Dictionary of dying slang records changing landscape of Beijing

22:57, December 30, 2010      

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When you hear an old Beijinger say that someone "listens to the song of lalagu," it doesn't mean the guy is a fan of a famous singer namely lalagu.

In fact, it is a humorous and euphemistic way of saying "to die" in the Beijing dialect.

However, the expression seemed unintelligible to 21-year-old Yuan Hui.

"I don't even know what lalagu is," said the Internet-savvy Beijing native, who preferred buzzwords like "gua" ("to kick the bucket" in English) when she joked with friends in online chat rooms.

As someone who could not distinguish ploughs from hoes, Yuan could be pardoned for not knowing lalagu, or mole cricket, a notorious crop pest in the eyes of many Chinese peasants. And given the tunnel-digging habit of lalagus, their ugly chirpings were, in the old language, reserved for those who "bite the dust."

Such slang, albeit archaic, has been compiled into a dictionary, which was published on Monday. The author, Dong Shuren, is a retired professor of linguistics at Beijing Language and Cultural University. He has spent over 10 years collecting old Beijing words and phrases.

"Slang words are the fossils of history; I try to record them so that later generations could better understand life in old Beijing," said Dong.

The New Beijing Dialect Dictionary, which includes 10,200 entries of words and slang, is the first of its kind published in recent years, after Xu Shirong's Beijing Local Dialect Dictionary (1990).

But Dong said the tremendous changes in Beijing dialect in recent years have outpaced China's meager work to document it.
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