English has long been a bastard language, a bit of German there, a touch of Latin here, a twist of French even, so it no surprise that it continues to evolve, absorbing words from foreign languages. Chinese state media outlet Xinhua recently claimed the Chinese word “dama” 大妈 had entered English journalism language, as The Wall Street Journal introduced the word in a report on Chinese consumers’ influence in the gold market (perhaps this is why Mike Tyson also knows China’s middle-aged women). Arguably, the increase in Chinese words and phrases entering the English language signifies China’s growing soft and economic power around the world.
Although the reference to “dama” has now been removed from the WSJ’s article, Want China Times points out that many Chinese words have been used by mainstream western media for some time. These words usually have no English equivalents, and are essential for understanding Chinese-specific phenomena:
“Traditionally, words like ‘typhoon” and “coolie’ — meaning an Asian slave and literally ‘bitterly hard (use of) strength’ in Mandarin — have already become permanent entries in English-Chinese dictionaries. In the last few years, words like ‘guanxi’ — personalized networks of influence — and ‘hongbao‘ — red evelopes containing cash — have also been commonly used in English writings.
More recently, however, a whole host of Chinese words and phrases are starting to be used directly in their transliterated format, such as ‘chengguan,’ China’s hated local urban management officers, ‘ernai,’ meaning mistress, and ‘shuanggui,’ used to describe when a Communist Party official is detained for suspected corruption and must answer to allegations at a specified time and place.”
“Long time, no see” is a long-accepted English phrase that came from the Chinese, 好久不见. “People mountain people sea” (人山人海) has also seen increased in usage. Since 1994, Chinese accounts for 5 to 20% of of foreign words that have entered the English vocabulary. The word “fenqing” 愤青 has appeared in the The New Yorker. Chinese bachelors, “guanggun“, have appeared in The Economist. The word “Likonomics” was coined to refer to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s plan for China’s economic growth.
Of course, English has also become an essential part of the language of Chinese netizens, often in the form of Chinglish and combined words. Aside from geilivable and zhuangbility, “Chin-sumer” refers to Chinese shopaholics who overspend on oversea trips; “antizen” refers to the 80s generation graduates who earn little and lives in scrambled apartments; “sexretary” is used for female secretaries employed for questionable purposes, and the propaganda phrase 好好学习, 天天向上, translates as “Good good study, day day up” has long been widely accepted. The popular snack brand 张君雅小妹妹 even has, “everyone says good good eat!” written on all its packaging.
And, by the way, when we say Chinglish, we are definitely not referring to these horribly wrong yet wonderfully hilarious “bilingual” signs.