Zhibo is a weekly column in which Beijing-based American Taylor Hartwell documents his journey down the rabbit hole of Chinese livestreaming app YingKe (Inke). If you know nothing about the livestreaming (直播; “zhibo”) phenomenon in China, start here.
This is one of those messages that reminds me how amazing it is that we’ve managed to avoid bumbling our way into WWIII through some kind of translation error for this long.
Let me explain:
What this guy means by “black powder” is troll – as in, online troll. We were chatting about how Inke’s troll situation is actually (as I’ve mentioned before) quite manageable and how most of the people who do attempt to sling some insults do a pretty pathetic job of it.
but bless their hearts, they try
So in the wake of a few weak trolling attempts, this fellow and I joked about some better insults that could have been employed and we agreed that both he and I would be much better trolls than those folks. Enter the comment “I want to be the ultimate black powder.”
As I’ve mentioned before, one thing that makes Chinese *special* when it comes to adopting words is that you can’t just adopt the sound – you have to choose characters that go with those sounds and the odds that you’ll find characters that both provide appropriate meaning AND a decent phoneticization are slim to none. Case in point:
Inke uses the word 粉丝 to mean “fans” because 粉sounds like “fen” and 丝 sounds like “suh,” so together it sounds like a slightly odd two-syllable pronunciation of the words fans. But the character 粉 means powder and 丝 means silk or thread. If you look up 粉丝 in the dictionary, you’ll find that it has apparently been designated to mean vermicelli (the pasta).
pictured: some of my biggest fans
Step 2: There are a few different Chinese terms for troll – there’s 喷子 penzi, which literally means a “sprayer,” 网络特工 wangluo tegong, or “internet secret agent,” referring (I believe, but someone correct me if I’m wrong) to professional/paid trolls, and of course, 黑粉 heifen, or “black fan.” This is the word that I see getting thrown around the most when insults start popping up in my streaming room – I think of it as basically meaning “anti-fan.”
So…put ‘em together and whaddya got? He wants to be the ultimate black powder.
First off, I can’t help but think of that Family Guy gag where Peter runs around calling a bunch of Chinese guys Jackie Chan and then the actual Jackie Chan starts calling all of the white people Ethan Hawke. Secondly, I’m ok with this if you mean cute movie Macaulay Culkin or even modern cleaned up Macaulay Culkin, just tell me we’re not talking about ex-child-star “you won’t believe what they look like now” article-topping 2012 Macaulay Culkin.
What, do you think this mug has coffee in it?
I want throw you to a grammar class. I wouldn’t normally nitpick, but you did just threaten to throw me into the ocean, after all.
Join the club.
Does this mean you’re living abroad in England? Does it mean that you’re an American in China… in England? Does it mean that you’re currently rising through the ranks in the world of British livestreaming? Please explain.
More from our Zhibo column:
Zhibo: We Need to Talk About Donald
Zhibo: Live Streaming My Quarter-Life Crisis
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