Monday, April 11, 2011

Translation, Now Recursive!

On Chinese online forums, blogs, and (beginning just last year) microblogs, one will find a lot of acronyms floating around. Some of them even appear in common speech, at least among the younger generation.

Many of these acronyms come directly from the pinyin Romanization of Chinese words – for example, FQ is the pinyin of 愤青 (fen4qing2), or “angry youth.” But other online slang, especially words originating in English, have taken a more circuitous route to today’s form, sometimes involving multiple translations and/or re-interpretations. Today I have for you a sample of some of the most notable:

1. PS
PS is straightforward and oft-used: have a photo that needs some touching up, or perhaps requires the removal of an ex-boyfriend? Why not “Photoshop” – PS – it a bit?

2. PK
My all-time favorite, “PK” is used in conversation comparatively often. It comes from English-language online slang meaning “player-killing,” and is an old acronym, in online terms: it originally described (turn-based) battles between human players in the world of MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons, or text-based online roleplaying games), which were mostly passe’ long before I started getting into WoTMUD ( in middle school. In China, which has a massive online gaming population (for reference, see, “PK” has come to refer to any time two parties “fight it out,” or more generally just “compete.” Whether it’s Google and Baidu fighting it out over the Chinese search market, or two admirers seeking a girl’s attention, you’re PK-ing to win.

3. Acting Thirteen
This one is interesting because it started as a Chinese word but wouldn’t be where it is today without going through an “English phase.” Online, you can call someone out as a wannabe or braggart by saying that they’re “装屄.” This is pronounce zhuang1bi1, and is almost never written that way, because the second character in the original version is quite indelicate... and also not even included in my computer’s input system for simplified characters?! At any rate, the phrase is most often typed as “装B.” But in some places the “B” has become a “13” (note the similarity in form), especially when spoken as it sounds less offensive that way. The final spoken product: “装十三” (zhuang1 shi2san1, “十三” being “13” in Chinese).

4. BL
Here’s where things really get contorted, almost like a real-life Translation Party ( When referring to homosexuality, most young Chinese either use the Chinese term (“同性恋”) or just say the English word “gay” - I’ve heard each about 50% of the time. Online, though, someone somewhere decided that when referring to men it should be called “boy love,” which someone else (I assume) shortened to “BL.” Then a third guy (or 腐女, i.e., “corrupt girl”) decided to take the final step to incorporate the phrase into the Chinese language, and in a process that is the opposite of abbreviating (is there a word for this?), the term morphed into one of the roughly 190 Chinese characters whose pinyin can be abbreviated into “BL”: “玻璃” (bo1li), which means “glass.” Which allows young Chinese people to say to each other, without fear of being misunderstood, “Those two guys are definitely glass.”


  1. hi hi. This is going to seem rather stalker-ish, but i have been reading your blog tonight, and i must say you are a wonderful writer. I am in China too, teaching in a small University in Shandong. I am looking forward to reading more, so keep it up!

  2. Fascinating! I love this kind of stuff.