Der / dianr ("scram; skedaddle")

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One of the first Pekingese colloquialisms I learned (by now I know scores) was taught to me half a century ago by Iris Rulan Chao Pian (1922-2013), daughter of the distinguished linguist, Yuen Ren Chao (1892-1982).  It sounded like "der", sometimes with a trill at the end, and meant "scram; skedaddle".  Like many authentic Pekingese colloquial expressions, it was impossible to tell for sure how to write it in Sinographs.

Recently, I asked around to see if people of a younger generation (in their 20s and early 30s) knew this expression, what it meant, how to write it, and how to pronounce it.  Most of my informants, even those who had grown up in Beijing / Peking, told me that they had never heard it.

Here are a couple of unexpected replies:

Jing Wen, a native of Beijing, doctorate in Egyptology

I agree with you and I am sure you mean the verb diānrle 颠儿了, which means “get out of here quickly” or “slip away”. Another saying with similar meaning is “sāyāzile 撒丫子了”. 

This verb is used in past (or perfect) tense and that is why it is usually diānrle 颠儿了 rather than diānr 颠儿. Sentences such as *wǒ míngtiān diānr 我明天颠儿 (wǒ míngtiān zǒu 我明天走 ["I'll go tomorrow"])or  *nǐ diānr bu diānr 你颠儿不颠儿(nǐ zǒu bù zǒu 你走不走 ["are you leaving"]) do not exist. 

There is another phrase, pìdiān pìdiān 屁颠屁颠, to describe “jǐn zhuīzhe tǎohǎo rén, bājié rén de yàngzi 紧追着讨好人,巴结人的样子” ("chasing after others to please them"). Maybe it literally means “gēn zài biérén pìgu hòumiàn pǎo 跟在别人屁股后面跑” ("running behind another person's ass").

It is possible that diānr 颠儿 ("scram; skedaddle") is derived from diān 蹎 ("trip / fall forward: rush about"). In Shuōwén jiězì 说文解字 (Discussing writing and explaining characters [100-121 A.D.]), diān 蹎 means bá 跋 (“go by foot”).

VHM:  Here we seem to be entering běnzì 本字 ("original character") territory, for which see:


Zihan Guo, native of Jiangxi Province, expert on the aesthetics of taste in middle period Chinese poetry

For my own edification, and since I have long had the impression that it is vulgar when used as an adjective, I tried to find out what exactly "der" means in northeastern Chinese languages. 
It seems that when you describe someone as der, you can mean various negative things: reckless, foolish, stubborn…. My cousin, who has been living in Beijing for thirty years, said that it could mean stubborn and opinionated, as when you say zhóu 軸 [VHM:  literally, "axle", etc.] and jué 倔 ("stuborn; crabby"). Another friend from Changchun in Jilin Province said that the meaning varied by regions and gave a few options: qípā 奇葩 ("weird"; originally meant exotic flowers or extraordinary talent, but has acquired a relatively negative connotation nowadays) — lìhài 厲害 ("severe; strict; stern; rigorous; harsh; terrible; formidable; fierce; powerful; tough; intense; ferocious; shrewd; sharp (as a razor); cruel; serious; bad; ruthless; damnable; difficult to deal with; difficult to endure; radical; violent; tremendous; devastating; grisly; extremely clever; talented; awesome; excellent; amazing; fantastic"! [see also here]), lǔmǎng 魯莽 ("reckless; rash; heedless").  It is generally negative, but maybe in certain regions it can be positive?
I have also seen a few explanations from specific regions relating it to the male sexual organ, which is where my vulgar impression comes from.
I originally encountered this phrase in an online show "Qípā shuō 奇葩說 ("Talking about Weirdos; I Can I BB; U Can U Bibi)  where young people debate about controversial issues in a performative and amusing way. In one episode a woman from northeast China used "der" (00:30) for dramatic effect and defined it as hǔ 虎 (lit., "tiger") and biāo 彪 ("tiger cat; tiger-like; young tiger"). These two terms also mean more or less daring in a reckless way, I suppose.
It is interesting that many of these characterizing words, like qípā 奇葩 ("weird") &  lìhài 厲害 ("fierce; ferocious; formidable"), have a thin borderline between positive and negative. Yōudiǎn yì shì quēdiǎn, jiē shì tèdiǎn bàle 優點亦是缺點,皆是特點罷了" ("Advantages are also disadvantages, in the end they are all special features").
This adjectival der ("reckless, foolish, stubborn"), spelled just that way, seems to be a completely different morpheme from the verbal der / dianr ("scram; skedaddle") discussed above.
Even with something that one thought one knew for most of one's life, like der, there's always a new aspect to it that one can learn.  So, on this first day of the New Year 2022, I warmly wish all Language Log readers a New Beginning (Xīnyuán / Shingen 新元).

