"Loser" in Taiwan and in China

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From Don Keyser:

Perhaps you are familiar with the Taiwan slang word lǔshé 魯蛇 — I was not, and needed to look it up.  Cute.  Picking evocative characters pronounced lu3she2 — for "loser."  This usage is sufficiently common to have found its way into Pleco, though it befuddled Google Translate when I first tried there.

Those who write for Sīxiǎng tǎnkè 思想坦克 [Voicettank] often identify themselves in witty ways.  This author, Ke Fanxi 柯汎禧, informs the reader that he is a loser at the lowest rung of academia, currently a doctoral student at the Institute of Political Science of Sun Yat-Sen University: "Zuòzhě mùqián shì jiùdú yú Zhōngshān dàxué zhèngzhì xué yánjiū suǒ de bóshì shēng, xuéshù zuì dǐcéng de lǔshé 作者目前是就讀於中山大學政治學研究所的博士生,學術最底層的魯蛇.

Having occupied that rung myself in the long ago, I appreciate both the sardonic wit and the accuracy.  Well, there ARE lower rungs, to be sure, but mere doctoral candidates can certainly be made to feel like creepy, crawly losers.

The article "Hán fěn de xìnxīn dào nǎlǐ qùle 韓粉的信心到哪裡去了?" ("What has happened to the confidence of Han [Kuo-yu's] fans?") referred to above is found here.

"Lǔshé 魯蛇" is a transcription of English "loser", but as Don says above, it is composed of two "evocative characters":  lǔ 魯 ("rash / stupid / rude / crass / rough") and shé 蛇 ("snake").  "Lǔshé 魯蛇" ("loser" usually refers to people (mostly guys) with a lousy job / income, average looks, mediocre family background, and who can't find a girlfriend.

The equivalent slang term for "loser" in mainland China is "diǎosī 屌丝".  Separately, the two characters mean "penis / cock / dick / prick" and "silk / hair / thread / wire"; together they mean "loser / deadbeat / no-hoper / slacker / good-for-nothing").  The word is often used to refer jokingly to a poor, young male of mediocre looks.

Although "lǔshé 魯蛇" is roughly comparable to the mainland term "diǎosī 屌丝", the latter sounds much more vulgar because of the meaning of the first character 屌, while the former is simply the sound translation of a relatively innocuous English word, so it doesn't sound that vulgar.  That's not the end of the story, however, since the English word "loser" has also gained currency on the mainland, but with some very interesting twists — toward the lewd.

"Loser" may be borrowed directly into mainland speech and writing in its original English form, but some people tend to transcribe it with Chinese characters as lūsè 撸瑟.  The first character means "strip the leaves off of tree branches" (cf. "luō 捋" ["to pluck; to gather in the fingers; to rub; to scrape off"]), "dismiss from a post", "reprimand" or "temper oneself".  Pronounced more or less as lū, 撸 it is particularly rich with various topolectal meanings:  "roll up (as one's sleeves to get down to work)", "fire from one's position", "clap with the palm", "reprimand", "masturbate; to jerk off".  The fuller form of the last usage is "lūguǎn 撸管", lit., "stroke the pipe" [i.e., "flute" or other woodwind instrument]), cf. "playing the flute solo" in English.

The second character of the transcription "lūsè 撸瑟" refers to a large stringed musical instrument, so superficially "lūsè 撸瑟" may be considered as conveying the meaning of "stroke the zither", though, of course, the primary meaning of the whole term is that of the English word "loser".

Now, it gets really messy, because wordsmiths have gone beyond "lūsè 撸瑟" (lit. "stroke the zither") for "loser" to create the transcription "lūshè 撸射".  We already know all the relevant meanings of "lū 撸".  It remains to disclose that the surface meaning of "shè 射" is "shoot; discharge in a jet" and leave it at that.

One final note, though, is that it is more common in China to directly use the English word "loser" than any of the Sinographic transcriptions.


"Nicknames for foreign cars in China" (7/14/19)

"New Mandarin words: 'pā' (part) and 'lūsě' ('loser')" (11/17/15)– extended discussion both in the o.p. and in the comments

"The transcription of the name 'China' in Chinese characters" (6/17/12)

"Comrades, 'hike up your skirts for a hard shag'" (7/23/17)

"GAN4 ('Do it!')" (8/11/17)

[Thanks to Diana Zhang, Melvin Lee, and Grace Wu]

1 Comment

  1. reader_not_acedeme said,

    August 30, 2019 @ 8:09 am

    To give credit where credit is due, 魯蛇 didn't "make it" into Pleco as such, but into CC-CEDICT, the open-source dictionary. It was first added goldyn_chyld in June 2014; the English gloss was then reviewed in February 2016. Here's the change log:


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