Language Matters is a new column from BBC Capital exploring how evolving language will influence the way we work and live.
Mandarin Chinese is one of the most complex languages in the world. Opening a Chinese dictionary, you find around 370,000 words. That's more than double the number of words in the Oxford English dictionary, and almost three times those in French and Russian dictionaries.
But these many words have been joined in recent years by a bunch of upstarts. Reci – literally translated as ‘hot words’: are slang terms that young Chinese are creating and using online to communicate how they really feel about current affairs and trends.
There are more than 750 million Chinese internet users - over half the vast country’s 1.4bn population and some are creating new characters. The word ‘duang’, for instance: a mashup of the characters that make up Jackie Chan's name. Those who fashion the new slang get a rewarding pat on the back from other social media users and media as a ‘niubi’ (牛逼): an online mark of cool. And this ‘niubility’ has become a path to popularity for young Chinese.
BBC Capital asked Robert, who did not want to give his last name, why he thinks young Chinese are evolving this new way of communicating; “it’s in response to the social reality,” he says. “Self-deprecation and/or helplessness are why we combine words.” He mentions the reci words ‘antizen’ (蚁民) , a play on the words ant and citizen to describe the general public’s helplessness, and ‘innernet’ (中国互联网), in reference to China’s inward looking approach to internet controls.