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'In' Words
Selecting popular expressions of the year has become a trend, but can their popularity last?
By Ji Jing | NO. 3 JANUARY 21, 2016

 High school students in Nantong, Jiangsu Province, hold a discussion at their school’s Spark Maker Space, a facility aimed at promoting innovation among students, on December 26, 2015 (XINHUA)

"Internet Plus" and "maker" made Yaowen Jiaozi  magazine's list of the 10 most popular Chinese catchphrases of 2015. The list, published in the December 2015 issue, featured seven phrases from the Internet and three related to political and economic affairs.

Hao Mingjian, Editor in Chief of the magazine that specializes in correcting typos and the misuse of words in publications, said the selected phrases are frequently used because they reflect the realities of society and people's aspirations.

For instance, a "sense of gain" originates from a speech made by President Xi Jinping during a meeting of the Central Leading Group for Overall and Further Reforms last February. Xi promised to bring citizens a greater "sense of gain" from China's reforms.

"The phrase is down-to-earth and reflects the expectations of ordinary citizens for social progress," said Hao.

Huang Anjing, Executive Editor in Chief of the magazine, said, "Some catchphrases have also represented breakthroughs in linguistic structures. For instance, 'Internet Plus' is composed of a noun and a punctuation mark in Chinese. It's simple but informative."

The Internet has become a breeding ground for hot words. The phrase zhuyao kan qizhi  or "focus on my aura" went viral online after Taiwan-based singer Cindy Wang posted a photo from her new album of herself holding a hamburger on her Weibo microblogging social networking platform. Wang replied to criticisms that the photo was weird by posting "focus on my aura." Later many social media users imitated Wang and posted photos accompanied by this phrase.

Huang cited three criteria for selecting the words and phrases: First, they should be popular and bear the imprints of the times; second, they should involve innovation and breakthrough in linguistic structures; and third, they should be polite. Some phrases such as ranbingluan , meaning "being nonetheless useless," though popular, were excluded on the grounds of bad taste.

Zhang Yiwu, a professor with the Department of Chinese Language and Literature at Peking University, attributed the emergence of many new words and phrases to the Internet.

"Many catchphrases are peculiar to the Internet era. In the past, it was philosophers and writers who created new words, and ordinary people could hardly be part of language creation owing to limited communication methods," said Zhang. "However, people are becoming more expressive. The Internet has provided them with a new channel to share information and communicate with each other. New expressions have come into being in the process of online communications and some of them have become part of modern Chinese."

Poet Ye Kuangzheng said relaxed regulations for language use have promoted linguistic innovation. That's not to say we abandon regulations, but different criteria should be applied to media at different levels, Ye added. For instance, national media should adopt stricter rules for language use than local media.

"The practice of selecting catchphrases represents heightened attention to new expressions and should be encouraged," said Ye.

Selecting hot words has become a trend in China. In addition to Yaowen Jiaozi , the National Language Resources Monitoring and Research Center at Beijing Language and Culture University, in conjunction with several other institutions, published the 10 most popular phrases in six categories on December 21, 2015. The categories included domestic politics, international politics, economic affairs, science and technology. The center has made such a selection for the past 10 years.

However, writer Zhe Fu is not optimistic about the sustainability of Internet buzzwords.

"Buzzwords are often short-lived because most of them stem from specific events or a specific environment," Zhe said. "They will become redundant 10 or 20 years later when the context that gave rise to them changes."

Tang Wenming, a professor with the Department of Philosophy at Tsinghua University, shares a similar view, predicting that hot words will have a short lifespan.

"Linguistic innovation is a serious matter," said Tang. "For instance, Chinese idioms embody experiences of our ancestors and are still relevant today. However, hot words lack such experiences and therefore can hardly survive."

Top 10 Buzzwords in 2015  

Huodegan  (Sense of Gain)  

The phrase refers to the sense of gratification derived from sharing the results of ongoing reforms. 

Hulianwang + (Internet Plus)  

The Internet Plus strategy introduced by Premier Li Keqiang seeks to integrate the mobile Internet, cloud computing, big data and the Internet of Things with modern manufacturing to improve efficiency. The country hopes the strategy will help drive the restructuring and transformation of conventional manufacturing, facilitate the development of emerging sectors such as e-commerce and online banking, and help Internet companies increase their presence in the international market. 

Yanzhi  (Appearance Value)  

The word means the quantitative value of one's appearance, although appearance is not something that can be quantified. Yanzhi  can be compared and measured like other quantifiable things such as length and weight. A person with high or sensational yanzhi  is someone who is extremely handsome or beautiful, whereas someone who has low yanzhi  is a plain Jane. 

Baobao  (Baby)  

The word originates from the Internet slang, "It scares baobao  to death," which actually means, "It scares me to death." Baobao  is primarily used by girls when referring to themselves in almost any context. 

Chuangke  (Maker)  

This word refers to a person who turns innovative ideas into creative products or services using his or her skills. With the government's vocal support for entrepreneurship and innovation, a new wave of makers has spread throughout China. 

Naodong Dakai  (Opening up the Brain Hole)  

Derived from Japanese anime, naodong dakai  means the audience imagining plots outside the story. The meaning is similar to "imaginative" or "inspiring." Those who have "a large brain hole" are supposed to be imaginative, even unimaginably weird. 

Renxing  (Willful)  

Renxing  comes from a story about a man who was cheated by an online fraudster. Even though he realized he was being defrauded, the man continued to give his money away to the swindler. When interviewed, his response was startling. "I just wanted to know how much they wanted from me," he said. The story drew a comment that went viral: "Only if you have plenty of money can you be willful like that." However, the negative connotation has faded, giving way to a somewhat neutral one. It is now used to mean "naïve" or even "brave." 

Duoshoudang  (Hand-Chopping People)  

The phrase refers to those addicted to online shopping, primarily women. They compare prices between different shopping sites before making a purchase. It seems that they have saved money but in fact they have wasted time buying a large quantity of useless items. They often regret their purchases later and vow to chop their own hands should they make irrational purchases again. However, they soon return to the same pattern of behavior. 

Wanghong  (Instant Online Celebrity)  

The word refers to someone who gains overnight fame on the Internet through his or her gorgeous appearance, weird words or deeds, and promotion by Internet marketers. Though instant online celebrities have a strong impact on the social media, the duration of the influence is usually short. 

Zhuyao Kan Qizhi  (Focus on My Aura)  

The phrase advises people not to be preoccupied by appearance because inner qualities are more important. 

(Selected by Yaowen Jiaozi  magazine) 

Copyedited by Calvin Palmer 

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