Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My Dad Is Li Gang!

About a month ago in China, a drunk driver struck two people, injuring one and killing the other. The incident would have been just another tragic tale of drunk driving but for what happened when the driver was apprehended. The New York Times:
The 22-year-old driver, who was intoxicated, tried to speed away. Security guards intercepted him, but he was undeterred. He warned them, “My father is Li Gang!”
The driver was Li Qiming, whose father, Li Gang, is a deputy police chief. The incident now has its own Wikipedia page and is known as the "Li Gang" incident.

The crass sense of entitlement chillingly demonstrated by this kid caused the story to spread rapidly through China, despite the best efforts of their censors, so much so that Li Qiming's infamous phrase ("我爸是李刚" in Chinese) appears to have made the jump from newsworthy quote to the vernacular in the form of a dark idiom. Quoting again from the New York Times:
“My father is Li Gang” has become a bitter inside joke, a catchphrase for shirking any responsibility — washing the dishes, being faithful to a girlfriend — with impunity.
Whether this will have long-term staying power in the language, or whether it will fade away as the furor over Li Qiming's action fades, remains to be seen. But this does provide one of many examples where news events directly affect a language, at least temporarily, and shows how it pays for language learners to not have their noses buried in a dictionary to the exclusion of paying attention to what's going on more broadly in the societies that use their target language.

Links:
China's Censors Misfire in Abuse-of-Power Case [New York Times]
Li Gang incident [Wikipedia]

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