Language from the Mars

By He Jianwei (Beijing Today)
Updated: 2007-09-12 09:53

"3Q d orz!" Understand that? You're not alone. Net-speak is a growing trend among China's younger generation of cyber-citizens, many of whom speak entirely in what, at first glance, appears to be the malicious stompings of a cat on a keyboard. Incidentally, the message was "Thank you sincerely." The abbreviation-laden lingo has spread to the messages.

Actually, the same thing has happened in English, and variations of "l33t" have spread through online games and onto mobile devices like a virus. Some love it, and others hate it, but regardless of your personal feelings, it's good to understand so you can read your inbound MS messages. Sometimes that garbage isn't just your phone's inability to display Chinese correctly.

What is Marsspeak?

Huo Xing Wen, literally Marsspeak, is a writing style in wide use on the Internet by now grown-up 80s kids. It is a mixture of traditional Chinese characters, English and oral language translated into the Internet and random symbols.

Because it's difficult to read for those unfamiliar with China's cyber-culture, it has been dubbed Marsspeak, similar to English speakers dubbing anything not written in Latin characters as "Moonspeak." The abbreviations originated in Taiwan Province during the last few years, and have reached such a frightening level of acceptance as to have appeared on Taiwan's college entrance exams. Via the pop culture vehicles of Internet and TV, Marsspeak has sailed across the straits and onto the mainland. Younger kids fire off MSN and Tencent QQ messages in Marsspeak, and use it to chat on the Internet and even blog.

Deciphering Marsspeak

Marsspeak can mainly be divided into four categories: hieroglyphics, mock sounds, combining characters and using elements from a "mistakenly-written" character.


Some words in Marsspeak are pictographs which represent the meaning of the words, such as "orz". "orz" began as a Japanese emoticon representing a kneeling or wing person, with "o" being the head, the "r" being the arms and part of the body, and the "z”" being part of the end of the body and legs. This "stick" figure represents failure. The stick figure has grown in meaning to represent great admiration-sometimes spiked with sarcasm-for someone else's words or action. This meaning is most adopted in Chinese online communities.

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