East Asian multilingual pop culture

« previous post | next post »

Currently circulating political poster in the PRC:

wèi xīn shídài dǎ call 为新时代打call ("give a shout-out for the New Era")

When I first saw this appeal, which was all over the place during the time of the recent 19th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), it struck me as strange in many respects.

First of all, the expression "dǎ call 打call" seemed totally unfamiliar, and even improbable, to me.  Literally, it means "strike [a] call", but I had no idea what that might mean.  "Dǎ 打" is what I'm fond of referring to as an "multipurpose verb" in Mandarin.  Here are some of its meanings:  "hit; strike; beat; thrash; spank; fight; attack; make; build; break; smash; wipe; shoot; buy; fetch; tie up; type[write]; [telephone] call" (never mind that it can also be a noun or a preposition).  Even though "dǎ 打" can convey so many different verbal meanings, I just couldn't see how it could make much sense as something you'd do to the noun "call".

Second, this was another instance of the somber, stuffy, serious CCP attempting to co-opt popular, youth culture for propaganda purposes (as they have done with hip-hop, rap, and so forth).  "Xīn shídài 新时代" is President Xi Jinping's signature political program for PRC development during the coming decades.  It is incongruous for young people to be waving their arms in the air on behalf of Xi's New Era as though he were a rock star.

On Tuesday the 24th, Party newspaper People’s Daily initiated Weibo hashtag "Wèi xīn shídài dǎ call #为新时代打call#", roughly meaning "give a shout-out to the New Era", as reported by Manya Koetse in What's on Weibo (10/25/17):

"'Support China’s New Era' Campaign Goes Viral on Chinese Social Media: China’s propaganda machine has been running at full speed this week – now Weibo’s celebrities also pitch in."

What's on Weibo tells us that "打call" means "give a shout-out".  Not being terribly familiar with youth culture, I had to look up "shout-out":

Merriam-Webster:  an expression of greeting or praise that is given to someone in the presence of many people

Wiktionary:  to publicly greet or acknowledge a person, group, or organization

Note by a graduate student from the PRC:

Apparently "打call" is one of the most popular buzzwords in China now. It is pervasive to such an extent that I cannot avoid seeing it everywhere….  In the meantime, I have to admit that I have no idea of how the strange combination of verb "打" and English noun "call" so miraculously finds its way into mainstream vocabulary stock. It means to shout/call out as a gesture of support to one's idols or ideals.

A little research leads me to the discovery that it is a Chinese variation of the Japanese phenomenon Wotagei (ヲタ芸) performed by the group of Otaku (おたく/オタク)*. But they somehow adopt a totally new terminology in Chinese…  Please enlighten me whenever you have a clue to "打call"'s etymology.

I feel like I am a bit out of fashion in terms of Chinese popular culture now. Neologisms just keep popping out!!

*[VHM:  For "otaku", see "Nerd, geek, PK: Creeping Romanization (and Englishization), part 2 " (3/5/13)]

From another PRC graduate student:

This phrase originated from Japanese pop culture and refers to an audience's cheerful reactions to their idol (singers usually) during a live performance. "Call" refers to the fans calling out their idols' names, waving their glowsticks, and doing it with the flow / beat of the performance. The Japanese phrase is "kōru コール". It has been used by many fan groups in China. Moreover, over the summer there was a very popular TV show called " Zhōngguó yǒu xīhā 中国有嘻哈" ("China has hip-hop"). The show was basically a hip-hop contest for Chinese rappers. Because of this TV show, the phrase "打call", e.g., “wèi mǒumǒu rén fēngkuáng dǎ call 为某某人疯狂打call” ("give a wild shout-out for so-and-so"), became extremely trendy and was widely used in many different ways. Even now many people use this phrase simply to express their support or their fondness for something (and it could be anything). Students can even say that they "wèi Méi jiàoshòu fēngkuáng dǎ call 为梅教授疯狂打call" ("give a wild shout-out for Professor Mair") — to express their support and respect. I think this poster was meant to be recognized and widely liked by the younger generation who would rather be less interested in the 19th Congress. Because of the adoption of such a popular phrase, many young people might think of it as trendy and pay attention to it.

As with other new expressions we've been looking at recently, in "dǎ call 打call" ("give a shout-out"), we have an amalgam of Mandarin, Japanese, and English:

[h.t. Caitlin Schultz; thanks to Yixue Yang and Jinyi Cai]


  1. Bathrobe said,

    October 31, 2017 @ 11:25 pm

    Japanese uses コール ('call') for a number of things, including a (PA) call to answer the phone, calling for a nurse, touting, calls from the crowd in sports (including booing), calls at parties for a person to drain his/her glass, calls in option trading, etc., etc.

    But there is one call that isn't related to English at all, the シュプレヒコール shupurehi-kōru, which is from German Sprechchor and means 'yelling a slogan in chorus'.

