Editor’s Note: The Word of the Week comes from China Digital Space’s Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon, a glossary of terms created by Chinese netizens and frequently encountered in online political discussions. These are the words of China’s online “resistance discourse,” used to mock and subvert the official language around censorship and political correctness.
If you are interested in participating in this project by submitting and/or translating terms, please contact the CDT editors at CDT [at] chinadigitaltimes [dot] net.
Literally “his mother’s,” ta ma de is a common swearword. Like “f**k”, the phrase has a sexual connotation, though it is less harsh than its English counterpart and has a broader range of uses. Depending on the context, it can be translated as almost any English swearword, though it often appears as WTF.
Lu Xun, the father of modern Chinese literature, once honored the phrase as China’s “national swearword.”
A very notable use of the phrase appeared in the July 26 2011 edition of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily shortly after the Wenzhou train accident. The front page headline read, “Clearing the Tracks, Not Saving Lives; WTF!“”
The People’s Daily headline on the same day was “The Party’s Sympathy Is Even Greater Than the Height of Lofty Mountains.”
At 8:27 p.m. on July 23, [a collision between two trains] caused the deaths of 40 people. In the face of such a terrible event and its incompetent handling by the Ministry of Railways, we can only express our views by asking—WTF?!
7月23日20时27分，北京至福州的D 301次列车行驶至温州市双屿路段时，与杭州开往福州的D 3115次列车追尾，造成D 301第1至4号、D 3115第15至16号车厢脱轨，事故已致40人遇难。面对如此惨烈的事情以及铁道部的糟糕处理，我们只想用三个字表达看法———他妈的！
The article criticized the Propaganda Department’s approach of highlighting various “miracle” stories from the crash. One such “miracle” involved a two-and-a-half-year-old girl named Yiyi, who was the last survivor pulled from the train wreckage 21 hours after the crash. Although both her parents were killed, the state-controlled media gushed over her survival in what many believed to be a cynical attempt to put a positive spin on the tragedy and deflect criticism from the Ministry of Railways. In a press conference, Ministry of Railways spokesperson Wang Yongping was asked how a girl could be found alive while disassembling the train cars, when rescue attempts were already finished:
Wang: This is a miracle. You ask why—
Reporter: This is not a miracle!
[Reporters angrily yelling at once.]
Reporter: What I want to ask is this: Why, after you had already announced that there were no survivors, when you had already begun to disassemble the train—why would there still be a survivor?
Wang: Let me answer that. This happened. We truly did find a girl who was still alive. This is the way things are.
Wang generated more anger than solace at the conference. His trademark statement from that day rose to Chinternet memedom: “Whether you believe it or not, it’s up to you, but I do anyway.” He was later dismissed from his post.
George Ding opined on the exchange:
In the end, I think I understand what Wang is trying to say. For a toddler to survive the train crash in which her parents died is nothing short of Potter-esque; for a defenseless child to survive the full force of the Chinese government’s ineptitude and negligence, is nothing short of miraculous. But if little Yiyi is Harry Potter, then what does that make the government?
The Economic Observer also defied the ban on negative coverage of the crash.