11 9 / 2011
We told you about a few other popular Chinese internet memes like “I’m just here for some soy sauce”, “geilivable" and "Oh my Lady Gaga”, and this is another one: “杯具” (Bēi jù), which literally means “cupware”.
Of the many types of humor that Chinese enjoy, puns are certainly among the most popular. As Chinese Mandarin is a tonal language, changing the tone of a character will alter its meaning altogether; for example, Běijīng is the pinyin for 北京, but if we change the tones from “3 and 1” to “4 and 3” as in Bèijǐng, then we come up with the character for 背景 which means “background”.
However, there are a few rare times when the pun is a perfect pun in which both the character sounds and the tone are completely the same: and this is the situation with the aforementioned 杯具 (cupware) and with the character for 悲剧 (Bēi jù), which means “tragedy”.
This phrase can used in many different ways, either in sentences as a object or just by itself as a noun/subject. While it is a pun and has a humorous subtext to it, it the right context it can be used in a serious online discussion.
An example of this may be: “小孤儿真可怜，杯具。” (Xiǎo gū’ér zhēn kělián, bēi jù) which means “The little orphan has such a pitiful life, what a tragedy.”