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“Offensive to Chinese Language” – USC Controversy over Chinese Filler Word 那个 (Nèigè) Discussed on Weibo

Weibo users discuss how a professor at the University of Southern California was temporarily suspended for using Chinese filler word ‘nage.’

Manya Koetse

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In English it’s “uuh”, in Dutch it’s “ehm”, the French say “euh”, in Japan it’s “eto”, and in Mandarin Chinese it’s “nàge” (or “nèige” 那个). Every language has different filler words and hesitation markers that are used as a natural pause or stalling in speech.

The Chinese nàge recently received much more attention in western media than filler words usually get, when an American professor was suspended by the Marshall School of Business (University of Southern California) for saying “nàge” while teaching an online communications class. Students took offense because they thought the Chinese word sounded like the English n-word.

Greg Patton, a Professor of Clinical Business Communication, was teaching his online class via Zoom on August 20 when explaining the Chinese filler word nàge”/”nèige” (那个).

According to the Los Angeles Times, students complained that the words he used “sounded like a racial slur” and “harmed their mental health.”

Following the class, Patton’s students wrote a letter to the USC Marshall dean in which they stated they blamed the incident for no longer being able to focus on their studies, saying their professor “lacks the tact, racial awareness and empathy to lead and teach an audience as diverse as ours” and that it would be “unacceptable” to expect the students to sit through two more weeks of his class.

In an email to all MBA students on August 24, the USC Marshall dean apologized that the class led to “great pain and upset among students,” also stating that Patton “agreed to take a short-term pause” from teaching the course while another instructor took over.

 

These students are discriminating against the Chinese language

 

News of the incident blew over to Chinese social media this week, where it was discussed under hashtags such as “US Professor Suspended for Saying Chinese Word Nage” (#美国教授课上说中文词那个被停课#, 1.4 million views) and “US Professor Saying the Chinese Nage Suspended over Racism” (#美国大学教授说中文词那个因种族歧视被停课#, 7.5 million views).

On Weibo, netizens had little sympathy for the students feeling offended over the Chinese words. Many called them “ignorant” or “uncultured” for mistaking the Chinese words for a racial slur.

Although there are many Weibo users who think the controversy is laughable, there are also some who are shocked and surprised that this incident actually took place, and some taking offense over the controversy – seeing it as an insult to the Chinese language.

“These students are discriminating against the Chinese language,” several people wrote, calling it “offensive to Chinese”, with others saying: “So English is higher in rank than Chinese? The pronunciation is similar, but why is it the English [meaning] that is superior here?”

“I can’t believe this is real life,” another popular comment said.

This is not the first time for ‘nèige‘ to receive attention. A well-known skit by comedian Russell Peters also mentions how ‘nèige’ sounds like the n-word, and there are many Quora posts dedicated to the word.

On Weibo, various commenters mention the song “Sunshine, Rainbow, White Pony” by Da Zhang Wei (大张伟), aka Wowkie Zhang, of which the catchy chorus also repeats a Chinese nèige word (meaning “in that”) (see video below).

The song from 2018, that has over four million views on Youtube, also has thousands of comments underneath suggesting that the singer is singing the n-word.

“Da Zhang Wei would be killed if he would sing this in the US,” one Weibo commenter wrote.

Also read: “Fake” and “Hypocritical” – Western Anti-Racism Movements Criticized on Weibo

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Jörg

    October 1, 2020 at 8:05 am

    When i was in China, i also wonder about this word, and when asking for the meaning, they said “there is no meaning”. That gives me another mystery, because the answer could mean “there is no meaning” or “it has a strong meaning we do not want to tell you”

    But now its solved.

    Thanks for this article.

    By the way, when chinease people around, i try to say “Auf Wiedersehen” and not “Tschüss” to avoid confusion 🙂

  2. Avatar

    Diandian Guo

    October 23, 2020 at 1:11 pm

    Maybe interesting to know: the official pronunciation of 那个 is nàge. This is also the pronunciation you would learn at school. However, in colloquial use, people tend to say nèige. The most common explanation is that nèige is 那&一 pronounced together.

  3. Avatar

    Diandian Guo

    October 23, 2020 at 1:15 pm

    And talking about “sounds-alikes”: if taken seriously, China probably have a valid cultural reason to ban Facebook. It sounds just like 非死不可(feisibuke), “one has no other choice but to die”. That could sound both unlucky and offensive for a mandarin speaker, I guess.

