The incomprehensible jargon of Chinese internet firms
“If the last 20 years have been about internet technology, the next 30 years could be called the internet era,” Jack Ma, the founder of Chinese internet company Alibaba, said at the 2017 Global Transformation Forum in Malaysia.
Ma’s speech was intended to be motivational, calling on businesses to abandon backward thinking and use the internet to their advantage. Some people, however, take so-called “internet thinking (互联网思维 hùliánwǎng sīwéi)” a bit too far, to the point where it even influences their language.
In China, internet professionals, or 互联网人 (hùliánwǎngrén, “internet persons”), are known for employing a lingo that makes little sense to people outside the industry. “I know every single character in internet jargon, but can’t figure out what they mean once they’re put together; it’s like a parallel language,” one Weibo user recounts of their first few days working at an internet company. In an industry founded on chasing novel concepts, where one must always try to position oneself as being more progressive than any other competitor, many employees find themselves unconsciously picking up the inspirational buzzwords and meaningless marketing terms in everyday life.
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Techno Babble is a story from our issue, “High Steaks.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.