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Cyber Lingo Sweeps Chinese Chat Rooms
When is the number 520 worth a whole lot more than its numerals imply?

When it's sent to you in a Chinese Internet chat room, where it means you've just been propositioned by someone using Chinese Web shorthand to whisper, "I love you", in your cyber ear.

Such digital displays of affection are just part of a growing lexicon of Internet lingo that has swept through Chinese language chat rooms worldwide in recent years.

Much of the chatter derives from the abundance of homonyms in Chinese, where a single sound can carry many meanings.

For example, 520 sounds like "wo ai ni", Chinese for "I love you".

Roman-letter abbreviations also abound, the result of a new generation of Web chatterers impatient with the cumbersome system of Chinese characters, which take more time to type on a keyboard.

The abbreviations are not unlike many of those now used in English, such as IMHO for "in my humble opinion" and BTW for "by the way".

Reflecting the relative youth of Internet users worldwide, much of the shorthand in Chinese cyberspace is devoted to pleasantries, terms of endearment and expletives. Political terms are less common, and are even filtered out in many Chinese mainland chat rooms by Web hosts seeking to avoid controversy.

"I don't know where it all came from. I guess it's for convenience," said Huang Ching-hui, a Taiwanese student in the United States who chats online to keep in touch with friends.

"Internet users don't like to type a lot. Plus, it feels good to know that someone knows (the lingo) and belongs to your gang."

The Chinese mainland now has about 59 million Internet users, with Taiwan and Hong Kong having another 12 million and 4 million, respectively, at the end of 2001, according to various sources. China's figure alone is second only to the United States, where an estimated 170 million people now use the Web.

Terms of Endearment

Like much on the Internet, the origins of the chatter on Chinese sites are unclear. Some believe many terms began with the earliest pagers that could only display numbers.

Popular expressions of endearment include 360 for "I miss you" and 775885 for "kiss me, hug me". But don't come on too strong to a stranger, or you could be told to 748, or "go to hell".

Some sweet numbers have became so popular that Taiwanese pop star Mavis featured them in her recent hit "Digitally Falling in Love", among them 520.

Roman letters are also used for popular cross-cultural abbreviations - "ssgg" means "handsome boy" from the Chinese "shuai shuai ge ge," while "ppmm" means "pretty girl".

One of the most common Chinese Internet shorthands is 88, which reads "ba ba" in Chinese and has come to mean "bye bye".

"If you're in an Internet cafe and have to rush to class, it's easier to type 88 than 'bye' or 'zai jian' (the Chinese word for goodbye)," said Zhou Xizhou, a native of Hunan Province.

(Agencies via Xinhua January 30, 2003)

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