And Finally

The final word

What featured in the latest listings of China’s top terms for 2018?


Top ranked, yet again

It’s that time in the calendar when language fans announce the most influential words of the year.

For the UK’s Oxford English Dictionary the choice was ‘toxic’, while America’s has gone for ‘misinformation’. Both words highlight the darker climate of social discord and fake news. Other shortlisted terms plough the same furrow: incel (young men who can’t get girlfriends, and thus describe themselves, often angrily, as involuntarily celibate) and gaslighting (a term that refers to emotional manipulation and abuse).

Then there’s cakeism (referencing the UK’s desire to have its Brexit cake and eat it), orbiting (cutting off your social media contact with a former lover, but still monitoring them online), plus two self-explanatory ones – techlash and overtourism.

In China Yaowen Jiaozi (or Chewing Words) has published its own top 10. No surprises that the top ranked is a saying popularised by President Xi Jinping. Ming yun gong tong ti (Community of Common Destiny) was first deployed during his Party Congress speech in 2017. The China Daily concludes that since then Xi’s vision of a shared future for mankind has become a new “international consensus”.

Second on the list is jinli (or koi fish), which references the Chinese people’s perennial pursuit of good fortune. In October, Alipay launched a National Day lottery featuring a koi fish (see WiC428). It quickly became the go-to phrase to wish someone luck when the odds are stacked against them.

Much of the 2018 list highlights civility and good manners. Dian xiao er is the traditional term for a tea-house greeter. The Zhejiang government popularised it when it begged its civil servants to serve local businesses better.

Then there is ju ying (giant baby), denoting rude behaviour on public transport. Its most tragic manifestation was the passenger who fought with her bus driver after missing her stop in Chongqing. The bus plunged off a bridge, killing everyone on board (see WiC431).

Along similar lines, jiao ke shu shi (do something by the book), went viral after a video showing a Shanghai policeman demanding a driver’s licence. Another to make the rankings: fo xi or men who have a Buddhist-like attitude to life, although it’s not clear if their relative indifference is because they are searching for harmony or simply feel impotent about their lives.

Rounding off the list are guan xuan (to make an official announcement) after actors Zhao Liying and Feng Shaofeng shocked netizens with news of their marriage (see WiC429); and tui qun (leave the group), which was originally derived from everyday practice on WeChat, but has morphed into a reference to Donald Trump’s propensity to walk away from deals and institutions like the TPP and the UN Climate Accord.

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