The Weight of Words
Oct 12 2019
Language has become another frontline of HKers' resistance. Canto and trad. Ch. are used almost exclusively in our art, & increasingly complex new words are created to describe increasingly complex political realities.
Primer for those abroad. HKers speak Cantonese, distinct from Mandarin, lingua franca w/in China. HKers write in trad. Ch., while mainlanders use simplified Ch. What's written in trad. Ch. is seldom verbatim what we speak - lexicon & grammar differs... it's complicated.
But HKers hv embraced our complicated language & weaponised it as a protest tool. Following the☂Mvmt, majority of current mvmt's art are written in trad. Ch. &/or written in verbatim Cantonese. It is our way of proudly announcing we hv a distinct voice, a distinct identity.
We took it to some extremes. An effort to confound mainland 'spies' was to use Kongish, spelling out Canto words in Eng & throw in some Eng words for giggles. Problem: Canto has 9 tones - 'si' can take on at least 9 meanings. It indeed confounded & the effort lasted <48hrs 🤣 1
Let's look at 港鐵 (MTR) to see how HKers use language. After the metro lost the public's trust, we renamed it 黨鐵 (Party Rail). To show how MTR has fallen to the dark side, 黨鐵 in art becomes its simp. form 党铁, an institution reduced in stature, stripped of significance.
HK protest art has also created a myriad of new words. While simp. Ch. has reduced the forms (& arguably meaning & history) of our script, HKers have taken a gleeful anarchic joy in building new characters that are able to explain our expanding, changing political reality.
Meet 'Freedom-Hi', combining 自由 (freedom) and 閪 (c-word, pronounced as 'hai'). It came abt after HKPF, ever Asia's finest, hurled the words at HKErs in Jun. So we reclaimed it - our art says, we'd rather be freedom c*nts than be cowered by tyranny.
'Freedom-hi' is sometimes broken up into 自由西 in our art, which cld be confusing as 西 means 'west'. But it also implies other possible readings of the character - that 'the door to freedom lies to the west' or HK is 'the door to western liberties'. There's a lot going on.
See also this mash of 和 (harmony) and 勇 (courage). As touched on in other threads, the mvmt started off distinguishing btwn peaceful protestors & frontliners at the barricades. No more. Given how repression touches on every HKers' lives now, 和 & 勇 now act as one.
Another new character created by HKers is 'kick-thrust'. Root of the word is 足 (leg) and the other component is 推 (push). The word appeared after HKPF kicked an unarmed, ungeared HKer pleading for mercy in Aug. Whenever we see this word now, we remember what happened.
HKPF is actually the subject of many new words. The most popular is the mash btwn 警 (police) & 黑 (black/triad). It appeared within 24 hrs of thugs storming an MTR stn to assault HKers as HKPF looked the other way on Jul 21, & implies collusion between HKPF & the triads.
敬 also means 'respect' & 黑 is a component of 黨 (Party). So our word mash of 敬/黑 also connotes yielding to triads, capitulation to darkness & submission to the CCP. All are valid - Party, police, triads - our art says it's hard to tell where one ends & the other begins.
There're some other variations. There's one that merges 警察(police) with 曱甴(cockroach), after HKPF started calling HKers cockroaches. Another mashes them with 公安 (mainland police), after rumours spread there are Chinese law enforcement officers working in HKPF.
The mvmt has also popularised existing words & applied new meaning to them. 鶳 mashes 獅 (lion) & 鳥(bird), homophone of 私了 (to resolve an issue privately). While 鶳 originally is a bird name, it's now taken on the meaning of vigilantism, w/ a dash of mythic righteousness.
罷鷲 is a word play on 罷就了 (forget it), with 罷 also connoting boycott/strike. 鷲's original meaning is eagle, but HKers now hv turned it into a creature that pursues a different, more peaceful strategy than its cousin 鶳, after some introspective debate over vandalism.
The use of trad. Chinese & Canto, the creation of new words - they're all part of HKers resistance. There's bn fear that CCP, in quest for homogenisation, wants to wipe out our language. Our art says - not yet, not while I still have a tongue, not while I still have a voice.
It's also a blatant rejection of reducing words to simple forms. Our new words are practically commemorations - we remember the time HKPF called us 'c*nts*, that time they kicked an unarmed man, that time they colluded with triads... Our words are heavy w/ meaning & memory.
They wordplay & portmanteaus - they show HKers are a ppl reclaiming our own tongue, revitalising a language many on the mainland like to claim to be half-dead. Canto is ours, trad. Chinese script is ours, and we the people will get to determine how our words are shaped.
Bcos words are forged as tools to reflect new realities, recount new histories, describe new philosophies. Since June, HKers hv had to find new words to depict our worsening environment. I hope we get to retain our freedom to build brave new words to build brave new worlds.
Update, Nov 28 2019
UPDATE: We've started calling HKPF 魔警 'devil cops' for about 2 mths now, but don't think we've really tried to mash the two words until recently.
It's kinda ridiculous that we felt 黑/警 'black/triad cop' was not bad enough to describe the popo...
Update, Dec 2 2019
UPDATE: Another relating to HKPF. This one's a curse, "black cop, may your whole family die!" The words are used so often together they might as well be one big word. It also suggests you can't separate the sin from the job anymore - to choose to be a cop is to choose damnation.
Update, Dec 12 2019
UPDATE: Word art from Stand News on IG. Not so much a new word as finding new meaning from old words.
教師 (teacher) is deconstructed into 共 (Communist Party) biting on 子 (children), a reference to govt's plan to clamp down on pro-dem teachers, hurting future generations.
Update, Dec 22 2019
UPDATE: New word mash art - 齊上齊落 (“We rise and fall together”), one of the popular sayings of the mvmt. Note how the 齊s are indeed together, lifting up the 上, illustrating what the ‘character’ itself means.
Update, Jan 24 2020
A word mash ‘fai chun’ of the characters 無可疑 (“not suspicious”), a term the HKPF has used to describe many of the unexplained deaths in HK over the last few months.
New word mashes describe new realities, so this one hurts, bcos it shld not need to exist. 封關 (“seal off”) is a ref to the cities closed off bcos of #WuhanFlu, and also the demand for the HK govt to restrict border entry to prevent the disease’s spread.
Update, Feb 18 2020
It’s nearly 7 mths since 21 Jul, and this word mash has unfortunately stayed as applicable as ever. How many of these characters can you see?
鄉 - villages (known to be bases for gangs) 警 - police 黑 - triad / black/ corrupt 黨 - Party 官 - govt official
Update, Jun 1 2020
UPDATE: Some more striking graffitied word mash spotted around Prince Edward.
Left: 暴 'tyranny/ violence' & 政 'government/regime' Right: 黑 'triad / black/ corrupt' & 警 'police'
While Cantonese has two romanization systems, neither are commonly taught in Hong Kong schools. ↩︎