Photo Credit: Li Xiaoyue
What to say when you are tired beyond belief

Dog-tired, worn out, beat, bushed, and knackered—we all get tired. In Chinese, the word for tired or exhausted is 累, and you can expand that into 累死了 (lèi sǐ le, tired to death), 累垮了(lei kuǎ le, tired to the point of collapse), 累散架了(lèi sǎnjià le, so tired that the skeleton falls apart), or even 累成一摊烂泥 (lèi chéng yì tān lànní, tired as a pool of mud).

But for those who are afraid of seeming uncool while complaining about overtime, you’re going to want to reach for the new popular phrase, 感觉身体被掏空 (gǎnjué shēntǐ bèi tāokōng), which roughly translates to “feeling like my body is hollowed out.”

The phrase’s origin can be traced back to a cheap, vulgar TV commercial for a kidney tonic, which features a man lamenting, “I feel like my body is hollowed out.” According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the kidneys are important for one’s sex life. Pretty bland, all things considered.

If it ended there, the phrase would have died an honorable death in the annals of commercial history, but a few years later this line came back in the form of a song by the Rainbow Chamber Singers, a Shanghai-based amateur choir famous for presenting classic tunes in a fun way.

The song “Feeling Like My Body is Hollowed Out” served as a clarion call for white-collar workers suffering under the yoke of overtime. With lyrics like “my makeup hasn’t been removed for 18 days” and “monthly contact lenses worn for two-and-a-half years,” the song attracted a number of “overtime dogs” who echoed these sentiments and went viral. No longer confined to bedroom talk, the phrase is now used to describe the state of being exhausted.

So the next time you lumber home from the office, you can vent your emotions by crying: “What a long day! I feel like my body is hollowed out. (真是难熬的一天!感觉身体被掏空。Zhēnshì nán áo de yì tiān! Gǎnjué shēntǐ bèi tāokōng.)” It’s important to note that tiredness is not just physical; it can be spiritual and psychological as well: “We had a terrible quarrel today. I feel like my body is hollowed out, too tired to love any more. (我们今天大吵了一架。感觉身体被掏空,累觉不爱了。Wǒmen jīntiān dà chǎo le yí jià. Gǎnjué shēntǐ bèi tāokōng, lèi jué bú ài le.)”

Whatever the occasion, remember that your exhausted cries—be they from connubial hardship or work-related weariness—can be traced to a commercial for kidney medicine.

My Body Is Hollowed Out is a story from our issue, “Taobao Town.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine.


author Sun Jiahui (孙佳慧)

Sun Jiahui is a freelance writer and former editor at The World of Chinese. She writes about Chinese language, society and culture, and is especially passionate about sharing stories of China's ancient past with a wider audience. She has been writing for TWOC for over six years, and pens the Choice Chengyu column.

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