“I’m So Qiou” – The New Chinese ‘Character of the Year’ is ‘Dirt-Poor & Ugly’

A new (unofficially) elected ‘character of the year’ of 2018 is qiou, a creative combination of ‘dirt-poor’ and ‘ugly.’ Many self-mocking netizens identify with the new online word.

A new Chinese character, created by netizens, has become all the rage on social media this week.

The character is a combination of two characters, namely ‘穷’ (qióng) and ‘丑’ (chǒu). The first (穷) literally means ‘poor,’ whereas the second (丑) is used to describe something ugly.

The pinyin of this new character would be ‘qiou‘, which mixes qióng and chǒu. Unsurprisingly, the meaning of the new character is something like being ‘poor-ugly.’

Actually, there is a third character hiding among those strokes: ‘土’ (tǔ), which means earth, soil or dust. So the added meaning of the newly created character would not just be poor and ugly, but dirt-poor and ugly.

In a time of staggering house prices and unrealistic beauty ideals, ‘qiou’ is a character that “suits our time,” according to many on Weibo, who say the character ‘describes their current situation.’

“The time of our youth was a happy one,” one netizen poetically states: “Because it was not yet clear to us at the time, how poor and ugly we were.”

The character became all the rage when it was dubbed “the character of 2018” (“2018年度汉字”) by Chinese media outlet Modern Express (现代快报), selected by netizens.

The word has become popular among self-mocking young social media users, who come out saying: “I’m qiou [我qiou].”

According to some, the word should be pronounced in the third tone. They identify so much with the word, that the word for “I” (‘wǒ’), which is also in the third tone, is also somehow included in ‘qiou’ by making it a third tone pronunciation.

Some Weibo users share the state of their Wechat wallet online, only adding: “I’m so qiou.”

It is not the first time that new words or characters are being made up on Chinese social media or in popular culture. Online language is changing constantly, with new creative words, expressions, and characters being added to the online slanguage all the time (also see these popular terms).

In 2015, one new character and word that entered the online language sphere was duang, a term that became popular after Jackie Chan used it in a shampoo commercial in 2004 and a creative netizen made a remix of it 11 years later. Despite the fact that was somewhat unclear what ‘duang’ meant (it was more of a feeling, perhaps), the word became an absolute hype.

As for ‘qiou’ – the word cannot be typed out in Chinese characters, nor is there any indication it will ever be included in an official Chinese dictionary. But that’s no problem for many: “This is the first new character I’ve come across I do not need to look up, because I could understand its meaning straight away.”

By Crystal Fan and Manya Koetse, with contributions from Miranda Barnes

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