  4. Avatar

    Hello

    November 17, 2020 at 2:04 pm

    Nage, neige, means “that”, i.e. that one. It’s not a filler word!! A filler word would be “en”. Which is essentially the same sound in English, it is an affirmative sound.

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China Media

The Top 10 Buzzwords in Chinese Online Media in 2020 (咬文嚼字)

Some of the buzzwords that were most noteworthy in Chinese media this year.

Jialing Xie

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These are some of the expressions and idioms that have been buzzing in Chinese media in 2020. What’s on Weibo’s Jialing Xie explains.

China’s online media environment is a breeding ground for new terms and niche expressions that suddenly make it to mainstream discussions.

Every year, the most popular new words and expressions are listed by the Chinese magazine 咬文嚼字 (yǎo wén jiáo zì). The magazine selects buzzwords that reflect present-day society and the changing times.

Yǎo Wén Jiáozì, which means “to pay excessive attention to wording,”* is a monthly publication featuring commentary, criticism, and essays on the Chinese language.

Founded in 1995, the magazine has gained social influence for correcting typos in the language used by media and celebrities. Some of these corrections have been impactful, such as their correction of the 2006 CCTV Chinese New Year Gala on writing ‘Shenzhou 6’ (the second human spaceflight of the Chinese space program) as “神州六号” rather than “神舟六号” (different character for ‘zhōu’). It was included in their “Ten Biggest Language Mistakes” list (十大语文差错) of that year.

On social media, Chinese online (state) media always promote the magazine’s selection of the top words and terms of the past year. The ten terms have also become a relatively big topic on Weibo over the past month, with the list of Top 10 Buzzwords in 2020 #2020年度十大流行语# already garnering 460 million views.

*yǎo wén jiáo zì, literal meaning: to talk pedantically and pay excessive attention to wording, often referring to a stickler for detail with an intent to display their fine knowledge; often used negatively or neutrally.

We’ve listed the top 10 buzzwords for you here:

 

1. 人民至上,生命至上 (Rénmín zhìshàng, shēngmìng zhìshàng): “People First”

  • Literal Meaning: “People are above everything else, life is above everything else.”
  • The context of this phrase in 2020: On May 22 of 2020, Chinese President Xi Jinping took part in the deliberation of the Inner Mongolia delegation at the annual legislative session, where he stated that “our people come first, people’s lives come first, and the safety and health of our people should be secured at all costs.” “People first, life first” has since become a widely circulated slogan and guiding principle for government and society to combat Covid-19 across the country. 

 

2. 逆行者 (Nìxíng zhě): “People Going against the Tide”

  • Literal Meaning: “People who swim upstream / people who go against the current.”
  • The context of this phrase in 2020: In a broad sense, this phrase shares a similar meaning as its English counterpart, describing people who dare to differ from the mainstream and to go above and beyond their call of duty. In 2020, it has become a term often used by state media to refer to frontline workers and individuals who made a significant contribution or sacrifice during the battle against the novel coronavirus.

 

3. 飒 (): “Spirited”

  • Literal Meaning: “1) Chill and refreshing 2) Onomatopoeia: the sound of the wind 
  • The context of this word in 2020: In modern Chinese literature, this word is commonly used in the idiom “英姿飒爽” (yīng zī sà shuǎng), illustrating how a person, either a man or woman, is high of energy and full of morale and is showing an attitude of heroism and prestige. According to People’s Daily, half of the doctors and more than 90% of the nurses working in healthcare during the fight against COVID19 are female. State media started to use 飒 () as an adjective to eulogize these female medical workers. The word was later used to praise both men and women working in other industries as well. 

 

4. 后浪 (Hòu làng): “The Rear Waves”

  • Literal Meaning: “The rear waves.”
  • The context of this phrase in 2020: 后浪 hòulàng is often used within the idiom “长江后浪推前浪” (cháng jiāng hòu làng tuī qián làng) which literally means “the rear waves in the Yangtze River drive on those before,” and figuratively referring to how the new generation excels beyond the one before, or how the new is constantly replacing the old. This phrase became an internet meme regarding the young generation in China – specifically, those born in the 90s and 00s – as a result of heated online discussions about a video launched on Bilibili and other social media for Youth Day (May 4th), in which the older actor He Bing talks about the rights and opportunities enjoyed by young people in China today. On various occasions, this word is used to address the more privileged young people. Some associated stereotypes about this group include studying or living abroad, high-quality lifestyle, and luxury material possessions. Those who don’t identify with this privileged group tend to refer to themselves as “韭菜” (Jiǔcài, chives), which shares a similar sentiment as “屌丝” (Diǎosī, loser), as opposed to “the rear waves.”

