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Lexicon Exports: 5 Chinese Words Going Global

Lexicon Exports: 5 Chinese Words Going Global
Laura Lin

BEIJING — Both the Internet and China’s mighty role as manufactured goods exporter have given new prominence to the Chinese language around the world. Here are 5 expressions from China already on the road to being exported themselves.

1.) The Beijing Youth Daily recently reported that a new Chinese buzzword, tu-hao, could be be included in next year’s Oxford English Dictionary.

Though abuzz only just since last September, tu-hao was a word originally used during the Cultural Revolution to label the landowners in villages who were all supposed to be heartless exploiters of poor farmers and were thus to be struck down.

It was thanks to an online game that the term tu-hao has re-emerged. Tu meaning rustic, hao meaning super-rich, the word is used to describe China’s nouveau riche, who spend money in a tasteless and ostentatious manner.

According to the Shanghai Daily, the word also gained credence in September with the launch of Apple’s new gold-colored iPhone, a prized item among China’s affluent class. The color became known as “tuhao gold.”

Photo by menina0418 via Instagram

The word caught the attention of the dictionary’s editing team after the BBC’s recent program on influential Chinese words. “If its influence continues, it is very likely to appear on our updated list of words,” said Julie Kleeman, the Oxford English Dictionary project manager with the editing team, when interviewed by the Beijing Youth Daily.

2.) Another hot word is da-ma, originally meaning elder auntie, was extended to mean a woman of a certain age with a matronly look about her.

[rebelmouse-image 27087507 alt="""" original_size="680x510" expand=1]

The witty word has also gone viral this year in the Chinese media particularly in describing the Chinese ladies who rushed to buy gold when the price dropped this April, as well as the middle-aged women who go to “square-dancing” — a nationwide popular pastime in many cities’ squares and parks — with their music blasting.

According to Beijing Youth Daily, da-ma first appeared in the West in April on the Wall Street Journal’s website video when it reported China becoming the main force of affecting the global gold market.

Just like Japan’s economic boom propelled some Japanese words, for instance manga, into the English glossary, China’s emerging economy has also aroused world interests in its language.

3.) One expression that keeps showing up in the international media is hu-kou, a particular Chinese form of household registration.

[rebelmouse-image 27087508 alt="""" original_size="261x193" expand=1]

(Beijing apartment - Francisco Anzola)

China watchers know understanding hu-kou is central to facing the problem of migration of the rural masses to the cities, where they are not afforded equal rights because they are not natives of the cities.

4.)The expression guan-xi, originally meaning relation but extended to mean influential social connection, and has popped up in describing the low and high-level corruption that some observers say is endemic to China's unique economic structure.

[rebelmouse-image 27087509 alt="""" original_size="194x259" expand=1] (Kalleboo)

5.)Guang-gun is a Chinese way of saying bachelor, and like guan-xi is already included in Oxford English Dictionary. That has certain people dancing with joy...

[rebelmouse-image 27087510 alt="""" original_size="433x184" expand=1]

(credit: Brandon Lairmore)

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Longyearbyen Postcard: World's Northernmost Town Facing Climate Change — And Russia

The melting of the sea ice in the Far North has accelerated in recent years. The Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard has become the focal point of the environmental drama gripping the Arctic as well as the geopolitical tensions it is causing there, with Russia in particular.

A statue of a coal miner stands in the center of the photos with houses surronding it, draped around their shoudler is a Ukrainian flag. The environment is snowy and the sky is white from clouds.

A Ukraine flag placed on a statue of a coal miner in the center of Longyearbyen

Steffen Trumpf/dpa/ZUMA
Laura Berny

LONGYEARBYEN — The Longyearbreen glacier, which once unfurled to the sea, is now a shadow of its former self. Only the name of Longyearbyen’s Isfjorden now conveys the idea of something frozen.

“Last January, during the polar winter, the temperature was between 0 and 5 °C. When I went for a walk by the fjord, I could hear the waves. This was not the case before at this time of year,” says Heidi Sevestre. The French glaciologist fell in love with Svalbard as a student, so much so that she now lives here for part of the year.

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Compared to Siberia, Canada’s and Greenland’s High North – the Arctic archipelago, located just over a thousand kilometers from the North Pole – has historically benefited from a slightly more benign climate despite its extreme latitude. Temperatures here range between 5 °C and 15 °C in summer and usually not below -30 °C in the coldest of winter. This relatively “mild" weather has its origin in the Gulf Stream — the marine current which rises up from the Caribbean and runs along the west coast of Svalbard.

But the situation has now changed.

“There has been a lot of talk about the rise in atmospheric temperature for at least 20 years. But in the past three years, ocean temperatures have also risen significantly. This is what is causing the increasingly rapid retreat of the ice pack,” explains Jean-Charles Gallet, a glaciologist who has worked at the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) since 2010.

“The sea ice acts like an air conditioner for the ocean, so the more it decreases, the more the ocean warms up. This causes a chain reaction which ends up accelerating the warming process,” adds Eero Rinne, a Finnish specialist on the topic and a researcher at the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS). Rinne is working on the CRISTAL sea ice satellite mission, slated to go live in 2028 as part of the European Space Agency’s Copernicus program.

Beyond the alarming disappearance of glaciers and ice packs and the threat to polar bears (of which there are still around 300 in the archipelago), global warming is also causing cracks in the infrastructure of the territory, which is covered by permafrost. Landslides are increasingly frequent, and all recently constructed buildings in the region are on stilts.

“It used to rain very little in Svalbard, but now it is getting wetter and wetter, which is weakening the soil,” explains Hanne Hvidtfeldt Christiansen, a Danish-Norwegian scientist and specialist on permafrost at UNIS.

Norwegians kept a low profile about Svalbard's growing crisis, until 2017. That was the year when the Svalbard Global Seed Vault was flooded, less than 10 years after its foundation. The facility, dug near a mine in Longyearbyen, the capital of the archipelago, was built to preserve more than a million seeds from a possible cataclysm. The disaster didn’t affect the seeds but left a scar in people’s minds. Even this close to the pole, permafrost is thawing.

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