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Embarrassment not warranted in tuhao inclusion in dictionary

By Mable Wang Source:Global Times Published: 2013-12-2 18:58:01

It has recently been reported that the authoritative and influential Oxford English Dictionary is considering adding the term tuhao, a piece of Chinese slang, into the 2014 edition, if its influence keeps rising.

Julie Kleeman, project manager of the editing team with Oxford University Press, commented that the word is somehow similar to "bling" which means expensive and ostentatious clothing, accessories or jewelry.

The team began to pay attention to tuhao after a recent program on the BBC regarding influential Chinese words.

The word tuhao has actually existed for a long time. It originally referred to evil landholders and gentry who bullied peasants and underlings in ancient China and then to wealthy lords who suppressed and exploited the working class during the revolutionary period.

However, it took on an extended meaning in September when Apple launched its new gold-plated iPhone 5S now widely known as "tuhao gold iPhone," and "making friends with tuhao" has become a popular joke among netizens on Weibo. Tuhao thus now refers to a gaudy and flashy class of people with vulgar taste who flaunt their wealth.

So why is the prestigious Oxford English Dictionary considering including such a word in its next edition?

First, tuhao, accompanied by dama, hukou, lianghui and other controversial words, are likely to make their way into the updated list of the dictionary because they may get lost in translation. Foreigners will have an "intuitive" sense of their meaning when they see pinyin, as explained by Ms Kleeman.

The news, certainly, has drawn widespread criticism as well as concern since many say it is humiliating, considering China's long-standing history and glorious civilization.

There is no denying that tuhao is used to represent China's growing nouveau riche who are notorious for their glitzy taste for luxury.

Nonetheless, the inclusion of tuhao in the English lexicon can be justified. To start with, we need to adopt an appropriate view toward the Oxford English Dictionary which actually serves as a reference book, and is objective and practical in nature.

At present, 120 words listed in it have Chinese origins, including familiar terms like dim sum, taikonaut, mao-tai (commonly known as Moutai in China) and feng shui. Dim sum reflects the influence of Chinese food culture, and taikonaut represents China's advanced scientific development in aeronautics and astronautics.

Furthermore, originally derived from Anglo-Saxon, the English language itself has been quite accommodating by absorbing Latin and Greek words during its early development, with more terms from other languages added since then.

It is worth noting that estimates say that there is a new word added to the English language every 98 minutes. It is just a normal phenomenon for tuhao to be included.

The addition of more Chinese words in the English lexicon represents not only the natural evolution of a language but also a reflection of China's power in the intertwined and globalized world.

Language is the most vivid reflection of social development. We should adopt an open attitude toward tuhao being added to the updated edition of the Oxford English Dictionary while staying alert over the spread of derogatory terms and exporting more positive words that reflect our mainstream culture to the rest of the world.

Mable Wang, a freelance writer based in Beijing
Posted in: Letters