Flash mob / drive

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Placed on the countertop of the coffee corner in the dining hall at Lingnan University in Hong Kong:

The English is an adequate translation of the Chinese, so I won't transcribe and romanize the latter.  I only wish to point out a striking neologism and ask two pertinent questions.

The neologism is kuàishǎn 快閃 ("flash mob"), which appears to be based on a somewhat earlier neologistic usage of those two glyphs, namely in the sense of "flash memory"  (computer hardware).  The newer usage with the meaning "flash mob" also has an expanded version, kuàishǎnzú 快闪族 (lit., "flash tribe").

Oh, my!  Once the flashes start flaring and flaming, then we get all sorts of other derived terms and derivatives of derived terms:

shǎncún 閃存/闪存 ("flash memory")

kuàishǎndié 快閃碟/快闪碟 ("flash disk")
kuàishǎn jìyìtǐpán 快閃記憶體盤/快闪记忆体盘 ("flash memory disk")
kuàishǎn suíshēndié 快閃隨身碟/快闪随身碟 ("portable disk / drive")

Almost forgot there's a third neologistic usage of kuàishǎn 快閃, namely "pop-up" (retail, store, etc.) and its derivative, expanded synonym, kuàishǎndiàn 快閃店/快闪店.

FIRST PERTINENT QUESTION:  If it's a "flash mob" (kuàishǎn 快閃), how can they tell you news about it ahead of time?  In the well-established custom of "flash mobs") in the West, they happen without any advance notification.  That's the whole point of the practice.

SECOND PERTINENT QUESTION:  Since the notice is from Hong Kong, why is it in simplified characters?  Hint hint — that's sort of a rhetorical question.


About twenty years ago, maybe even more, before I knew what a USB flash drive was, Chinese colleagues whom I invited to Penn to give talks were already quite familiar with them and they were all using them (sort of like me being clueless about cell phones when they all had them).  They called USB flash drives "this or that" pán 盤 / 盘 ("plate", i.e., "disk") — I think the "this or that" was some letter of the English alphabet.  Before that, however, before they were into computers much at all, certainly not laptops, I was thoroughly acquainted with floppy disks, which I hated, especially when you had to load a succession of them just to "boot up" your agonizingly slow Mac.  When the Chinese got to know about floppy disks, they called them ruǎnpán 軟盤/软盘, where ruǎn 軟/软 means "soft, pliable, flexible".  I think the Chinese more or less skipped over that stage, because the PRC was still struggling to catch up economically and technologically.  Instead, during the new millennium they soared straight up to the wǎngpán 網盤/网盘 ("internet / cloud drive").

Selected readings

  • "Dongle" (6/3/09)
  • "Flash mobs" (8/12/11)
  • "Tribes" (3/10/15) — people who always have their head down looking at an electronic handheld device


  1. John from Cincinnati said,

    October 29, 2023 @ 4:38 pm

    If it's a "flash mob", how can they tell you news about it ahead of time? In the well-established custom of "flash mobs" in the West, they happen without any advance notification.

    That's not my understanding, although I've never been physically in or around a flash mob. Wikipedia shares my impression that flash mobs may indeed be pre-organized and announced:

    A flash mob (or flashmob) is a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform for a brief time, then quickly disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment, satire, and artistic expression. Flash mobs may be organized via telecommunications, social media, or viral emails.

  2. Gregory Kusnick said,

    October 29, 2023 @ 4:50 pm

    I don't read Chinese, but the English translation says nothing about being notified in advance. My reading is that the "surprise news" is that a flash mob is happening right now.

  3. Philip Taylor said,

    October 29, 2023 @ 5:08 pm

    Do you not read "next" as implying notification in advance, Gregory ? Would not the idiomatic term be "this" or "the current" rather than "next" were it taking place (right) now ?

  4. Gregory Kusnick said,

    October 29, 2023 @ 5:58 pm

    No, I read it as telling me that when the next flash mob happens, I'll be given the surprise news that it's happening.

  5. Terry K. said,

    October 29, 2023 @ 6:38 pm

    "Scan the code to follow us", it says. It's not saying if you follow the link (via the code) you will immediately get news of the next flash mob. It means that you can follow them on WeChat or Instagram (where the QR code links go to), and if you do, you will at some future point get news of the next flash mob. (And maybe that's a 3rd way to follow them above the WeChat QR code.)

  6. Jacob said,

    October 30, 2023 @ 11:51 pm

    "They called USB flash drives "this or that" pán 盤 / 盘 ("plate", i.e., "disk") — I think the "this or that" was some letter of the English alphabet."

    I heard U盘 a lot way back when, though I thought it sounded more like 优盘.

  7. Pamela Kyle Crossley said,

    November 8, 2023 @ 11:15 am

    great picture. i scanned it and went to the wechat page. now i will know when the next flash mob is happening. still don't know where to go though.

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