Spoofing the "crisis" meme

« previous post | next post »

Language Log has been blogging on the "crisis = danger + opportunity" trope since at least 2005.  Our latest iteration is "'Crisis = danger + opportunity' redux" (2/19/20), with a list of references to earlier posts in the series.  By now, the "crisis" meme has become so dull and hackneyed that Tianyu M. Fang has subjected it to a withering deconstruction / reconstruction:



To multiply the fun, read the comments to Fang's tweet, which may be found here ("Replies" and "Show this thread").

By the way, the three morphosyllables of "打飞机 / 打飛機" respectively mean:

dǎ  ("hit; strike; beat")

fēi  ("fly")

jī.  ("machine; crucial point; incipient moment; cause")


Add 'em up and you get "beat the airplane", the slang meaning of which Fang has told us.

Warning:  Be sure to read "'Crisis = danger + opportunity' redux" (2/19/20) and the previous posts on this annoying bit of Orientalist wisdom — especially "danger + opportunity ≠ crisis:  How a misunderstanding about Chinese characters has led many astray" (Pinyin.info [2009]) — before you take Tianyu M. Fang's explanation seriously.

To end on a more sober note, because we (the world) are now facing a genuine crisis of worldwide proportions, it would be wise to look upon it soberly, not in some facile, pollyannaish "crisis = danger + opportunity" manner.

[h.t. Ben Zimmer]


  1. Bozo said,

    March 3, 2020 @ 10:26 am

    Is this Chinese slang specific to male masturbation? Just curious if the "airplane" has to be replaced with the "landing strip" maybe, when referring to females?

  2. Bathrobe said,

    March 3, 2020 @ 12:36 pm

    "Landing strip" in Chinese refers to the chest of a woman with very small breasts.

    I'm afraid I missed Tianyu Fang's joke. I took it seriously because, damn it, that's exactly the sort of crap that some people would believe.

  3. Ben Zimmer said,

    March 3, 2020 @ 4:41 pm

    The "China scholar writes" bit may be spoofing the seeming authority of a recent New York Times tweet, linking to an opinion piece by Xie Feng, China’s foreign affairs commissioner in Hong Kong, perpetuating the meme.

  4. Phillip Helbig said,

    March 3, 2020 @ 11:32 pm

    In case some people don't get the "landing strip" comment, it refers to a type of pubic hairstyle, in France known as the metro ticket (in both cases because of the oblong shape). As to whether hitting that is a form of female masturbation, I don't know, but I doubt it. (Perhaps it might help if listening to Cyndi Lauper.)

  5. Reader said,

    March 4, 2020 @ 10:38 am

    The Simpsons 6:11 (1994):

    Lisa: Cheer up, Dad. Did you know the Chinese use the same word for "crisis" as they do for "opportunity"?

    Homer: Yes. "Crisitunity."

  6. tsts said,

    March 5, 2020 @ 4:09 am

    @Bozo: yes, at least in Cantonese it also works for female masturbation. But actually, 打飞机 is maybe better translated as "shooting (at) airplanes", the mental picture being anti-aircraft guns being fired.

    A common joke in Hong Kong asks why it was necessary to move the airport from Kai Tak to Chek Lap Kok. The answer is for safety reasons, because was constantly shooting at airplanes.

  7. tsts said,

    March 5, 2020 @ 4:12 am

    Oops. Comment system removed part of my post.

    Insert "someone" (meaning the butt of the joke) between "because" and "was" in last sentence.

  8. DMT said,

    March 7, 2020 @ 5:49 am

    And by way of context (for those unfamiliar with HK's airport history): Kai Tak airport was infamous for being densely surrounded by apartment buildings, so that passengers had a clear view into people's bedrooms as they came in to land.

  9. Victor Mair said,

    March 8, 2020 @ 4:07 pm

    Tianyu M. Fang

    My shitpost about 打飞机 made it to the Language Log. There’s an entire post by Victor Mair dedicated to it. I have peaked https://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=46321


RSS feed for comments on this post