IT was 9pm when Wallace Gu left his office at a state-owned bank. For Gu, a 30-year-old department manager, recent work was particularly hectic and intense. But instead of going home for some rest, he went straight to the gym.
“I was exhausted, so much so that I collapsed on the bed when I got home, feeling that I might fall ill,” he says.
“No zuo no die,” he says in a message on Weibo, Chinese version of Twitter.
Gu is among an increasing number of young people in China who like to use the new buzzword on social networks. This Chinglish origin phrase was included in the Urban Dictionary on January 15.
It means “if you don’t do stupid things, they won’t come back and bite you in the ass. (But if you do, they most certainly will),” according to the dictionary.
No zuo no die was a line from the Japanese animation series “Gundam Z” and was coined by a user of Baidu Tieba, a popular online community platform.
The Urban Dictionary is a web-based publication in the US containing slang, buzzwords and other phrases often not found in standard dictionaries. It has more than 7 million entries of mostly obscure, user-generated content. With approval of more than half of the volunteer editors, a new word or phrase can be added.
On April 9, an expression to use in response to criticism was added: “You can you up, no can no BB.”
It means “If you can do it, you should go up and do it. If you can’t, then don’t criticize it.” The phrase has won 3,610 likes on the website so far.
“Internet and new media form the instrument of Chinese buzzwords being spread and becoming popular,” says Zhang Haidong, a sociology professor at Shanghai University. “Words are granted with new meaning and expanded with new content that people can use to express the same idea.”
Millions of people participate to stimulate new ideas and create new buzzwords, forming a kind of magnifying glass on new language. With so many involved in the growth of new phrases and slang, buzzwords will emerge in an endless stream, says Zhang.
Wei Hantong, a postgraduate student of engineering in Germany, uses “you can you up” phrase all the time.
“When I heard this phrase from my friends for the first time, I had no idea what it was. But when they told me the meaning, I found it very interesting,” Wei says in a phone interview.
“The phrase is concise and to the point. I don’t think there is some subtle meaning to it as in Chinese idioms. But buzzwords do make the conversation more happy and relaxing,” he adds.
Wei never uses such phrases to people he thinks are not acquainted because it might sound a little “frivolous.”
“Because buzzwords make the conversation lighter and merrier, young people embrace buzzwords as a way to keep up with the trend,” Zhang says.
Henry Li, 23, a senior at the University of Virginia in the United States, rejects the use of Chinglish.
“None of my friends, even if they are Chinese, uses these Chinglish buzzwords or slang when foreigners have no idea of them,” he says in a Skype call. “If I want to say something, I just use the normal words. Why waste time remembering these new phrases?”
For Iris Chen, who works in the academic affairs office of a university, tuhao is the best word to describe the glitzy and gaudy taste of some people with new money.
Chen, 25, seldom uses Chinglish or new Chinese words unless they have some social content like diaosi (underprivileged losers) or gao fu shuai (tall, rich and handsome male).
“But since now Weibo and many other social networks are bombarded with slang like no zuo no die, I will be influenced and use them sometimes,” she says.
Chinese buzzwords influence not only Chinese people.
Last year, the venerated Oxford English Dictionary considered adding tuhao to its next edition. Chinese dama meaning middle-aged women obsessed with buying gold, was used by the Wall Street Journal to express the phenomenon.
“During the mid-1910s and 1920s, young scholars like Chen Duxiu, Lu Xun and Hu Shi led a revolt against Confucianism, called the New Culture Movement in China,” says Gu Xiaoming, a sociologist at Fudan University. “Now I think it’s time for the young generation in China to create more expressive new words and culture in this country.”
“I think President Obama should learn the phrase ‘no zuo no die’ in Urban Dictionary before offering guarded support for Japan on Diaoyu Island.”
— Lighthouse on coastline
"Even for the rudest words, when they are translated to a foreign language, they seem classier. The furthest distance in the world is when I scold you but you don’t understand."
— Candy DC399
"Can I use them during the English tests?"
"The only Chinglish foreigners know is 'long time no see.' Besides, I don’t think any foreigner will understand the slangs and buzzwords in Urban Dictionary. Any Chinese can add a word in this website; what’s the big deal?"
— I’m Luoxiaoshou
"Maybe this Urban Dictionary is not professional but more entertaining, but it does trigger a lot of people’s interest. And even my linguistics professor is very interested to ask me to do some research and write an essay about Chinglish."
"All of sudden, I feel like I know a lot more English words."
— Li Zhonghui
"Get prepared and ready to be shocked by cultural invasion of China, United States!"
— Reliable chaidao
"It approves the boost of China’s soft power, amazing!"