    Perhaps there has been a certain amount of contamination between the two.

  2. John Rohsenow said,

    November 1, 2017 @ 3:22 am

    A Chinese grad student in the US for last 3 years, who visited home briefly last summer, writes:
    "Pretty much all of this is new to me, except that I knew there was some sort of a rapper contest show going on and it went quite popular. Never heard of the phrase "为某某人疯狂打call" before though.
    "Pity to see that the CCP is trying so hard appropriating pop culture just to appeal to the younger generation. The thought that many from that younger generation probably were recruited by them just to do write this kind of propaganda is kind of revolting to me."

  3. michaelyus said,

    November 1, 2017 @ 4:59 am

    One should also note that 打电话 dǎ diànhuà (lit. "to hit the telephone") is the standard way of saying "to telephone, to make a telephone call". It probably derives from the manual action of operating the telephone, and is one of many such constructions across languages: Japanese 電話をかける denwa-o kakeru and Korean 전화를 걸다 jeonhwa-reul geolda, both lit. "to hang the telephone". Not that far removed from French "décrocher le téléphone" and even English "pick up the line".

    Interestingly, both Japanese and Korean can use more generic verbs 電話する denwa-suru and 전화하다 jeonhwahada "to make/do a telephone [call]", but Chinese generally sticks to 打. Even in the Min topolects of Chinese, which don't make much use of the lexeme 打 but use a different one 拍 or 敲, the action is described as 拍電話 (Taiwanese POJ: phah tiān-ōe) or 敲電話 (khà tiān-ōe).

    Vietnamese on the other hand uses gọi, "to call" (both in the physical "calling out" sense and in the "naming" sense), much like the European sprachbund.

    The concept of "ring" used in this sense is quite interesting I think – a quick search brings up a certain Germanic and Slavic sprachbund bias (with Finnish, Catalan and Romanian also using lexemes referring to the action of causing something to "sound").

  4. Victor Mair said,

    November 1, 2017 @ 7:53 am


    Thanks for that interesting excursion in multilingual telephone terminology.

    For those who do not know hanzi / kanji / hanja, I just want to point out the following (giving only MSM pronunciations):

    pāi 拍 ("shoot; tap; beat; pat; slap; hit; smack; clap [hands]; applaud; flap; take [a photograph / picture]; film")

    qiāo 敲 ("knock; hit; beat; strike; bang; pound; hammer; rap; percuss; extort; overcharge; fleece sb.; ")

  5. Coby Lubliner said,

    November 1, 2017 @ 8:41 am

    To extend the "excursion in multilingual telephone terminology" from Asia to Europe: the Catalan verb for making a telephone call is trucar, which literally means 'to knock' (as on a door). This came about because the Spanish llamar 'to call' (probably modeled on French appeler) has the additional meaning of 'to knock' (llamar en la puerta), and Catalan has no single verb encompassing the multiple meanings of call, llamar, appeler etc.

  6. JK said,

    November 1, 2017 @ 10:34 am

    I was similarly surprised at this official party promotion of the phrase "党员idol":

    I assume it has the similar goal of appealing to young people.

  7. cameron said,

    November 1, 2017 @ 3:46 pm


    In French you can refer to a telephone call as a coup de téléphone, or a coup de fil. Lots of languages have multi-purpose verbs like that.

  8. cameron said,

    November 1, 2017 @ 3:49 pm

    Actually, in regard to my previous comment, I wonder if coup de fil will be seen as old-fashioned in this wireless era, or whether the language will continue to reflect the antique technology.

  9. 艾力·黑膠(Eric) said,

    November 2, 2017 @ 12:12 am

    It was my understanding that the etymology of “shout out” is hip-hop radio shows with a call-in line. Listeners would call the studio, asking the DJ, “Hey, can I get a shout out to… [so-and-so],” and the DJ would play the call on air, or else state on the caller’s behalf, e.g. “Randy sends a shout out to Pookie and the whole North Side!” Here, the noun is originally shout and get … out is a phrasal verb. Eventually, though, shout out was reinterpreted as a compound noun, meaning “a public acknowledgement of another party.”

    At least, that was my assumption… I wanna get a shout out to Chuy Gómez

  10. BZ said,

    November 2, 2017 @ 10:08 am

    I first encountered shout-outs on the radio in the same format as 艾力·黑膠(Eric)above, but on children's radio stations (Radio Disney to be precise). If the Chinese phrase is as explained above, I wouldn't call it a shout-out, since you (an ordinary person) would be unlikely to give a shout-out to a celebrity, but rather to someone close to you (friends, love interests, family members). A celebrity could give a shout-out to another celebrity, of course (the equivalent of recognizing them for making whatever possible at an awards show perhaps).

  11. galanx said,

    November 3, 2017 @ 2:36 am

    In Taiwan "da dianhua" is often replaced by English "call".

RSS feed for comments on this post