Ball ball 你

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Yep, just like that.  This expression is very common on the Chinese internet, messaging, chatting, etc. now, but — for those of us who are not in the know — what does it mean?

I'll just give one hint:  nǐ 你 means "you".

Beyond that, you have to know Chinese to understand what "ball ball nǐ 你" ("ball ball you") means.


"ball ball nǐ 你" –> qiúqiú nǐ 球球你 ("ball ball you")


qiúqiú nǐ 球球你 ("ball ball you") –> qiúqiú nǐ 求求你 ("please; I beg you")

This kind of bilingual, biscriptal wordplay is widespread in Chinese, further evidence of the emerging digraphia to which I have referred in many Language Log posts.

Although I am not so familiar with the details, I believe that something similar is happening in Japanese and Korean, but perhaps on a lesser scale.

A few previous posts on biscriptalism (we have touched on this topic many other times):

"A trilingual, triscriptal ad in the Taipei subway" (1/20/14)
"A bilingual, biscriptal product designation in Taiwan" (2/7/14)
"Biscriptal juxtaposition in Chinese" (8/17/14)
"Biscriptal juxtaposition in Chinese, part 2" (10/15/14)
"A bilingual, biscriptal pun in Belgium" (2/14/16)
"Apostrophe in Hebrew" (11/22/16)
"More biscriptal examples from Israel" (12/12/16)
"Multiscriptal cosplay poster in Haifa" (1/1/17)
"A trilingual, biscriptal note (with emoji)" (2/5/17)

[h.t. Wu Zeyao]


  1. David Moser said,

    October 4, 2017 @ 6:59 am

    The Chinese netizens, most of whom are familiar with English, seem to love this kind of awkward direct (mis)translation as a joke. Some other common examples are "I give you little color see see" (给你点颜色看看) and "Good good study, day day up" (好好学习, 天天向上).

  2. John Rohsenow said,

    October 4, 2017 @ 10:14 am

    ""Good good study, day day up" (好好学习, 天天向上)"
    Glad to see that xuexi is translated as only one word, not something like
    "Good good study Gloriousleader, day day towards up" (好 好 学 习, 天 天 向 上). ;-)

  3. Daniel Barkalow said,

    October 4, 2017 @ 10:45 am

    Weird that they're using Roman letters, though, when you can write that perfectly well in emoji.

  4. flow said,

    October 4, 2017 @ 11:34 am

    In Japan you get to see a lot of mnemonics for telephone numbers in ads and handouts; those are really all over the place. The way it works is that each digit is associated with one or or kana / syllables and what you get is typically a more or less memorizable phrase that you can repeat to yourself when you want to dial that number. This page has examples for it and calls them 語呂合わせ (goro-awase, rhyming game, but not sure how widespread that term is).

    Where it becomes interesting is that Japanese has one series of number words from Chinese, another unrelated indigenous set that has mainly survived for telling small numbers, and yet a third set of number words from English. With that much material to choose from, many numbers become vanity numbers not unlike those used in the U.S. One example that I half-remember was some kind of paid service where the zeroes got spelled out as ラブ, which is Japanese English for 'Love'. I think the association with the digit 0 comes from tennis.

  5. J K said,

    October 4, 2017 @ 11:48 am

    My first guess was 抱抱你 as "bao" sounds like "ball"

  6. flow said,

    October 4, 2017 @ 1:16 pm

    @J K—my thinking exactly. Guess we missed one level of indirection.

  7. Albin Ö said,

    October 4, 2017 @ 2:22 pm

    I know that somewhere in his famous sci-fi trilogy "The Three Body Problem" (三体), Liu Cixin predicts that in the future, there will be neither English or Chinese, but a strange combination of both. Seemed foreign when I read it, but it is not so far fetched, perhaps…

  8. Victor Mair said,

    October 4, 2017 @ 2:49 pm

    See "Transcriptional and hybrid words in Mandarin" (3/6/14), especially the third paragraph about my unpublished novel called "China Babel", written many years ago.

  9. WSM said,

    October 5, 2017 @ 5:07 am

    Very cute, kind of reminds me of referring to "Youtube" as "你管“

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