Too tired to love: new set phrases in Pinyin

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Literary Sinitic / Classical Chinese has an extreme propensity for elision, truncation, and abbreviation, which is one of the factors that make it so hard to read.

Yesterday, we looked at the current Chinese proclivity for acronyms and initialisms, made much easier to produce and apply due to the use of digital technology and pinyin as part of an emerging Sinitic digraphia.  See "Chinese acronyms" (12/22/19).

In recent years, a new kind of quadrisyllabic "set phrase" has arisen in internet usage, one not based on historical allusion or other traditional source.  Here are seven typical examples:

sdrj / shídòngránjù 十动然拒 ("deeply moved but still reject") < shífēn gǎndòng, ránhòu jùjuéle tā 十分感动,然后拒绝了他 ("deeply moved, but still rejected him")

nmnl / nánmònǚlèi 男默女泪 ("men would be silent and women would shed tears") < 男生看了会沉默,女生看了会流泪 ("men would be silent when they see this, women would cry when they see it")

xdpb / xǐdàpǔbēn 喜大普奔 ("the joy[ful news] is so great that everyone is running around [to spread it]") < xǐwén lèjiàn, dàkuài rénxīn, pǔtiān tóngqìng, bēnzǒu xiānggào 喜闻乐见,大快人心,普天同庆,奔走相告 ("the news is so exhilarating that everyone is celebrating and running around to spread it to the rest of the world")

xskj /xìsīkǒngjí 细思恐极 ("thinking it over carefully, [you feel that it is] extremely terrible") < 仔细想想,觉得恐怖至极 ("when you think it over carefully, you feel that it is extremely terrible")

ljba / lèijuébùài 累觉不爱 ("too tired to love") < hěn lèi, gǎnjué zìjǐ bù huì zài àile 很累,感觉自己不会再爱了 ("I'm very tired. I don't think I can love again")

rjbc / rénjiānbùchāi 人艰不拆 ("human [life] is hard, so don't expose [the truth])" < rénshēng yǐjīng rúcǐ jiānnán, yǒuxiē shìqíng jiù bùyào chāichuānle 人生已经如此艰难,有些事情就不要拆穿了 ("human life is already so hard, so there are some things that need not be exposed")

snjy / shuōnàojuéyú 说闹觉余 ("[others] are talking and frolicking, [I feel like] an outsider") < qítā rén yǒu shuō yǒu xiào yǒu dǎ yǒu nào, gǎnjué zìjǐ hěnduō yú 其他人有说有笑有打有闹,感觉自己很多余 ("[while] others are talking and laughing, jabbing and frolicking, I myself feel very much like an outsider")

All of these are very popular, and are sometimes just typed as Pinyin acronyms on social media and left that way without converting to characters (especially sdrj, xskj, and rjbc). Some of them are even used in serious articles, and accepted by readers.

I think that this absorption of Pinyin into the Chinese writing system in such an intimate fashion is an enormously significant development, because it shows that Pinyin has now gone beyond being a pedagogical tool or a phonetic annotation for difficult, rare characters or a means to transcribe foreign words to serving as a means of expressive writing in Chinese for literate individuals.  I find it quite amazing that Chinese readers can look at the initialisms sdrj, xskj, rjbc, etc. and know what they mean, not only in their compressed forms, but also extrapolate their full forms from those four letters.


[Thanks to Chenfeng Wang]


  1. alex said,

    December 24, 2019 @ 7:27 pm

    As current events with my "neighbor", as we call it here in SZ, unfold there has been many changes. I've not been able to spend as much time reading here. I'm not sure if it has been covered but LL has been blocked. Moreover many "ladders" as we call it that help us peek over the wall have been disrupted more frequently. So access to this blog becomes sporadic.

    After 5 and a half long years of I've finally decided to pull my older one out of the public school mid 7th grade.

    Due to events in the other neighborhood the public schools have gone overdrive on the Chinese. The amount of daily memorization homework has increased and also the blindly copying of pages of text. Within the garden I live in, local parents are also complaining but its the Meiyou banfa. Now we see soldiers teaching all primary school kids how to march and the patriotic propaganda is everywhere.

    Ill write more about the language when there is time. Of note is the increasingly use of acronyms and single English words on Wechat posts of locals. Just a year ago it was a curiosity but now its commonplace. There are daily examples on my wechat.

    The issue as I have opined before is the language due to the writing never developed normally and with the influx of new words and with so many people traveling abroad and then back they find it easier to use English for certain items.

  2. Victor Mair said,

    December 24, 2019 @ 9:20 pm

    From an anonymous colleague:

    "I find it quite amazing that Chinese readers can look at the initialisms sdrj, xskj, rjbc, etc. and know what they mean, not only in their compressed forms, but also extrapolate their full forms from those four letters."

    You're right that it's surprising to see it creeping into Chinese (sans alphabet) via Pinyin. But it's probably influenced by their awareness (in at least some cases) of how we Anglophones, in our emails and texts, are using "tl;dnr" ("too long; did not read"), "NNTR" ("No Need To Reply"), "IMHO" ("In My Humble Opinion"), etc.

  3. alex said,

    December 25, 2019 @ 6:27 pm

    What's interesting is that in the same way LASER is now laser most people here couldn't tell you what the letters in NBA represent so in a weird way NBA has been de facto incorporated into their language as no one writes or says the official Chinese translation.

  4. Keith said,

    January 3, 2020 @ 5:12 pm

    When I first saw the title of this post, I thought it would be related to a certain song by the Dead Kennedys whose acronym would be "tdtf".

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