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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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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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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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China Insight

Top 10 Buzzwords in Chinese Online Media

From blockchain to hardcore, this is an overview of China’s media top buzzwords over the past year.

Jialing Xie

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Some of the expressions and idioms that have been buzzing in Chinese media the past year. What’s on Weibo’s Jialing Xie explains. 

Last year, we listed China’s “top ten buzzwords” for you (link), giving an overview of some noteworthy expressions on Chinese social media and in the media in 2018. Recently, the chief editor of the magazine Yǎowén Jiáozì (咬文嚼字) has again announced the “top ten buzzwords” in China of the past year.

Yǎowén Jiáozì, which literally means “to pay excessive attention to wording,” is a monthly publication focused on the Chinese language. Chinese (state) media have been widely propagating the magazine’s selection of the top words and terms of the past year in newspapers and on Chinese online media. The ten terms have also become a topic of discussion on Weibo over the past month, with the topic receiving 290 million views.

We’ve listed them for you here:

 

1. 文明互鉴 (wénmíng hùjiàn): “Mutual Learning”

  • Literal Meaning: “Mutual learning,” “Exchanges and mutual learning among different cultures and civilizations.”
  • Original context: This expression can be traced back to the era around and during the Warring States Period (475-221 BC), a time of division, bloody battles, and political chaos. The demands for solutions brought forth a broad range of philosophies and schools. During this time, Confucianism, Taoism, Legalism, Mohism and many others were developed leading to the phenomenon known as the “Contention of a Hundred Schools of Thought.”
  • What does it mean now? In 2014, at the 4th summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), Chinese President Xi Jinping put forward a major initiative to convene a conference on dialogue between Asian countries followed by an introduction emphasizing how “diversity spurs interaction among civilizations, which promotes mutual learning.” This sentence and expression were later repeated in speeches during various major events. In May 2019, President Xi once again emphasized the idea during the CICA, making the term pop up across Chinese state media again. 

 

2. 区块链 (qū kuài liàn): “Blockchain”

  • Literal Meaning: Blockchain Technology
  • Context: “Blockchain” is no longer a new concept since it was first introduced to the public around a decade ago. Development of the malleable blockchain technology has become an important trend in China’s tech market through the years. 
  • What does it mean now?  Blockchain was all the buzz in China over the past year. In early 2019, the Cyberspace Administration of China released the Provisions on the Administration of Blockchain Information Services. In October, President Xi singled out blockchain technology as an important breaking point in developing China’s core innovative technology and emphasized the importance of investing and stepping up research on the standardization of blockchain to increase China’s influence and power in the global arena. 

 

3. 硬核 (yìng hé): “Hardcore”

  • Literal Meaning: “Hardcore” – 硬 = hard, 核 = core. 
  • Context: “Hardcore” is known as the abbreviation for Hardcore Punk, a punk rock music genre originated in Southern California during the late 1970s. The term was later used to reference things of a certain level of complexity, such as “hardcore games” (versus casual games). The term started to mean something along the lines of “terrific” (厉害) or “strict”/”rigid” (刚硬)  and in Chinese, started being used in expressions such as “Tiger mom” (硬核妈妈) or “Hardcore game players” (硬核玩家).
  • What does it mean now?  As the Chinese science fiction blockbuster The Wandering Earth (流浪地球) was categorized as ‘hardcore science fiction’ (硬核科幻), the term ‘hardcore’ resurfaced as a popular word often popping up in (online) conversations.

 

 4. 融梗 (róng gěng): “Mixing up ideas”

  • Literal Meaning: “Integrating other people’s ideas into one’s own work” or “integrating punchlines,” “mixing up plots.”
  • Context: Over the past two decades, many literary works, including a few by prestigious Chinese writers, have been suspected of plagiarism and triggered heated discussions online — when it comes to drawing inspiration from other art and literary creations, where is the boundary between artistic freedom and plagiarism?
  • What does it mean now?  Soon after the Chinese movie Better Days (少年的你) came out in October (read more here), the writer of the original novel was accused of plagiarizing parts of Japanese mystery writer Keigo Higashino’s work. Many netizens argued that in the field of online literature, borrowing ideas from others (融梗) is ubiquitous and does not necessarily equate plagiarism because the act (融梗) itself requires original work and creativity. From October to now, the term has become a recurring topic in Chinese media. 

 

 5. “XX 千万条,XX 第一条” (XX qiān wàn tiáo, XX dì yī tiáo): “Out of millions of things,..is the first one”

  • Literal Meaning: “Out of ten million things,.. xxx comes first as the rule of thumb.” 
  • Context: List thinking is prevailing in China; from codes and regulations enacted by the government and laid down by companies, to the way teachers outline their lectures, the usage of “articles” (sometimes used as ‘rules’)  or “items” (条) to organize ideas and outline objectives is commonly seen in daily life.
  • What does it mean now? This phrase caught people’s attention after appearing in the aforementioned science fiction film The Wandering Earth, where a robot voice reminds a driver of traffic safety in a noteworthy way, saying something along the lines of: “There are thousands of road rules, but safety rules always come first. If you disregard safety, your loved ones will end up in tears.” Despite sounding like a sketch that rhymes poorly in Chinese, the lines stuck around and were later also used by Chinese traffic police across the country. The sentence structure is now also more often applied in various other contexts, for example: “There are thousands of things good for health, but sleep is the most important.”