 

5. 神兽 (Shén shòu): “Divine Beasts”

  • Literal Meaning: “Divine beasts.”
  • The context of this word in 2020: Totem worshiping is deeply rooted in the religion and tradition of many ancient cultures. Divine beasts in China are in fact deities, also known as the Four Symbols (四象), as a mixed product of Chinese ancient cosmology and mythology. Since the beginning of remote learning and delay in schools reopening across the country, many parents and caregivers have posted their experience balancing work and remote learning with their children from home. In these posts, parents often call their children ‘divine beasts’ then share their children’s naughty behavior and how they struggled to deal with them. 

 

6. 直播带货 (Zhíbò dài huò): “Live commerce”

  • Literal Meaning: “Live commerce”, “Influencer marketing via live streaming.
  • The context of this phrase in 2020: China’s live-streaming economy played an important role in the country’s economic market recovery amidst COVID19. Influencer marketing via live streaming combines talk show-like entertainment and the convenience of online shopping, at times even leveraging social proof and the reputation of influencers themselves to crack astonishing sales records. Apart from internet celebrities, many business executives (i.e. Jack Ma) and even government officials (i.e. 13 local mayors in Hubei Province) also took advantage of the booming live-streaming and appeared in front of webcams to promote certain products which resulted in millions of views on TikTok. On the flip-side of the business, there have been concerns about the quality of the products as well as lawsuits against fraudulent sales practices. Popular topics on Weibo as such include #如何看待直播带货卖假货#(“What do you think of counterfeit goods in live-streaming sales”). 

 

7. 双循环 (Shuāng xún huán): “Dual Cycle”

  • Literal Meaning: “Dual cycle.”
  • The context of this word in 2020: This term comes from President Xi’s speech at the meeting of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party on May 4, 2020, during which he stated that the dual-cycle system will be the party’s strategy for China’s economic and political development for the near future following COVID19 recovery. The system focuses on recovering and growing the economy by primarily expanding domestic demand mixed with healthy participation in international trade. While it certainly was not the first time the Communist Party introduced this concept of prioritizing the domestic market, according to Xinhua News Agency, the dual-cycle system has been regarded as a suitable strategy given current restrictions facing international trade due to the pandemic and the ongoing trade tensions between China and a few western powers.

 

8. 打工人 (Dǎ gōng rén): “Working People”

  • Literal Meaning: “Working people”
  • The context of this phrase in 2020: As agriculture, foreign trade, and investment sectors developed following the economic reform in 1978, a social-economic trend emerged in the 80s during which labor forces across China’s villages and countrysides migrated to cities and worked in blue-collar jobs. These migrant workers are called 打工人 (Dǎ gōng rén) / 打工仔 (Dǎ gōng zǎi). The word later evolved and was used to address the entire working class and salaried employees. For example, the memoir written by Shujuan Liu of the former president of Microsoft China, Jun Tang, was titled “I’m the 高级打工仔 (Gāojí dǎgōng zǎi, high-class worker) at Microsoft”. The term was frequently used as an internet buzzword in 2020 after appearing in a viral video in which a man acted as a migrant worker and showed watchers warm and positive encouragement. The video ended with a “good morning” greeting and addressed watchers as 打工人.  

 

9. 内卷  (Nèi juǎn): “Involution”

  • Literal Meaning: “Involution
  • The context of this phrase in 2020: According to People’s Daily, this word is a direct translation of the concept of ‘involution’ brought up by the American anthropologist Clifford Geertz. Involution describes the economic situation in which as the population grows, per capita wealth decreases. This year, this word is used to represent the competitive circumstances in academic or professional settings where individuals are compelled to overwork because of the standard raised by their peers who appear to be even more hard working. In the latter half of 2020, a few pictures capturing college students’ multitasking went viral on Weibo. One of the images shows a person working on his computer while riding his bike. These people were then called “卷王” (Juǎn wáng, meaning they are the example of overworking) on social media and became the origin of this buzzword. You can find this word sometimes associated with the 996 working hour system on Weibo.

 

10. 凡尔赛文学 (Fán’ěrsài wénxué): “Versailles Literature”

  • Literal Meaning: “Versailles literature.”
  • The context of this phrase in 2020: Social media has made displaying wealth and superiority easier than ever before. Instead of showing off explicitly, some find a way to both satisfy their desire for publicity and avoid doing so ostentatiously, by flaunting wealth and material possessions in an indirect and often negative-toned message. This writing style for social media posts is then referred to as “Versailles literature.” Admittedly not all posts labeled as “Versailles literature” were written with the intent to show off, but those with clear intention are often easily spotted and circulated online and became funny memes. This then led to a wave of discussions and a contest of “Versailles literature” on social media, which became a form of entertainment itself.

 

By Jialing Xie

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©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Memes & Viral

Grandma’s ‘Frigging’ Legs: Chinese Man Detained for Cussing on WeChat after Parking Fine

Using “Grandma’s Legs” (nǎinai de tuǐ) was apparently enough to detain him.

Manya Koetse

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First published

Many discussions on Weibo this weekend over a guy from Anhui being detained over a WeChat Moments post, in which he complained about getting a parking ticket. He used the expression ‘grandma’s legs’ (奶奶的腿) to do so, generally considered a ‘gentle’ swearing word. Weibo commenters are expressing their concern: if such a common cuss could get one trouble, virtually anything could.

A Chinese man from Bozhou city was recently arrested for scolding the police on his WeChat ‘Moments,’ according to an online report by the Suzhou Police department.

On January 10, the police account reported that the man was fined by local traffic police for illegal parking, although he refused to acknowledge he was in the wrong.

After receiving the parking ticket, the man supposedly “publicly scolded” the police via WeChat Moments (朋友圈) (a basic feature of Chinese messaging app Wechat that allows users to upload texts and images, similar to the Facebook timeline or Instagram feed).

Screenshots shared on social media show the WeChat post in question, which contained a picture of the parking fine and one sentence saying: “F*ck, I only parked for ten minutes to pick up [my] kid and it’s a hundred!”

The swearing word used here by the man from Bozhou is “nǎinai gè tuǐ” (奶奶个腿, 奶奶的腿), which literally means “grandma’s legs,” but could be translated as a common swearword such as “f*ck,” “motherf*cker,” etc.

One might also argue that “Grandma’s legs” is actually much less vulgar than the aforementioned cuss words, and that it technically is not even considered a swear word, as it is more comparable to the English ‘friggin hell’ or other gentle cussing expressions.

One day after complaining about the parking fine on Wechat, the man from Bozhou was reportedly summoned to the local police station and was detained at the spot for “creating a bad influence” (“造成了恶劣的影响”).

The Suzhou Police Weibo post on this matter gained traction on Chinese social media on Friday. But after it was read 500,000 times within just an hour, the post was deleted again.

Both the story and its online disappearance caused some consternation on Weibo over the weekend. Many people were wondering why and if common cussing is enough legal ground to detain someone, and why the Suzhou police first posted this news and then removed it again.*

 

“If even such a small complaint is enough to get arrested, Wechat Moments will soon turn into the ‘Chinese Dream.'”

 

The idea that one could get arrested for using such a gentle swearing word as ‘Grandma’s legs’ to complain about the police on WeChat is concerning to many commenters, who suggest that the police team in Bozhou was abusing its power and overreacted to the social media post.

“If even such a small complaint is enough to get arrested, Wechat Moments will soon turn into the ‘Chinese Dream,'” one Weibo user wrote.

“Saying ‘Grandma’s legs’ is considered swearing?! My god, this is terrifying!”, others wrote.

Not long after the Suzhou police reported this matter (and then deleted its post again), Phoenix News also posted about the issue, asking Weibo netizens whether or not “#GrandmasLegs” (#奶奶的腿#) could be considered swearing or is more innocent than that.

The majority of people responding to Phoenix News do not see ‘Grandma’s legs’ as a real curse word but as a mocking expression.

“But am I even allowed to express my opinion on this?”, multiple people write: “Won’t you arrest me for doing so?”

Although this particular Bozhou arrest is an unusual case, it is much less unusual for people to be detained for swearing and/or insulting people on social media.

In 2017, a man from Taizhou, Jiangsu, was detained for nine days for insulting a member of China’s civil police on Weibo.

Last year, a taxi driver was detained for making a cruel joke on QQ about the Yueqing victim of the Didi murder.

Update: On Monday afternoon, the Bozhou police department responded to the matter via social media, stating the case is currently under investigation.

By Manya Koetse, with thanks to @sanverde
Follow @whatsonweibo

For more information about the Police Law and things China Law, we recommend you follow @chinalawtranslate on Twitter and check out Chinalawtranslate.com.

*Bozhou and Suzhou are not near to each other; Bozhou is located in Anhui Province, while Suzhou is in China’s Jiangsu Province. It is not known why the Suzhou Police department first picked up this story.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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