‘Duang’ Takes Internet Language to New Level

Zhai Minzhen, a freshman at Shantou University, slid open her phone, and saw a link from her friend about an upcoming sports event that would be held on campus. She replied to her friend with a word: “Duang!” After a while she received a reply from her friend: “Duang!” They were two of millions around China texting or posting the word, but it was word that simply didn’t exist in popular usage until a few months ago.

Jackie Chan “duang” meme From: CCTV America.

Jackie Chan “duang” meme
From: CCTV America.

Since February, “Duang” has continually appeared on smart phones of young people like Zhai and her friend. Besides this, people are frequently saying it in real life. What does it mean? No one knows exactly. But that hasn’t stopped this newly emerged Chinese word from gaining popularity all over the country.

“Duang” is only one of the many Chinese Internet slang words that have made their way into wide acceptance and usage not only on virtual networks, but also in the real world. According to the Annual Report of the Language Situation in China, 364 new words emerged and were added to the Chinese language in 2013 alone. “Duang” and other words like it offer evidence of how Internet users are creating new terms in Chinese and giving new meaning to existing Chinese characters and words — often in satirical or humorous ways.

The term “Duang” first appeared in a TV commercial that Jackie Chan shot for Bawang shampoo in 2004. In that commercial, Chan said, “I want to try out the product first, because I don’t want to add visual effects and mislead the audience… After I used the product, ‘Duang!’, my hair became so thick and black.” In the ad, the term “Duang” seemed to be used for emphasis and have no concrete meaning.

Over ten years later, on February 20th, 2015, a netizen named Feisetoy uploaded a video on Bilibili, a Chinese video sharing site. Feisetoy remixed the original commercial into a new video, claiming his video was “the most fashionable in the history of fashion”. In this video, Chan’s words were remixed into “I have no hair, what you see in this commercial is all visual effect… Add visual effects and ‘Duang!’, my hair becomes thick and shiny.”

The term “Duang” later spread all over the Internet. Over 10 million search results of “duang” have turned up on Baidu, the biggest search engine in China. Besides, it has been used over eight million times on China’s micro-blogging site, Weibo.

What’s more, a new Chinese character was created for “Duang”. This new character is the combination of the two Chinese characters in Jackie Chan’s Chinese, name Cheng Long (成龙).

Image of “duang” from the Straits Times

Image of “duang” from the Straits Times

Other Internet slang words that have been adopted to everyday life include tuhao (土豪), dama (大妈) and wumao dang (五毛党). “Tuhao” means “nouveau riche” in China, with a negative feeling to it, perhaps retaining some of its original meaning of “local tyrant.” “Tuhao” is now commonly used among young people’s jokes — for example, to call out a friend spending a lot of money on a new cell phone. “Dama” refers elderly Chinese women who buy gold jewelry and spend a lot of time doing dancing in town squares. “Wumao dang” refers to people who get paid to post comments online in favor of the Chinese government. According to Baidu Encyclopedia, the first group of people who did this earned 50 jiao, or cents, per comment, hence the name. This word is now commonly used in online forums and even in real life to express disaffection against people posting such comments.

Words such as “duang” and “tuhao” have even gained notice outside of China for the way they are influencing the Internet, Chinese language, and Chinese society. A blog associated with Foreign Policy magazine and other media outlets have noted the popularity and ambiguous meaning of “duang.” In 2013, BBC introduced the term “tuhao” to the western world in an article named “Tuhao and the rise of Chinese bling,” in a piece that described the re-imagining of the word’s meaning.

Despite its widespread appearance, and as the Foreign Policy piece on “duang” suggests, Internet language tends to be flexible in meaning. For example, “duang” was used in sentences like “Are you a little bit duang when you are praised?” by Weibo user Eweibody, and “I couldn’t help but duang after I saw that weird guy,” by Weibo user Biancawhite10313; the term doesn’t seem to have a fixed grammatical role or meaning. Zhai, the girl who was texting “duang” to her friend, personally thought that it merely expressed the mood of surprise or strong approval.

According to Professor Deng Xiaoqin from the College of Liberal Arts at Shantou University, in a lot of cases, the more frequently a word is used, the richer its meaning becomes.

“It is exactly the process of expanding a word’s meaning that keeps it alive,” Professor Deng, with an expertise in the Chinese language, said.

Talking about how young people are influenced by this development of language, Zhai, the Shantou University freshman, said, “It feels good to use Internet language. It makes me feel more fashionable among my friends.”

Professor Deng explained that it’s an irresistible trend that more and more Chinese Internet slang words will be created, accepted, and used, and there is no choice but to take a tolerant attitude — although it’s still important to retain normative Mandarin, she said.

“Language develops and evolves, and it’s the young people that determine where it is going,” she said. “Everyone is going to be a part of the evolution of the language,” she added, “Including you.”

By: Lauren and Beathon

 


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