Mutant Mandarin: A Guide to New Chinese Slang

21 Nov 2003

Mutant Mandarin

by Zhou Yimin & James J. Wang (China Books & Periodicals, Inc., 1995)

Review by: John Pasden

This book is not nearly as good as Outrageous Chinese, even though the author of Outrageous Chinese co-athored this one. For one thing, it’s not readable. The words in this book are presented in alphabetical order, one after another. Dry and reference-like.

For another thing, the vocabulary just doesn’t seem very useful. I don’t know, maybe a lot of it is useful, but I hear very little of it here. Maybe it’s very Beijing, I’m not sure. Some of my Chinese friends have looked at it and admitted to not knowing a lot of the slang, though. So I would have to say that this book is not as useful as Outrageous Chinese.

One thing the book does have going for it is its two very useful appendices. The first is “Chinese Loan-words.” Did you know that the words “cocaine,” “fascist,” and “polka” very much resemble English in Chinese? Then there’s the second appendix, “Computer and Internet Terms,” which contains terms such as “ascii,” “cyberspace,” “LAN,” and “router.”

Both simplified Chinese and pinyin are provided throughout the book. I have never seen it for sale in China (but that doesn’t mean that it’s not; it’s not anywhere nearly as offensive as Outrageous Chinese). It’s a useful book, but not indispensible like Outrageous Chinese is to the slang junkie.

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John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

Comments

  1. The book by Zhou Yimiin & James J. Wang is “outrageously” USEFUL!
    Alas! Finally there is in print a very worthwhile book that reveals the termonology that real Chinese use everyday, many times a day, all the time, in Karaoke bars, in restaurants–in Central Committee meeting rooms of the Communist Party; these are not “dirty”, they are the beautiful components of a language which has a 5000 year history, is very much ALIVE, full of pep and vigor, and wake the hell up and smell the jasmine tea kind of expressiveness! I was so happy to find it ON A SHELF at CSU library (the only library in America in which I have SEEN it!) back in 2003 without any committee of “concerned parents” protesting all the way to the US Supreme Court, to have it removed. The book clearly illustrates the wonderful elasticity of the language of Ba Jin, Lu Xun, and other writers who are well aware that no language, unless it is Xi Xia or Latin (i.e. “dead”) evolves and changes, changes made to it by the people who use it. Language serves humanity in the ability to think, to express, to vent, and to touch upon with the precision of a probe while dissecting a frog, EXACTLY what it is you are touching, and without such tools, and the means of expression, are vocabulary would consist of “nail writing” carved on stones in Persepolis, able to express only basic things and in the most cumbersome manner! I pop a top of my Qing Dao “bier” to these two mavericks, and heartily rejoice, with “Gan Bei, wen sue!!”

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