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Chinese Slang Series – Lesson 5: 宅

July 30, 2011


This week’s slang term is 宅 (zhái) (lit. house; collq. computer geek, nerd).

Originally, this character simply meant “house,” or “to reside.” As the techno boom of the 1980s spread globally, more and more young people, especially men, began to be drawn to it. From the security and comfort of their own bedrooms, offices, and parents’ basements, a new class of professional was born: one that never had to leave the house.  Soon, that fearsome judge, language, pronounced this new class of citizens “宅男” (zháinán). Literally meaning “house men,” the term is now widely interpreted to describe that special breed of pale, willowy men whose limbs have long since atrophied due to lack of exercise–in other words, computer nerds.  The term quickly caught on in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and mainland China.

As 宅男 (or 宅女/zhái nǚ) stay indoors and obsess over coding, gaming, and new technology, they have become more or less stereotyped as awkward and lonely nerds who are completely unable to deal with anyone outside of their own subculture.

Now that technology has become more mainstream, the term has changed with the times.  Now 宅 can be used to describe even those homebodies who don’t happen to be technologically inclined. It can also be used as a verb, as in:


Tonight I’m just going to be lame and stay in.


For more on 宅, here is the Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou’s take on the term:

And here you can find an example of a 宅男from the Cheng & Tsui staff: