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Why say “你家里人知道吗”?

Chinese slang, learning Chinese

The subject of family comes up quite often in conversation—it may be asked out of politeness, you may be explaining your situation to a new lover, or perhaps just gossiping with other members of your kin. But, there's a very versatile turn of phrase you may want to pick up for sarcastic reasons: "Does your family know? (你家里人知道吗? nǐ jiālǐrén zhīdào ma?)"

The next time you find someone doing something utterly ridiculous, give this satirical expression a go. To complete the sentence, it tends to be put after some sort of exclamation, like "You are so amazing, does your family know?" Remember though, the key to sarcasm is tone.

The exact origin of this piece of slang is difficult to discern. The most popular version comes from a young person found in an internet café, watching CCTV news. Onlookers found the sight of a patron in a gamer-dominated environment watching a program broadcast nationwide a bit peculiar at best. One witness to this relatively mundane event said, "You are so extraordinary, does your family know? (你这么牛,你家里人知道吗? nǐ zhème niú, nǐ jiālǐrén zhīdào ma?)" With a burst of popularity online, a new phrase was born.

It is an all-purpose expression, really. In our vain society, you might find yourself looking through pages of selfies—complete with heavy makeup, unnatural gestures, and obvious Photoshopping—getting angrier by the moment. In such a case, you might posit, "Wow, you are so good-looking in selfies, does your family know? (你在自拍里这么好看,你家里人知道吗? nǐ zài zìpāi lǐ zhème hǎokàn, nǐ jiālǐrén zhīdào ma?)"

Of course, teasing a friend like that can be risky. If the she gets angry about your comment, she might bite back by saying: "You are so polite online, does your family know? (你在网上这么懂礼貌,你家里人知道吗? nǐ zài wǎngshàng zhème dǒng lǐmào, nǐ jiālǐrén zhīdào ma?)" Congrats! Your friendship is beginning to fall apart. You cross verbal swords with each other and your acerbic words become scrolling rants. Then, a third-party might step in and say: "Wow, you guys are idling away your lives so badly, do your families know? (你们这样浪费生命,你们家里人知道吗? nǐmen zhèyàng làngfèi shēngmìng, nǐmen jiālǐrén zhīdào ma?)"

But, the expression doesn't end with the family unit. Sometimes you might hear, "You eat so much, does the State Grain Administration know?" (你吃这么多,国家粮食局知道吗? nǐ chī zhème duō, guójiā liángshijù zhīdào ma?) or, "You spent so much money on Taobao, does Jack Ma know?" ( 你在淘宝上花了这么多钱,马云知道吗? nǐ zài Táobǎo shàng huā le zhème duō qián, mǎ yún zhīdào ma?).

You should, however, also be aware that this phrase can serve as a compliment, as might be the case when starry-eyed teenage girls post on pop star fan pages with things like, "You did such an excellent job, does your family know?" (你这么棒,你家里人知道吗? nǐ zhème bàng, nǐ jiālǐrén zhīdào ma?) So, if somebody says this phrase to you, before you lose your temper, be aware you might just be receiving some praise.

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