Internet Buzz Words

  • 神马都是浮云

[shénmǎ dōu shì fúyún]

‘Everything is nothing’

In plain English, one would say ‘Don’t worry about it’, or ‘It’s not as important as you think’. There are several layers of linguistic inventiveness here. First of all, the character 神 is pronounced [shén], same with 什, and means ‘supernatural’, ‘heavenly’. In this way, we get 神马, which could be loosely translated as ‘pegasus’, and which sounds very close to ‘什么’. 浮云 means ‘clouds’. The idea is that what seems to be a horse in the sky, in reality, is nothing but clouds. Don’t worry about it, it’s all in your head.

  • 不要迷恋哥,哥只是个传说.

[bù yào míliàn gēgē zhǐshì ge chuánshuō]

‘Don’t be obsessed with me, I’m only a legend’.

In other words, ‘You are so far behind me, don’t even try to be like me. I’m in a completely different league’. This saying is mostly reserved for guys (hence the word ‘哥’), as well-behaved girls would not want to say something like that. I was told, however, that a flashy girl with a cigarette in her hand might say ‘不要迷恋姐,姐只是个传说’.

  • 打游戏的宅男伤不起。

[dǎ yóu xì de zhái nán shāng bù qǐ]

‘Losers who play video games cannot afford to be hurt’.

伤不起 [shāng bù qǐ] is the key expression here, and it is can be used to point to the pitiful situation of anyone who is having a hard time or is doing something ‘ungelivable’. This expression resurfaced and became especially popular after a blog post (rant?) titled ‘Those who study French cannot afford to be hurt’ appeared on the Internet, and went viral. It is now a popular expression among university students who plug in all sorts of subjects in place of ‘French’. According to my Baidu search, other people who cannot afford to be hurt may include ‘girls with cold hands’, ‘girls who eat white chocolate’, ‘men who wear red underpants’, ‘girls who don’t eat breakfast’, etc. The idea, of course, is that those people have already suffered so many injuries they cannot afford to be hurt any more.

  • 给力

This word means simply ‘cool’ or ‘awesome’, and is one of the most popular words on the Internet. Its opposite is 不给力, which means, respectively, ‘uncool’. These words have the English counterparts of ‘gelivable’ and ‘ungelivable’, and have been given some attention (as well as recognition) in both Chinese and English-speaking publications (see Schott’s Vocab blog on and the front page of People’s Daily from Nov. 10, 2010).

  • Out.

This word is used simply as it is, with English pronunciation or script. If someone is ‘out’ they are out of the loop or not up-to-date on the latest trends. It’s short for ‘out of time’. As Lin Tao, one of my students, said, ‘This word is so popular that if you don’t know what it means, you’re out’.

For an(other) excellent post on Chinese internet buzzwords, go to

Where Things Are Going, Part 2. Moving Out: 搬 + 出去, etc.

The first word he’ll probably use to announce this news to his old roommate is

Where Things are Going: Verb +上去, etc.

Chinese has such a nice and precise way to refer to the direction of an action 😎 So today I decided to review them all together and see what picture they’re supposed to bring up in mind. First, a blank table that I used, just in case anyone would like to do this on their own as well 🙂
上去 上来 下去 下来 进来 进去 出来 出去 过来 过去 回去 回来 起来

Honey Bee To Make Bee Honey

My language partner Sophie pointed out something interesting to me today. In Chinese, you say 蜂蜜 [fēngmì] for ‘honey’ and then you switch the characters to say ‘a bee’ – 蜜蜂 [mìfēng]. Easy, right? And who can now say you can’t rely on English to learn Chinese?

Our discussion about Chinese (in English, haha) branched off a bit, and led us to another curiosity – the difference between 一盒饭 and 一个饭盒, 一头牛 and 一个牛头。

This is a 饭盒 [fànhé] (i,e. a lunch box) :

一个饭盒 'an empty lunch box'

This is an 一盒饭 [héfàn] (i.e. ‘one lunch in a box’, or should I say ‘a box lunch’?) :

一盒饭 'one lunch in a box'

一头牛 and 一个牛头 work by the same principle: ‘one cow’ and ‘one head of a cow’ 🙂

Now I’m curious to find more of such bits, can you think of some?

Fall: 摔;掉

[shuāi] is used for two kinds of falling:

  1. A person falling over by accident:


  2. Someone getting angry and throwing things:



    In general, this word is used for objects that can’t break into pieces. 

[diào] is used for things falling down on the floor:


If something can fall on the floor and break, we use 掉, often in combination with 坏 (‘break’).

It’s also used for a plane going down (maybe because it breaks into pieces when it does?):



Here in China, besides being a beginner in Chinese, I also hold the title of ‘a foreign expert’ (supposedly on learning English). I see about 300 students a week, and now and again one of them will come up and ask me for suggestions on how to improve their speaking or listening skills in English. My response to this has been polished from the earnest attempts at giving a 2-minute crash course in second language acquisition to the ‘Don’t be shy to speak!’ wisdom I feel I’ve been giving out left and right recently. My linguistics professors would be proud.

So, after my exchange with a Chinese cafe-owner today I don’t have even that to offer. It left me with mixed feelings – on the one hand, I wanted to run and hide by the end, on the other, it was nice to realize I was able to hold on in a conversation with a native speaker!

Anyway, as I was talking to Mr. Zhao the shy beginner in me woke up again and went on kind of like this..

Thus I was reminded of what it feels like to be speaking in a new language 🙂 I spent quite a bit of time studying in the classroom, and with the textbook,  and with the flashcards, and I want to have something to show.. no, say for it! So I was thinking that maybe all of that effort set my expectations too high? So next time I venture into the open field, I want to try a different approach – set expectations to low and don’t compare my speech to anything – my own speech in English or let alone my Chinese pal’s speech in Chinese. Should try that as a piece of advice for my students too..

Change: 换, 改变, 改, 变更, 变化, 变成, 变

First, a few words of introduction about this post. When I first just started learning Chinese, one easy thing was that every word clearly had its own *job*. But now as I’m cautiously stepping into ‘elementary’ and ‘upper-elementary’ territory, it’s getting tricky. If I learn an adjective or a verb now, I can be almost 100% sure that a couple of lessons later I’ll come across a word with the same translation. Say, I learn 改变, and I try to remember it, but later I’ll see also and used on their own in what seems like identical contexts, and my Chinese friend corrects me when I say 改变航班的时间 (change the time of the flight) and suggests 变更 instead.

So after talking to three of my Chinese buddies (yes, they kept saying slightly different things, so I had to cross-examine with three), I believe I have figured this one out. Here we go.

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