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Chinese Slang Series – Lesson 1: 给力 (Gěilì)

June 29, 2011

Introduction to Slang

Learning slang can be one of the most fun and interesting parts of the language learning experience. Slang words are often the most expressive and imaginative words of a language. Try to imagine two people literally “on the same wavelength,” or a real “couch potato” watching television.

Slang also speaks to the relationship between language and the culture at a given time. For example, the slang used in the 1920s is radically different than slang used today. Does anyone today know what a Chicago Typewriter was slang for in the 1920s? Not surprisingly for a city engulfed in mafia crime at the time, it was slang for the Thomson Machine Gun. This shows that as the culture changes over time, so does slang. It’s hard to imagine my friend telling me, “The new Grand Theft Auto on Xbox is the bee’s knees!”

Since the universal use of the Internet, slang often derives from language used in Internet conversation. For example, I started hearing friends use the words “powned” and “noob,” which come from Internet gaming culture. Even Internet abbreviations such as “lol” and “brb” have made their way out of Internet chatrooms and into real face-to-face speech.

The hardest part about learning foreign slang is finding where to learn it. If the vast majority of your language learning time takes place in a classroom, there’s a small chance you’ve learned much slang. Of course native-speaking friends are a great resource. But if you’re learning Chinese in Missoula, Montana, you might not have a Chinese friend to help teach you slang.

Chinese Slang

Chinese language learners all know the typical reaction from a Chinese the first time Chinese comes off your tongue. “哇,你的中文说得很好.” Translation: Wow, your Chinese is great."

If you’ve learned any Chinese slang, you will also find a typical reaction when 俚语 (lǐyǔ – slang) comes off your tongue: “哎,你连这个词都知道了!是从哪里学的!?Translation: Whoa, you even know that word!  Where did you have learned that!?

Hopefully the answer is the Cheng & Tsui blog! With the “Chinese Slang Series,” Cheng & Tsui wants to not only teach Chinese slang, but provide background on the origin of the word and insights into modern Chinese language, culture, and society.

Today’s Word: 给力 (Gěilì)




给力 (gěilì) can function as both an adjective and verb.

  • Adjective - awesome, amazing, powerful, cool, exciting
  • Verb - let’s go, good luck

给力 (gěilì) literally means give power. The verb 给 (gěi) means to give and 力(lì) means power.

Example Sentence:


This action movie was really awesome, actually it was amazing!

Good luck everyone!


给力 (gěilì) originated from its antonym 不给力 (bù gěilì – literally, not gěilì), which was first used in a dubbed version of a Japanese anime cartoon called 西游记:旅程的终点 (Journey to the West: The Final Stop).


Many Chinese Internet lists place给力 (gěilì) as the most popular and trendy new word of 2010. The true testament of its popularity of给力 (gěilì) came on November 10, 2010 when the lead story on the front page of the People’s Daily read: 江苏给力 “文化强省” (Jiangsu Gěilì, a strong cultural province). Coming from such an official publication, the People’s Daily headline brought the word to even greater prominence in China, and even caught the attention of media outlets from around the world. The New York Times word blog, “Schott’s Vocab” posted a short article on给力 (gěilì) on November 18, 2010.

Jamie Fleishman is an intern at the Asian language learning publisher, Cheng & Tsui.
Cheng & Tsui is the leading publisher of Chinese language textbooks, interactive material and resources. Visit for more information and to view our entire catalog.