 

6. 柠檬精 (níngméng jīng): “Lemon monster”

  • Literal Meaning: “Lemon mythical spirit” or “Sour lemon goblin”
  • Context: In ancient Chinese superstitions, it’s believed that animals and non-living objects may have the potential to grow into something with spiritual and immortal characteristics if meeting certain criteria. One of the criteria is to be around long enough, usually hundreds of years – if not thousands. For instance, in the classical work Journey to the West (西游记), the four main characters except Tang Sanzang are all spiritual beings derived from animal prototypes. 
  • What does it mean now? Lemon tastes sour (酸), which is often used to describe the feeling of envy or jealousy. When lemon becomes a spiritual being, it basically means the lemon has reached the ultimate stage of being a lemon and maximized its characteristics such as being terribly sour. The phrase is used to deride those who feel envious of others’ possession and achievement. Lately, the word is more often seen in a self deprecating humoristic context. For instance, when someone says “I’m a lemon jing now/I feel sour now( 我柠檬精了/我酸了)”, instead of expressing envy towards others, it’s more about acknowledging others more advantageous position compared to one’s own. 

 

7. The 996 work schedule 

  • Literal Meaning: 996 working hour system
  • Context: 996 is a work schedule commonly practiced by many companies in the internet and tech industry in China. With the 996 schedule, employees are required to work from 9 am to 9  pm, 6 days per week. 
  • What does it mean now? In April 2019, Jack Ma, the co-founder and former executive chairman of Alibaba Group, commented on 996 during an internal meeting with Alibaba employees. Ma’s comments seemed to justify how companies and employees can both benefit from the work schedule, however, the comments quickly triggered criticism after widely circulating online for allegedly violating of the Labour Law of the People’s Republic of China. 

 

8. “我太难(南)了” (wǒ tài nán le): “Life is so hard for me” 

  • Literal Meaning: “I’m feeling uneasy” or “life is so hard for me” 
  • Context: The phrase originated from a 10-second video self-posted by a user on video-sharing site Kuaishou earlier in 2019. As the video begins, the user – an older Chinese guy –  says to the camera: “I’m feeling uneasy…” followed by sad music. He then continues to say “Lao tie [bro/guys], (I) have been under a lot of stress lately.” The video, in which the man dramatically drops his head in his hands and seems to cry without tears, quickly went viral. The phrase “I’m feeling uneasy” was quickly adopted and applied in daily conversations.  
  • What does it mean now? The broad circulation of this phrase on the internet reflects that the uneasy feeling about life is relatable to many people. Acknowledging the stress in a self-deprecating humorous tone is in itself a way of relieving stress. To add a sense of humor to this phrase, many replace the initial character “难” (nán, adj. difficult) with “南” (nán, adj.& n. south), which is believed to be taken from the mahjong tile “南风”(south wind).  

 

9. “我不要你觉得,我要我觉得” (wǒ bùyào nǐ juédé, wǒ yào wǒ juédé): “I don’t want to know what you think, I only care about what I think”

  • Literal Meaning: “I don’t want to know what you think, I only care about what I think.”
  • Context: The line was taken from Xiaoming Huang, one of the guests in the third season of the entertainment TV show “Chinese Restaurant”, which was broadcasted in the summer of 2019. In the show, Huang, who took the role as the manager of the restaurant, is self-centered, and often disregards the opinions of others in matters such as menu ideas or pricing, showing his blind self-confidence and arrogance. In addition to this line, Huang’s frequently used language includes “There is no need to discuss this matter”, “Listen to me, I have the final say” and so on, and it spread quickly on the internet.  
  • What does it mean now? The popularity of this line reflects people’s ridicule and resentment against arrogant and dominant personalities.

 

10. 霸凌主义 (bàlíng zhǔyì): “Bully-ism”

  • Literal Meaning: “Bully-ism”
  • Context: The word 霸凌 (bàlíng) comes from the English word “bully.” Here, it refers to bullying other countries in the face of conflicts between nations. 
  • What does it mean now? As the trade conflict between the US and China was ongoing in 2019, many believed that the current government administration of the United States has been handling international affairs in almost a bullying manner. The slogan “America First” is also often perceived as a declaration in front of the entire world that the interests of the United States come first. As a buzzword, “bullyism” has come to be used by Chinese media in the context of international affairs. 

 

By Jialing Xie
Follow @whatsonweibo

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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