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Stay classy

Learn to sound high-end, elegant, and classy all in one fell swoop

Now, if you haven’t heard the rumors, apparently China is getting rich, which is all well and good. The thing is, when a nation becomes rich they want all the accouterments that go with it. It starts, simply, with people turning up the heating and eating a bit more meat, and before you know it everyone is going on skiing holidays and getting their phones painted gold. But, at a certain point, mindless consumption no longer becomes enough; suddenly being refined and cultured becomes a prerequisite. As such this issue’s Street Talk is 高端大气上档次 (gāoduān dàqì shàngdǎngcì), which is the simple stringing together of three well known adjectives, approximating something along the lines of “high-end, elegant, classy”. Alone they are the most regular of descriptive characters; strung together they become the hottest in youth slang.

Becoming incredibly popular in 2013, nobody is exactly sure of the etymology of the phrase. The most common theory is that it started on the 2005 TV soap opera My Own Swordsman (《武林外传》). In one particular episode, a harassed cook was ordered to make a moon cake that was “elegant and classy”. Frantically trying to get it right, he ended up making a hamburger. More often than not, the phrase is deployed in jest of something that’s over-elaborated or contrives to be classy, such as:

I just ate a bowl of delicious high-end, elegant, classy instant noodles: lobster flavor!
wǒ gāng chīle yīwǎn gāoduān dàqì shàngdǎng cì de fāngbiànmiàn:  lóngxiā wèi de!

Another comic effect might be to use the term where the terms high-class or classy are more or less irrelevant. Thus, the term is redundant and accordingly amusing:

I want to make my resume look high-end, elegant, classy.
wǒ xiǎng ràng wǒ de jiǎnlì kànqǐlai gāoduān dàqì shàngdǎng cì.

Of course, the issue with irony is that it is in the eyes of the beholder (far more so than beauty than ever was). Imagine the English couple who stay at a naff four-star hotel for the first time; on coming downstairs for dinner and seeing the sheer size of the buffet (and crystal chandeliers) they proudly announce: “Wow, so classy!” Where’s the irony here? Well, it all depends of course.

Like many a Chinese word, the (rather long) phrase has mutated. Nowadays it is completely fine to just drop the second character in each adjective for the abbreviated version, 高大上 ( gāodà shàng), as in:

How can I make a high-end, elegant, classy travel plan on a 2,000 RMB budget?
wǒ zěnyàng cáinéng huā 2000 kuài qián guīhuà yīcì de lǚxíng?

If any conclusion can be drawn, then it’s likely that if you really want to be refined, cultured, high-end, elegant, or classy (and these are questionable desires) then you be might well be better off not using any of these gaudy terms at all.


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