The Cute “Mispronounced” Chinese Words Confounding Your Reading

25 Apr 2017

I recently got this as part of an email from my Chinese bank, China Merchants Bank (CMB / 招商银行):

CMB: 辣么 (for 那么)

In case it’s not obvious, for the “cute” fangyan (方言) flavor, the normal word 那么 has been substituted with 辣么 (a non-word). The tone stays the same, but the “n” sound is swapped for an “l” sound, which is common in some fangyan/regional accents, such as the Hunan or Fujian accent.

This has been a trend lately, and you see it a lot, both on Chinese friends’ WeChat Moments as well as in advertising. Here are some others you might notice:

  • 灰常 for 非常
  • 童鞋 for 同学
  • 盆友 for 朋友
  • 先森 for 先生
  • 菇凉 for 姑娘
  • 歪果仁 for 外国人 (appropriately enough, this one intentionally butchers most of the original tones)
  • 蓝瘦香菇 for 难受想哭 (this one was quite the meme for a while)

These types of usages are frequently lumped together with other forms of “netspeak” (网络语), but they do share the special feature of swapping a character (or two) to mimic a regional accent. (Have I missed any super common ones?)

These can be especially annoying for learners, because a lot of dictionaries don’t list these slangy words. It’s a great feeling when you start identifying them on your own, but to get to that point, you’re probably going to need to have more than a few conversations with speakers of non-standard Mandarin. The ad at the top of this article just goes to show that even if you try to be elitist and keep your ears “pure” with nothing but 100% standard Mandarin, the non-standard stuff will leak in through the intertubes…

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John Pasden

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

Comments

  1. Haven’t noticed any of these while talking with Chinese friends on WeChat. I’m still struggling with abbreviations and euphemisms/metaphoric language in Taiwanese media. My favorite is still “吸血鴛鴦,” literally vampire ducks, but it was used to describe a married couple working as loan sharks.

    • Actually blood-sucking Mandarin ducks. Mandarin ducks are the traditional symbol of marital harmony. Blood-sucking is, well, blood-sucking. I’ve never seen it before but it’s pretty obvious once you know the meaning.

  2. Do you have a sense for 么 used in place of 吗? Is that “cute mispronounced Chinese” or is it a valid question marker? I always assumed it was cute Chinese, but I see it so much and now even more in the media.

  3. Looks like a work-around caused by not having zhuyin to put into your chat messages and advertising 😀

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