In the World Now @en

Vogue words in China

01Aug 2011 呉 偉麗

Wu Weili (Shanghai,China)

2011.4~2011.4 Nagasaki Prefectural Government CIR


  My first two months back inShanghaiafter living inJapanfor a year passed by very quickly. After I had just returned home, I could not adjust well to life inShanghaisince I had been gone a year, but I worked hard to readjust myself. There were so many new things that had appeared in the year I was gone. One of those was the emergence of new slang in Chinese.


  I often heard a new word not only in advertisements on TV but also from the people around me: gěi lì给力. This word at first did not sound natural to me at all, but after I heard it again and again I began to pick up on the nuance of its meaning. Originally from the northeastern dialect of Chinese, it is used as an adjective to mean “cool” or “awesome” and also as an exclamation of encouragement, especially online. As a verb, it means to give or supply power. The negated form of the verb is also widely used now. It has even appeared in the headline of an article in the Renmin Ribao 人民日報, or the People’s Daily, a central government newspaper, as seen in the image below. This is surely a testament to how influential this word has become. The full byline, Jiangsu Geili 江苏给力, means “Jiangsu Province is Awesome.






  Much slang in recent years has begun on the internet but not come so far as to be widely used in conversation, so I was very surprised at how common gěi lì has become. I suppose it has become so popular for a number of reasons: first, it was originally from a dialect so it is not an entirely new word; second, it is only two characters long and easy to pronounce; third, its meaning has highly positive connotations of activity and energy. When said, the word, with its northeastern tint, injects a lighthearted feeling into a conversation, and may also be used for a humorous effect. It is often used to attracted consumers in commercials and advertisements.

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  Until recently, many slang words have been ironic or dark in meaning. For example, bēijù杯具, a word meaning “cups” that has the same pronunciation as tragedy, fúyún浮云, which literally refers to floating clouds but in slang means something transient, jiǒng囧, literally bright but in slang means sad, depressed or stupefied due to the character’s resemble to a sad or troubled facial expression, jīngjìshìyòngnán经济适用男, which refers to a not-so-rich but not-so-poor guy, shèngnǚ 剰女, which refers to a women who is a catch but cannot find a husband who meets her high standards, and báigǔjīng白骨精, which literally means skeleton but refers to an elite businessperson in slang. With the advent of TV, the internet and cell phones, the speed with which information spreads and the sheer amount of that information effect change on lives of people every day. I know there will be a lot more slang that emerges in the coming years, and I personally hope that more lighthearted words, such as gěi lì, become popular. It would be great if slang could become a positive force in our society.