Creeping Romanization in Chinese, part 4

« previous post | next post »


After a race, one Beijing marathon runner asks another:

pb le méiyǒu  pb了沒有…? ("did you meet / match / make your personal best?")

méiyǒu 沒有 ("no")

wǒ de pb shì… 我的pb是… ("my personal best is…")

I don't even know if "pb" is used this way in English, but such usage of Romanization (abbreviations, words, phrases), which often amounts to Englishization, are widespread in China, particularly on social media.

Chinese language authorities are not pleased with these trends, and do their best to stamp them out, but the Romanization / Englishization genie is out of the bottle, and there's no putting it back in.  That's especially the case when the government itself uses Roman letters and English words so extensively.  We have documented such cases extensively on Language Log, not to mention that parents and students are demanding ever earlier and greater amounts of training and exposure in English.

Anyway, as shown in an another post made earlier this morning, "Language as a self-regulating system" (12/15/18), language is a creature that has a mind and system of its own.  It is not easily tamed by authorities, whether parental, social, or governmental.


"Creeping Romanization in Chinese, part 3" (11/25/18) — includes a very long (but not complete) list of previous Language Log posts on Romanization, Englishization, digraphia and diglossia, biscriptalism and multiscriptalism, bilingualism and multilingualism


  1. Victor Mair said,

    December 15, 2018 @ 4:17 pm

    Note that the first "pb" in the o.p. is a verb and the second is a noun.

  2. Mike M said,

    December 15, 2018 @ 4:40 pm

    It is used this way in English also, I know it from online gaming communities but athletes use it as well. I've _occasionally_ heard it as a verb in English but it's far more common as a noun – 'Did you get a pb?' would be a very common phrase.

  3. JZ said,

    December 15, 2018 @ 6:36 pm

    Crossfitters use PR (personal record) as both a verb and a noun. So one can "hit a PR," or "PR a workout."

    My favorite romanizations are TMD, short for 他妈的, a pretty generic swear, and 三Q, pronounced "san Q," a rough transliteration of "thank you." In the first case I feel like the pinyin abbreviation is probably a kind of euphemism along the lines of "H, E, double hockey sticks." The second case is just being cute and making reference to a high-prestige foreign language, along the lines of "mercy buckets."

    There is also an older HK Canto expression "PK" which is short for a Cantonese expression for "to drop dead," no relation to PRC post-punk icons P.K. 14 as far as I know…

  4. Alex said,

    December 15, 2018 @ 7:03 pm

    Anyone know how Personal Best would be translated? I'm curious to know what they have or would say if they didn't use an acro.

    The one Chinese word I find I naturally use is zao instead of mornin due to ease.

    When I have asked people on why they use naturally use other English terms the usual answers are easier and less awkward sounding than the Chinese equivalent.

  5. Kyle said,

    December 15, 2018 @ 8:12 pm

    I can attest that "PB" is widely seen in the anglosphere "speedrunning" video game subculture, downright ubiquitous even. It's used as both a noun and a verb, which might differ from how other groups use it but is in line with this Chinese athletic usage. It's used both in text and speech, which I don't think is very common in the anglosphere.

    Example constructs:
    "My PB is 59m44s – sub one hour!"
    "I just got a new PB last night"
    "He's been doing PB attempts all month, no luck so far"
    "He just PB'd in the practice room"
    "This is a pretty good run so far, might PB"
    "I can still PB if the RNG doesn't screw me"

    As a noun, it's sometimes qualified with the specific game/category it's a personal best in. So constructs like "Super Metroid any% PB" or "SM64 70-star PB" exist. Of course, this is only when it's not clear from context. I've never seen this with the verb form – it would make sense if I heard it but it just doesn't seem proper.

    The abbreviation is also used as a tag in video titles. You might see a Youtube video labeled "Windwaker any% 4h38m53s [PB]" to mark it as being someone's personal best.

    "WR", meaning "world record", has broadly similar usage but is rarer, for obvious reasons. This doesn't get used in speech, only text, probably because W is slower to spell than just say. And I'm not sure I've ever seen it in verb form.

  6. Kyle MacDonald said,

    December 16, 2018 @ 9:52 am

    Agreed, PR and PB are both used extensively in text and speech in North American athletic communities (I've heard them in running, swimming, cycling, skiing, and weightlifting), both more commonly as nouns but often as verbs.

    My sense is that PB is more common than PR in Canada, but it seems to vary city by city. A popular coach who comes in with a particular vocabulary of running jargon can influence the speech of decades of athletes in a given city.

  7. liuyao said,

    December 17, 2018 @ 1:23 am

    Personal Best is officially translated as 个人最好成绩, widely used in sports commentaries. So, yes, it’s a lot easier to say/type PB.

  8. Ursa Major said,

    December 17, 2018 @ 5:52 am

    Just to reiterate what others have said, I know of 'PB' (almost always as a noun) in English from cycling, swimming, running and similar individual sports. 'PR' has always seemed to be the US version, and I have never heard a non-American native speaker use it.

  9. Ben Olson said,

    December 17, 2018 @ 11:14 am

    "PB" is commonly used in the speedrunning community, where people try to complete video games as quickly as possible.

RSS feed for comments on this post