As always I threw a curiosity item in there to leaven all the damn politics. This one concerns the Chinese language, with which I’ve been having a love affair—mostly unrequited—for much of my adult life.
Duang. Say it loud, and there's music playing. Say it soft, and it's almost like praying. Duang …A transcript for the entire podcast is there on my website.
What the heck am I talking about here? Well, this is one of my little forays into the Chinese language. That language, as I think most people know, is fundamentally monosyllabic. There are 408 monosyllables, from which the entire spoken language is constructed. You get a list of these monosyllables at the beginning of any Chinese dictionary.
The list begins with a, ai, an, ang, ao, ba, bai, ban, bang, bao, and proceeds through the Latin alphabet to zhun, zhuo, zi, zong, zou, zu, zuan, zui, zun, and zuo. You get some extra mileage from the tone system, so that zou multiplies into z?u, zóu, z?u, and zòu. Not every syllable occurs in every tone; net-net, the tone system expands the 408 basic syllables to around twelve hundred.
That's the basic syllable list. Every word in the Chinese language is built up from those twelve hundred toned syllables. Now here's the thing: Duang is not an allowed syllable. It doesn't occur in Chinese. Or it didn't, until this week.
Movie actor Jackie Chan was discussing his hair back in a 2004 TV interview. Concerning a shampoo commercial he'd done, he said, quote: "I didn't want the commercial to have lots of special effects, making my hair look … duang — suddenly blacker and shinier …" He made up that un-Chinese syllable on the spur of the moment, and it went without comment at the time.
In the strange way things happen in popular culture, this 11-year-old clip suddenly got picked up by Chinese hipsters and, as we say, "went viral" on Chinese social media. The nonsense syllable is now part of the Chinese language, and the 408 basic syllables are now 409.
And yes, there's a written character, which you can inspect by going to Wikipedia and searching on duang, d-u-a-n-g. "The meaning is unclear," says Wikipedia.
What a strange world we live in nowadays. There's your Word of the Week, though: duang.
The full Radio Derb playbill: