楚國,都是 lūsě" ("The state of Qin and the state of Chu were both losers").

What is remarkable about the way Luo pronounces both pā and lūsě is the naturalness of it all.  Without braking his cadence in the slightest or otherwise calling attention to them as foreign words, this very eloquent speaker of Mandarin slips in these new words derived directly from English.  The fact that they occur in a lecture on ancient Chinese history makes them conspicuous, if not ironic, yet Luo doesn't bat an eye when he says them.  For Luo, pā and lūsě are uttered as though they are ordinary Mandarin words.

I forget exactly at what time, but I think it was somewhere not long after the middle, I also heard Luo say "yeah".

Oh, BTW, the very first word of the video is "NICE!"

[Thanks to a contributor who wishes to remain anonymous]


  1. vivian said,

    November 17, 2015 @ 10:44 pm

    i believe the talk show series is named 罗辑思维/羅輯思維, intended as a pun on 逻辑思维/邏輯思維.

    i didn't catch the first word. didn't it start with sth like 'thank you for listening to this program'?

  2. Chris C. said,

    November 17, 2015 @ 11:10 pm

    Frankly, I would also have guessed "luójí" from the title of his talk to also be a loanword.

  3. John said,

    November 17, 2015 @ 11:14 pm

    In Taiwan the word "loser" has been borrowed into Mandarin as 魯蛇, which has given rise to the adjective 魯. I wonder if this will cross the strait anytime soon.

  4. Bathrobe said,

    November 18, 2015 @ 4:37 am


    魯蛇 lǔshé is obviously Southern-accented Mandarin. While such borrowings are not unknown, I somehow suspect the inexactness of the fit to English pronunciation could hinder acceptance.

  5. julie lee said,

    November 18, 2015 @ 3:43 pm

    For those whose don't read Chinese, “dì yī pā 第一 pā… dì èr pā 第二 pā" in the lecture means "the first PA and the second part PA" ( i.e., the first part and the second part).

    @Chris C is correct in surmising that LUOJI "logical' in the title of the lecture series is a loanword, from English "logic" . LUOJI means "logic, logical". This word probably entered Mandarin in late 19century or early 20th century, perhaps via Japanese. It's easy to see why it was borrowed from the West, since China did not develop the science of logic.

    PA (part) and LUSE (loser) seem to be more recent borrowings, LUSE particularly interesting. Of course Chinese has words meaning loser, so why borrow the English word "loser"? Because "loser" in English does not always have the literal sense of someone who loses a battle, a fight, a game, a gamble, etc. It can mean someone who is not a winner is a larger sense, and can be someone who has an inferiority complex. I have just listened to the Youtube lecture, and see that "loser" is used in this sense—The state (nation) of Qin and the state-nation of Chu, though rich, strong, and powerful, are looked down on by the other five powerful state-nations of the Chinese world of 5th to 3rd century BC because they are "barbarians", lacking in the high culture and high civilization of other contemporary state-nations like Wei and Qi. They are laughed at for their barbarian ways and are not accepted into the snobbish club of high-culture nations, and in this sense are regarded as "losers".

  6. Joseph said,

    November 18, 2015 @ 10:18 pm

    @ julie lee


    LUO JI is not from Japanese because the Japanese onyomi reading is RA SA, which sounds nothing like logic. The term for logic most common in modern Japanese is RON RI 論理.

    Just reading the dictionary I see that the term used by the founder of the Republic of China 孫逸仙 Sun Yat-sen [1866-1925] for the study of logic was LI ZE XUE 理則學, which he wrote a book about. Before this the Chinese had imported the Japanese RON RI GAKU 論理学 for the study of logic, but LUO JI has become the much more common term so they chose to transliterate this term.

    My guess is that the Chinese wanted to differentiate western traditions of logic from their own traditions of logical thinking which they certainly did not lack.

  7. Wentao said,

    November 19, 2015 @ 4:23 am

    In mainland online communities I sometimes spot the rendition 卢瑟 lúsè, as opposed to "winner" 温拿 wēnná.

  8. Victor Mair said,

    November 21, 2015 @ 1:31 am

    As a transcription of "logic", luójí 逻辑 most definitely came from some European language. One might suppose that it was translated by the Jesuits during the late 17th-early 18th century when they devised Chinese equivalents for such basic scientific and mathematical terms as "physics" and "geometry". But I've never been able to pin it down. The earliest attestation of 邏輯 that I'm aware of is in Yan Fu's tr. of A System of Logic by John Stuart Mill as Mule mingxue 穆勒名學 (Mill’s Logic) 1903, p. 2.

  9. Steve Angle said,

    November 23, 2015 @ 10:44 am

    Joachim Kurtz's The Discovery of Chinese Logic (Brill, 2011) discusses this topic at length. Luójí 逻辑 is indeed introduced by Yan Fu as a means of phonetically representing the English "logic," though it was not his recommended translation of logic into Chinese (which was 名学). Unlike the story with many other new terms in this era, the translation favored in Japanese did not win out, and neither did Yan Fu's preferred term. Instead, luójí 逻辑 wins out, in part due to an intervention by Zhang Shizhao in 1910, arguing in favor of abandoning semantic translation and simply using luójí 逻辑. See Kurtz, pp. 265 and 271.

  10. AH said,

    November 23, 2015 @ 12:06 pm

    The most famous 屌丝, might be Mike Sui with his Lao Wai Luo Se videos. He has quite impressive control of different Chinese accents,

  11. Rachel said,

    November 29, 2015 @ 4:56 pm

    The borrowing of pā as "part" is interesting, because by far more common in my experience (mostly with Taiwanese Mandarin) is pā as "percent/percentage".

RSS feed for comments on this post