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Top 10 Chinese Internet Slang You Need To Know

By Natasha Cohen15/05/2024 Chinese Language, Learn Chinese

How well do you know your Chinese internet slang? Does seeing your neighbour’s new car turn you into a ‘lemon spirit’, or are you ‘eating soil’ after an unexpected expense?

Languages are constantly evolving, especially among younger generations. And thanks to the internet, new phrases are catching on faster than ever.

One of the best ways of sounding authentic in a language is to use a little trending slang here and there, especially when chatting with friends online. But be careful not to overdo it, and make sure you’re using it in the right context.

Here are the top 10 Chinese internet slang phrases you’re likely to come across on popular Chinese platforms like Weibo, WeChat and Douyin.

1.  硬核 yìng hé – hardcore

To describe someone as ‘硬核’ is to call someone super cool, tough, capable and intense. It’s similar to how 厉害 lìhài, ‘formidable’ is used, only more trendy (and ‘厉害’ can also be negative depending on the context, for example describing someone as severe).

Example:

哇,她一个人就把钢琴抬起来了。这么硬核!
Wa, tā yīgè rén jiù bǎ gāngqín tái qǐlái le. Zhème yìng hé! 
Wow, she lifted the piano by herself. So hardcore!

2.  柠檬精 níngméng jīng – jealous person

Translating as ‘lemon spirit’, someone who keeps criticising someone else and appears to be jealous of their success is often described as a 柠檬精. It’s similar to the English phrase ‘sour grapes’.

Example:

她在微博上经常批评这个明星, 一定是个柠檬精。
Tā zài wēibó shàng jīngcháng pīpíng zhège míngxīng. Yīdìng shìgè níngméng jīng.
She often criticises this celebrity on Weibo. She must be jealous.

3.  人设 rén shè – personal brand / public image

Have you ever heard someone talking about creating their ‘brand’ on social media? It’s not always about selling a product – it’s more like the personal image and reputation you want the public to see. This is what 人设 is – and it literally means ‘personal design’.

Example:

那个丑闻毁了他的人设。
Nàgè chǒuwén huǐle tā de rén shè.
That scandal ruined his image.

4.  996 jiǔ jiǔ liù – working from 9am to 9pm, six days a week

China, like many countries in East Asia, has a reputation for having a tough work culture. ‘996’ is Chinese netizens’ way of describing the long hours office workers often work – but it’s actually often even longer than 9am–9pm. Although the practice is technically not lawful, many workers still feel pressured by their companies to work extra hours.

Example:

我厌倦了我们的996工作制。
Wǒ yànjuànle wǒmen de 996 gōngzuò zhì.
I’m fed up with our 996 working system.

5.  躺平 tǎng píng – lie flat

As you might expect, Chinese workers are getting increasingly disparaged by the 996 life – especially the younger generations. So they’re quietly rebelling against overwork culture and social pressure with the ideology of ‘lying flat’. It’s not necessarily about being lazy – it’s more a rejection of the gruelling competitiveness of life as a young adult with diminishing returns.

Example:

我不能接受996,所以我选择躺平。
Wǒ bùnéng jiēshòu 996, suǒyǐ wǒ xuǎnzé tǎng píng.
I couldn’t accept 996, so I chose to lie flat.

Note: a newer term emerging on the internet is 摆烂 bǎi làn, or ‘let it rot’, which has the same sentiment as ‘lie flat’.

6.  吃瓜群众 chīguā qúnzhòng – watermelon-eating masses / melon eater

This phrase originates from the idea of 前排吃瓜子 qiánpái chī guāzǐ (eating watermelon seeds in the front row) – similar to how people in the West refer to enjoying drama by eating popcorn. If you’re part of the watermelon-eating masses, you’re simply someone who enjoys watching and gossiping about a spectacle from the sidelines.

Example:

我是个吃瓜群众,很少在网上发帖讨论。
Wǒ shìgè chī guā qúnzhòng, hěn shǎo zài wǎngshàng fātiē tǎolùn.
I am a melon-eater and rarely post discussions online.

7.  破防 pò fǎng – to be (emotionally) overwhelmed

In gaming terms (particularly for esports), 破防 just used to mean ‘to break through a defence line’. But now, the ‘defence line’ can also mean your emotions. Sometimes it means to be touched, but more often it’s used as a way to say ‘to have a breakdown’.

Example:

她的这句话直接让我破防了。
Tā de zhè jù huà zhíjiē ràng wǒ pò fáng le.
Her words immediately made me break down.

8.  凡尔赛 fán’ěrsài – someone who humblebrags

Literally meaning ‘Versailles’, 凡尔赛 derives from the full phrase ‘凡尔赛文学’ fán’ěrsài wénxué

 – Versailles literature. It comes from the Japanese manga, ‘The Rose of Versailles’, which is a dramatic adaptation of Marie Antoinette’s lavish life. It’s now used to describe someone who says something that’s on the surface negative or humble, but is actually showing off.

Example:

他又在凡尔赛了,说他的房子太大不得不请个清洁工。
Tā yòu zài fán’ěrsài le, shuō tāde fángzi tài dà bùdébù qǐng gè qīngjié gōng.
He was humblebragging again and said his house was so big that he had to hire a cleaner.

9.  吃土 chī tǔ – to be broke

Similar to ‘dirt poor’, 吃土 means to ‘eat soil’.

Example:

都怪我度假时花了那么多钱,现在只能吃土了。
Dōu guài wǒ dùjià shí huāle nàme duō qián, xiànzài zhǐ néng chī tǔ le.
It’s all my fault that I spent so much money on vacation and now I’m just eating dirt.

10.  YYDS – the greatest of all time

YYDS is short for ‘永远的神’ yǒngyuǎn de shén – the eternity of god. In the West, it’s GOAT, or GOATed – short for the greatest of all time – and the two are used similarly.

Example:

大家都喜欢那首歌,但我觉得这首YYDS。
Dàjiā dōu xǐhuān nà shǒu gē, dàn wǒ juédé zhè shǒu YYDS.
Everyone likes that song, but I think this one is the greatest of all time.

Ready to learn more about Chinese language? Check out Lingoinn’s online courses, or take the plunge and book a homestay learning programme in China or Taiwan with us.

 

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