Slang in Chinese

It seems that in English slang is used more than proper words. If I had to pay a dollar for every slang word I used, I think I would be broke by noon. I wanted to see if slang was equally important in Mandarin, so I asked two PKU students and two older Beijing natives about their opinions on slang.

After speaking with each of them for around twenty minutes, they all had pretty much the same attitude towards slang–apathy. Basically the consensus was that it was useful, but not necessary to a conversation. This is a key difference between Mandarin and English; you don’t have to know slang to get around in Beijing.

When I asked them which word they used the most, to my surprise, they all said the same word, “滚.” This word has many meanings, but the most local is an extremely offensive way of saying “leave me alone.” Even the older Beijing natives used this word. Thinking back on it, maybe they were all just telling me to leave them alone…Some other slang words we talked about were “翘辫子” and “去世” which means somebody has passed away.

Men and women of all ages both use slang, but not as much in the work place or during interviews. A lot of slang that was mentioned, particularly by the students, were deemed offensive. They wouldn’t dare jeopardize their jobs by using this type of language, so they prefer to stick to normal Mandarin with hints of common, non-offensive local words.

When I asked them whether they would use slang around their parents, they were a bit hesitant. Most Chinese parents are very conservative and equate slang with disrespect. They believe that parents and elders should be spoken to formally, not on the same level as a friend.

Before, I never really realized the implications of speaking slang with other people and how that coincides with level of respect. Of course, you speak differently depending on the person, but it has always been subconsciously. All in all, this experience was very enlightening.