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Chinese Internet Language: Chinese number slang


By Valeriya Nikulina (Russian)

According to the national statistics, the number of Internet users had reached 0.649 billion in China by December, 2014 – more than that in any other country in the world, and as a result, the Chinese have gravitated towards increased web language. In fact, China boasts the largest “netizen” (network + citizen) community worldwide, even with “the Great Firewall of China” restricting the flow of information.


If you thought it was hard enough to learn English web slang, just wait. Chinese combines a variety of numbers, characters and homonyms when communicating online. After discovering this language myself, I found this way of communication very interesting and decided to write my thesis for graduation about Chinese Internet language (网络语言 wǎng luò yǔ yán). Figuring out that language is very difficult, but here I am to help you.


Chinese are reshaping their language in playful but powerful ways, injecting humour and charm, which would not be possible in any other language. 


In this article I want to talk about numbers, representing Chinese words. 


Long before the invention of the Internet, the Chinese already had a tradition of associating certain words with numbers or things based on the similarities of sound. For example, the number eight (八) is considered a lucky number because it is pronounced "bā", which sounds like the Chinese word for prosperity (发 fā). Similarly, the number four (四) is associated with bad luck because it is pronounced "sì", which sounds like the Chinese word for death (死 sǐ). Given this tradition, it should be no surprise that there are so many number slang phrases in Chinese language. 

在网络发明很久之前,中国人就已经有了将一些文字与读音相似的数字或事情联系在一起的传统。比如,人们认为“八”是一个吉利的数字,因为它读作“bā”,听起来像 “发 fā”,(意思是发财)。同样的,因为数字“四”读作"sì",听起来像“死 sǐ”,所以人们把它和厄运联系在一起。有了这一传统,中文里面有这么多数字俚语就不足为奇了。

Most of the words are represented with numbers having a similar sound or at least a similar leading consonant. One notable exception is “0” – the number used to represent the word "you". Although the Chinese word for zero (零 líng) does not sound much like the word for “you" (你nǐ), the choice may have resulted from the fact that there is no similar sounding candidate while the same number is used in English codes to represent the same meaning.

在这类文字中,大多数与数字有相似的读音,或至少有相似的辅音。 而“0”是一个典型的特例,常用来代表“你”。虽然“0”的读音和“你”的读音不是很像,但是因为找不到相同读音相同的汉字,所以只能这样。然而,同样的数字“0”在英语中却被用来代表具有相同意思的单词。

Time to have a look at some most common number slang combinations. 


Let’s begin with the most widespread expression used in the end of chat – “88!”. “8” is pronounced "bā" in Mandarin,  so "88" means “Bye-Bye". There is also the slightly more Chinese sounding "881" (Buh-bye-eee).

让我们首先来看谈话结束时最常用的“88”。“8”在中文中读作"bā",所以"88"就是“Bye-Bye"的意思, "881"听起来就更中国味儿一点,就是“Buh-bye-eee”。

The second most popular abbreviation is “520”. These numbers are pronounced as “wǔ èr líng”, and due to some similarity to “wǒ ài nǐ” (我爱你 – I love you) – one can use them to express love. If you are sentimental enough, don’t forget to celebrate “Chinese St. Valentine’s day” which is on 20th of May every year  (5月20号). However, you should be very careful and not forget the correct order. Otherwise you risk to make a shameful mistake, since “250” is used to label someone as “idiot”.   (二百五 èr bǎi wǔ). It took me some time to realise that “250” actually means half a “jīn” 斤 (500 grams), so it means “half brain.” 

另一种常用的的缩写是“520”,读作“wǔ èr líng”。 因为这组数字跟“wǒ ài nǐ” (我爱你 – I love you)的读音有点类似,所以它可以用来表达爱意。如果你很感性,别忘了在每年的5月20日庆祝中国的情人节。但是,你要很小心,千万别把数字顺序搞错了。否则你会犯一个很尴尬的错误,因为人们用“250” (二百五 èr bǎi wǔ)来代表傻瓜。我花了很长时间才知道“250”实际上就是半斤(“jīn”)的意思(1斤等于500克),所以 “250”的意思就是说这个人脑容量只有一半,智商不足。

Typing “5376” (wǔ sān qī liù) will be a perfect way to express your anger, because it sounds similar to 我生气了 (wǒ shēng qì le) – “I am angry”. Be ready to receive 8147 (bā yao sì qī) from someone who wants to comfort you, since it will sound as 不要生气 (bú yào shēng qì) – “Don’t be angry”. 

给某人发 “5376” (wǔ sān qī liù)可以很好地表达你生气了,因为它听起来像“我生气了 (wǒ shēng qì le)”。这时你就做好准备吧,想安慰你的人会给你发8147 (bā yao sì qī),因为它听起来像”不要生气” (bú yào shēng qì)。

Another example of a dialog could be:

– 596

– 098

Where “596” (wǔ jiǔ liù) stands for 我走了 (wǒ zǒu le) – “I have to go”,  and “098” (líng jiǔ bā) for 你走吧 (nǐ zǒu ba) – “Okay, go!”. 


– 596

– 098

“596”表示我走了 (wǒ zǒu le),“098”表示你走吧 (nǐ zǒu ba)。

Another interesting fact: you might have noticed that lots of Chinese websites use numbers in their domain names instead of letters. Very often that will be numbers which are used as homophones or close to homophones for other words. For example, the number one is pronounced as “yao”, which with a different tone means “want” (要 yào). The number five is pronounced “wǔ”, which somehow sounds similar to wǒ (我=“I”). So the job-hunting site 51job.com sounds a lot like “I want a job.” The URL for the massive e-commerce site Alibaba, for example, is 1688.com, pronounced “yāo liù bā bā”,which is similar to“yi lu fā fā (一路发, getting prosperous forever) ”- similar enough!

你可能会发现另一个有趣的事实,中国的很多网站直接用数字而不是字母来做域名。这些数字经常和别的文字同音或谐音,例如,“1”读作“yao”, “yao”变成第四声就是“ yào(要)”。“5”读作“wǔ”, 跟wǒ (我)的读音相似。所以求职网站“51job.com”读起来就跟“我要找工作”很像。再比如,大型电子商务网站阿里巴巴的网址是“1688.com”,读作“yāo liù bā bā”,跟“yī lù fā fā(一路发)”非常像。

Armed with this simple mix of mathematics and linguistics you are now qualified for highly sophisticated online conversations. 



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