Selected articles


[Thanks to Xiuyuan Mi (nonnative Beijinger) and Diana Shuheng Zhang (native northeasterner), both of whom had never heard of this expression)]


  1. Victor Mair said,

    January 1, 2022 @ 3:10 pm

    From Tsu-Lin Mei:

    I think I know both. I was attending boarding school, Yu ying, in Peking 1946-48. The word der is applied to donkeys by donkey driver , meaning “get going, scram”. The word dian is colloquial for “to go, to leave” for example wo dianrle “I am leaving, I am going”.

  2. Denis Christopher Mair said,

    January 1, 2022 @ 8:44 pm

    There is also a verb "dei1" which means "to snatch something that is not easily caught." I don't know how to write it.

    I met a woman from Beijing in the 1980s. The writer Ah Cheng once congratulated her husband for his luck in finding a wife by saying "Nǐ deile yī zhī niǎo 你 dei 了一隻鳥" ("You snatched a bird").

  3. Julian said,

    January 1, 2022 @ 9:58 pm

    @Victor/Tsu-Lin Mei
    Wo dianrle = 'I am leaving'
    Interesting similarity to use of past tense with future time reference in Russian, for example 'Poyehali' = 'Let's go.'

  4. Yuqing said,

    January 1, 2022 @ 10:15 pm

    Two ders I know:

    As Tsu-Lin Mei mentions, der as a word to drive riding animals like horses, donkeys, or mules to go or go faster. It is always an imperative used towards animals, sometimes combined with the word jia (嘚~~~驾!). Never in statements and never applied to human. I think in published literature when an author want to write this word they write 嘚(儿).

    Another one is an adjective, I cannot describe exactly what it means, but it is very negative or humiliating and was used extensively in my primary school (in Beijing and most of my classmates were local), usually among boys. It might be considered a dirty word? I don't know, but it is sometimes combined with the dirty word for male organ. (e.g., 你怎么这么der?你这人真**der。)I have no idea of this sinograph.

  5. Ethan A Merritt said,

    January 1, 2022 @ 11:09 pm

    @Julian: Or English "I'm out of here".

  6. Victor Mair said,

    January 3, 2022 @ 1:28 am

    From Zeyao Wu:

    When I was a little kid, I listened to many Northeastern children's folk rhymes related to "riding horses" having a similar pronunciation. I cannot recall the whole folk rhymes, but the phrase with this pronunciation is like "der駕.” I think this "der" means precisely what you have learned from Rulan Chao Pian, meaning "scram; skedaddle."

    One of the most famous contemporary Chinese singers, Jay Chou, also used this pronunciation "der" in his song “漂移Drifting,” the theme music of the movie "頭文字D Initial D.”

    The specific lyrics are attached below (you can listen to the pronunciation via this link:, from 1:30)

    得飄 得飄 得咿的飄
    得飄 得飄 得咿的飄
    我繞過山腰 雨聲敲敲
    我繞過山腰 雨聲敲敲
    得飄 得飄 得咿的飄
    得飄 得飄 得咿的飄
    再開進隧道 風聲瀟瀟
    再開進隧道 風聲瀟瀟

    This movie is about street racing, and I guess this “der” could also mean "scram; skedaddle.”

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