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5 more Chinese internet slang phrases you should know, illustrated

Sep 11, 2019

Frankie Huang is a Shanghai-based illustrator whose #PutongWords series dissects the origins of common Chinese phrases.

Many of them are poetic and visual—such as 吸猫 (ximao), “inhaling cats”—but they carry deeper meaning. (In this case, “inhaling cats” is internet slang for people who are addicted to taking care of their pets.)

Last time, we asked Frankie to illustrate five essential internet slang phrases. Here are five more.


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Barking beast

Some wolves dress in sheep’s skin, and some predators wear glasses.

叫兽 (jiaoshou) literally means “barking beast,” and it’s a homonym for 教授, or professor.

This barbed term refers to when professors conduct themselves without restraint or dignity.

In the age of #MeToo, professors who abuse their power and prey on their female students are often referred to as 叫兽.

One of the most notorious cases was Prof. Chen Xiaowu, who was dismissed from Beihang University in Beijing after his former student publicly accused him of sexual harassment.

The case ignited the #MeToo movement in China.

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Open up your brain hole

Consider it the Chinese equivalent of “thinking outside the box.”

脑洞大开 (naodongdakai) literally means “brain hole wide open” and refers to when people allow their imaginations to run wild.

Whether it’s coming up with fantastical explanations for the unexplained, or simply inventing new expressions, new existences, or new ways to play, freeing the mind can feel like opening a door.

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Lemon spirit

For some people, life just keeps giving them lemons, but they don’t make any lemonade. 

柠檬精 (ningmengjing), or “lemon spirit”, is someone has a strong inclination for envy.

The person is always pining for the good things and good lives of others, always indulging on the sour taste of self-pity, like someone constantly sucking on lemons—or sour grapes.

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Out of the pit, returning to stomp

Disenchantment is a force that needs release, and for angry exes of all stripes, that means talking trash.

出坑回踩 (chukenghuicai) refers to being freed from the prison of love, and then returning to attack the subject of one’s former ardor with vengeance.

The phrase originated from when a fan would fall out of love with a celebrity—and leave a trail of nasty online comments in their wake.

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Giant baby

Some people might look all grown up, but inside they’re still in diapers.

巨婴 (juying), or “giant baby”, refers to an emotionally stunted adult. The term was popularized by a 2016 book The Country of Giant Babies by acclaimed psychiastrist Wu Zhihong.

In the book, Wu argues most Chinese adults are, in fact, giant babies whose mental age is stuck at 6 months old. He describes them as self-centered and ill-equipped to handle pressure and responsibilities.

The controversial tome blames this phenomenon on China’s overemphasis of the family unit and the expectation that family members, particularly overbearing parents, will take care of all their needs.

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