Top critical review
Okay for the beginner, but disappointing
on August 6, 2001
I agree with the reader from Wisconsin - "Outrageous Chinese" is a nice start, but ultimately, a little disappointing. It oscillates between being a book of slang, and an introduction to Chinese manners. The two chapters are particularly irrelevant - all that hokey about how foreigners should watch their tones, or how to introduce oneself - that's stuff you learn in school/college/university. The book is subtitled "A Guide to Chinese Street Language", and so should be devoted entirely to just that. Similarly, the last chapter emphasising the correct pronunciation of chengyu (4 character Chinese phrases) - seems out of place.
This is a real shame, because I don't know of any other book in English which devotes itself entirely to the study of Chinese slang.
There's also quite a lot of anecdotes, which, if you've spent any time in China, reads like really, really old hat. We don't need to be told this!
Still, some of the chapters are pretty good - like the "love and sex", "judging people" and the "expletives undeleted" sections (the best bit of the book). Too bad there isn't a specific section on insults.
Other chapters just read like big vocabulary lists - "food and drink", "crime" and "falling ill" are just lame.
What might've been good - even though the book is called "Outrageous Chinese" - would be to include some more common phrases - not necessarily swear words, but just slangy ways of speaking - "shuang", for instance, which means "cool", "great", something you say after having done something which made you feel really good. Or "zhen shi de", which translates to something like "really!" or "you're too much!". To me, such phrases qualify as slang. (for a book along these lines, see "Popular Chinese Expressions", published by Sinolingua Publications in China - it's really good.)
The book's structure is a little too informal. Ideally, each new piece of slang ought to be followed by several examples for the keen language learner to understand the context in which it can be used. Some words are given extended coverage - like "cao", the equivalent of the F-word, but not all.
Many of the words in the book appear to be "Beijing slang" - and so some of the language introduced is only relevant if you're talking with someone from Beijing. Ideally, Mr Wang ought to indicate which words have currency throughout China, and which words are local only to Beijing people. This he only does sporadically, unfortunately.
Finally, one might note that "Outrageous Chinese" was published in 1994, and so some of the slang is out of date. For instance, he talks about 'fen', but no-one uses that sort of money anymore. Similarly, there's nothing on the internet (this is covered in his book, "Mutant Mandarin", but even some of the terms there are outdated - the Chinese don't say "dianzi youjian", they say "email".)
Even though this review has been negative overall, Mr Wang is to be congratulated for producing such a book. It's unbelievably difficult to get the Chinese to teach one swear words. Often people will only teach you if you display some rudimentary knowledge already - so this book helps. I just hope he cuts some of the superfluous stuff out in the second edition.