Changing language

Language is always in flux, over the dead bodies of fusty conservatives. English isn’t alone in changing under the stimulus of social media and popular culture.

Since my Chinese vocabulary incongruously lurched from the Tang dynasty to the clichés of Maoism (see also here), where it remained impaled, I’m happy to make some modest updates, partly courtesy of websites like Sixth Tone (e.g. herehere, and here), and Magpie digest—as well as this article, including a recap on the viral caonima “grass-mud-horse” trope. As elsewhere, much of the linguistic innovation is driven by online usage. I’m very keen on the term

To zhuāng bì 装 B is to put on airs — worldly, moneyed, educated, eccentric, or any other combination thereof. In other words: to be a fucking poser.* B is shorthand for níubì ( lit. “cow’s cunt”: see here, with instructive links), meaning “awesome” or “badass”—the English letter “B” being easier to find than the character for cunt (for shabi “fuckwit” and the somewhat less shocking nature of bi in Chinese, see here).

The article describes zhuang B as “a light, often self-deprecating insult”, “sign of healthy subcultural growth”—“by-product of all the new possibilities for young, middle-class Chinese people, a way for millennials to practise defining their way of life.” So it’s a pretentious wanker or tosser—cf. Poseur, moi?”.

I also like galiao 尬聊 “awkward chat”, inevitable chats with boring people—when the person you are talking with lacks communication skills, or when your mind wanders off and the talk reaches a dead end.

Even for those seeking to limit their studies to a bygone age, a basic grasp of how living people communicate (even village ritual specialists) is valuable…

 

* Private Eye‘s Pseuds’ corner polices English excesses with regular entries—like this, from an old programme note of a London Pro Musica concert, penned with tongue in cheek by the splendid Bernard Thomas:

The title of this concert means “a piece of cake”; it comes from the popular song Damene un poco di quella mazacrocha, “give me a piece of that cake (crumpet?)”. The process of baking a cake might be taken a central metaphor for Renaissance musical culture, for the special synthesis of northern polyphony and rhythmic subtlety with the poetry and expressive melody of indigenous Italian music. Florence, together with Siena and Bologna, were, and still are, traditional centres of cake baking. One can only guess at the repeated and prolonged biting into cakes on the creative processes of Heinrich Isaacs during his long stay in Florence.

2 thoughts on “Changing language

  1. Pingback: Vesna Goldsworthy | Stephen Jones: a blog

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