These Are China’s Top 10 Words of the Year 2018

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8:38 AM HKT, Wed December 5, 2018 5 mins read

Chinese magazine 咬文嚼字 Yao Wen Jiao Zi (literally meaning “Biting Words”) recently released their “Top Ten Popular Words of the Year”. Intrigued, but don’t know Chinese? No worries, we’ve got the breakdown.

Here are the best new words and phrases coined in 2018.

1. “A Community with a Shared Future” — 命运共同体 Mìngyùn gòngtóngtǐ

This phrase was largely propagated by President Xi, who mentioned the term in several public addresses throughout the year.

The phrase was also added to the constitution’s preamble during the National People Congress’ historic amendment this March. It’s since been used by news outlet when reporting on global-level diplomatic events, such as Xi’s meetings with African leaders to discuss One Belt One Road policies.

Most recently its been used by media outlets while discussing the G20 conference this past weekend.

2. Koi Fish — 锦鲤 Jǐnlǐ

While koi fish have long been a symbol of luck and prosperity in Chinese folk legend and culture, this term went viral after Alipay’s “Chinese Koi Giveaway” sweepstakes this past October. Alipay awarded one winner with a ridiculously large prize pack. With millions of entrants, winning could be attributed only to pure luck — the luck of a koi fish. The “koi fish” idea then expanded as other companies throughout Mainland China started their own spinoff of the “koi giveaway” in order to attract more business.

3. Waiter — 店小二 Diànxiǎo’èr

In more antiquated Chinese, this term literally means “waiter”. But this past year it’s come to express government assistance to businesses, in efforts to catalyze economic development and reform. In that spirit, Chairman Xi announced in early November that the CCP would offer unwavering support to private enterprises across the country. Many Chinese netizens commented that the publishing of this list was the first time they encountered this phrase. It’s hard to determine how in touch with the common people this phrase may actually be, but it’s nevertheless been an important phrase for the government sector this year, as the country tries to “deepen and improve reform” during the 40th anniversary of the Reform and Opening period.

4. A Textbook Case — 教科书式 Jiàokēshūshì

This term spread through the Chinese net after a video of a police officer in Shanghai demanding a driver’s license went viral. Chinese netizens accused the officer of using unnecessary force, but his response was that he was just “going by the book”.

5. Official Announcement — 官宣 Guānxuān

This term literally means “to officially announce” or “an official announcement,” and was previously used to indicate official government announcements. The term went viral when two A-list Chinese actors Zhao Liying and Feng Shaofeng used the term to officially announce their marriage this October after a series of online rumors about pregnancy and a “secret marriage.”

6. “Soul Gaze” or “Confirmed by the Eyes” — 确认过眼神 Quèrènguò yǎnshén

Reportedly taken from some mushy JJ Lin song lyrics, this term means “to examine, to see”, etc. It was popularized online around Chinese New Year when it was used to roast people in Guangdong for giving small hongbaos (small red envelops filled with money), one netizen writing “it was confirmed by my eyes, you’re from Guangdong.”

7. Retreat — 退群 Tuìqún

This is a term you’ll see appear when you choose to quit a group chat in apps like WeChat. Recently, however this term has been used when describing global level current events. From “retreating” from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris Climate Agreement, and UNESCO (just to name a few), President Trump’s behavior has also given Chinese media outlets an abundance of opportunities to use the term. Most recently, this term was used by Chinese news outlets when reporting on Qatar’s announcement it will “retreat” from OPEC starting in January 2019.

8. Buddha-Like — 佛系 Fóxì

The term “Buddha-like” actually doesn’t have much to do with Buddhism in earnest. The term was first used in 2014 by a Japanese magazine describe uncommitted, chill male millennials, content with the pursuit of their hobbies and their studies. The term was adopted my Chinese netizens, describing men who have a fairly lackadaisical attitude towards most everything. Instead of labelling these friends “lazy” or asserting that they “don’t care,” many have chosen to label their friends (or label themselves) “Buddha-like”. The Buddha-like friend in your life can be spotted as the person who always replies “OK, come over whenever,” “we can meet whenever,” or “anything’s cool with me.”

9. Big Baby — 巨婴 Jùyīng

With the influx of crazy, entitled public transport passengers, it’s no wonder this term has picked up steam on the Chinese internet. This term is used to describe adults who exhibit child-like behavior.

Instead of explaining, here are two notable examples from this year in China:

Example 1: The High-Speed Train Seat Boss

Here’s one of several videos which surfaced this year on social media of adults refusing to give up their seat to the person who actually purchased it. Another video showed a grown woman screaming at the train attendants after they asked her to move from first class to second class (she had purchased a second-class ticket).

Example 2: In a more tragic example, a passenger on a public bus in Chongqing violently argued with the bus driver after she missed her stop. She hit the driver several times and attempted the jerk the wheel. Her attempt to grab the wheel caused the driver to loose control, and plunge off the side of the bridge he was driving on. Over a dozen people lost their lives in the incident.

10. Argumentative Person — 杠精 Gàngjīng

We all have that friend. That guy. The one who likes arguing for the sake of arguing. The person addicted to disagreement for the sake of disagreement. This year, the Chinese net popularized a hard-to-understand term for this type of person: gangjing, 杠精.

Back in the old days, 抬杠 taigang referred to carrying a coffin around on poles. In a monumental rhetorical leap, the term now refers to being very argumentative. The second character in gangjing — jing — connotes a kind of energy or spirit. It’s also found in the word vigor, for instance.

So gangjing is like the existing slang taigang, just more… spirited. That’s pretty much all we can say about that one.

Word of the Year

What would the top phrases of the year be without the word (well, character) of the year?

English speakers combine words into portmanteaus all the time to make new, more hip-sounding words (brother + romance = bromance, etc.). What happens when this same phenomenon occurs in Chinese? Well…this:

Pronounced qiou this character is a mashup of a few Chinese characters, 穷 qiong, meaning poor, and 丑 chou, meaning ugly. Some people also see the character 土 tu — dirt — in there, which has recently come to mean a person with bad taste (or the things they fancy).

The meaning of the character is depicted in the picture below:

Meaning #1: Poor to the point of eating dirt

Meaning #2: Not only ugly, but poor to the point of eating dirt

Meaning #3: Ugly, Poor, Dirt (poor taste)

If you look close you’ll see that the word “qiou” is a combination of these two characters:

Poor (qiong 穷)

Ugly (chou 丑)

Thus, together, the hitherto non-existent “qiou“.

Many Chinese netizens have joked that that the character should actually be pronounced as “wo,” or the Chinese word for “me”, the implication being that the new character describes them perfectly.

While it may seem like a light joke, many social media users point out that the popularity of such a character could be indicative of the situation faced by college-age students and young adults in China. College graduates find it increasingly difficult to find appropriate work after graduating, and the exponentially rising use of social media sets beauty standards at an all-time high, leading many Chinese netizens to comment that a seemingly frivolous character-creation is really a mirror into the current state of youth in Chinese society. As put by one of my good friends and schoolmates here in China: “This is China. In our time, it’s a society that looks at the face.”

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