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Found in translation episode 6

ShanghaiCityGirl May 09.2015 16:07
Tags: Language & Culture Category:My Blogs

I will admit it officially here. No false pretense. Just brutal honesty. My knowledge of chemistry and physics, to put it mildly, is quite limited. Despite my family being chock full of science nerds, (my friggin' mom worked in a Polish military lab) I couldn't tell a quark from a crayon. Suffice it to say that passing science classes was one of the great challenges of my life so far.Even learning Mandarin has been a piece of cake in comparison. I was so bad that I had to come up with an elaborate scheme to cheat my way to a passing grade in physics. Despite this flaw, I am lucky enough to have a few science-literate friends now. Just a few days ago I was talking with one of them. She studies something that is the ultimate rocket science to me – chemical engineering. To broaden our Whatsapp convos beyond partying and men issues, I asked ‘What exactly is it that you study?’ To satisfy my curiosity (and probably educate me a bit), she told me ‘how interesting it is to work with graphene' and that it is 'pure carbon in the form of a very thin, nearly transparent sheet, just one atom thick….’ Well, there was more to it, but that alone was awe–inspiring to me and my arts-and-crafts proclivity.. All I could type back to her was ‘Wow, that sounds awesome.... but I have no idea what the hell u r talking about ’.

Ok, so how can we appreciate something but not understand it in the slightest? Weird, right? BUT! Chinese has the perfect expression for such occasions - 不明觉厉 Bu Ming Jue Li. Bu Ming Jue Li is in fact an abbreviation, just like our precious ‘OMG’ or ‘LOL’’ .

Bu 不 is not. Ming is actually short form of mingbai 明白 – understand, and Jue Li is a combination of two words: juede 觉得 - think and lihai 厉害 - fierce/terrific. So, Bu Ming Jue Li means ’I don’t quite get it, but I think you are really terrific’

Originally, this was used by newbies who wanted to express adoration for a master. This still applies. So if you have a friend who starts talking to you about flux capacitors and grey nano goo and you feel like a dimwit, you can humbly nod your head and reply’ Bu Ming Jue Li’.

BUT! Since netizens are the slang lords, and since they are fluent in my first language – sarcasm - this quaint little expression soon mutated into a way to mock all displays of self-righteousness and mistakes online. Go figure, eh?

What makes life so amazing and interesting is that we can’t understand everything, and there will be always something to pull our jaws down to the ground. For example: you are sitting at a bar in China. Suddenly, a considerable amount of time after happy hour has finished, the bar tender hands you another glass of wine and says ‘Happy hour, buy one get one free’. Don’t start wondering if you are both in the same time zone. The best you can do is to tip the glass his way and say ‘Bu Ming Jue Li.'

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About ShanghaiCityGirl

My name is Gosia and I come from Poland. I set up my blog - Shanghai City Girl - out of my passion for writing,Chinese language and Shanghai itself.My goal is to explain Chinese slang and peculiar local culture, give tips about health and saving money in this overwhelming city!

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