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Does the expression “plate him!” sound strange to you?

Oct. 13, 2020

Have you heard the expression, “盘他(pán tā)”?

The expression was made popular by a TikTok video where the speaker said, “Don’t mind what he is, 盘他(pán tā). Everything can be ‘盘’, just ‘盘’”.

What does that mean?

Let’s talk about 盘(pán) first.

Now, you may have seen the word 盘(pán) before in the context of eating. For example: 一盘菜(yī pán cài). This literally means, “A plate of food.”

Cānzhuō shàng shàngle yī pán cài.

餐桌上上了一盘菜。

A plate of food was brought to the table.

In this case, “盘” (pán) is being used as a quantifier to mean, “plate.” A quantifier is a word used to express the unit of quantity of people, things or actions.

盘(pán) can also be combined with another word, “子(zi)” to make “盘子(pánzi)” – plate, the kind of plate that is generally used to serve food and eat from.

盘子(pánzi): dish/plate

Examples:

tā bǎ pánzi xǐ gānjìngle.

他把盘子洗干净了。

He washed the dishes.

pánzi bèi dǎ suìle

盘子被打碎了

The plate was broken.

You may be asking yourself: Why are we talking about “plating” someone (盘他(pán tā))?

This is because 盘(pán) can also be used as a verb to mean repeatedly rubbing an object to make the surface smooth and textured. Many ornament collectors carry their ornaments, like good luck charms or even walnut shells, with them in their hands as they go out for a walk, rubbing them and over time changing the texture. In contrast to what many people are used to in the west, this action over time is thought to actually increase certain objects’ value – at least as far as the owners are concerned.

Applying this usage to people first appeared after a 2018 “cross talk” performance, when the speaker said, “It’s so dry, numb, and not round at all … 盘它!” After that, 盘 took on some new meanings:

To express your love for someone or something, e.g.:

juéde tā piàoliàng? xǐhuān tā duì ba? pán tā!

觉得她漂亮?喜欢她对吧?盘她!

You think she’s beautiful? You like her right? Well, show her how you feel!

To jokingly threaten or tease someone, e.g.:

nǐ shuōhuà zhùyì diǎn, xiǎoxīn wǒ pán nǐ.

你说话注意点,小心我盘你!

Be careful about what you say, or I’ll teach you a lesson!

As you can see, being able to this word appropriately takes some practice, given all its possible meanings. Luckily for you, we’ll get you started with a quick quiz to see how closely you paid attention:

Which of these sentences is appropriate to say to a waiter when you’re ordering your food?

A. (pointing at your friend)

qǐng ng pán tā!

请你盘他!

B. (pointing at the menu)

qǐng gěi wǒ lái yī pán ròu.

请给我来一盘肉.

C. (pointing at your plate)

zhège pánzi yǐjiīng pán h o le ma?

这个盘子已经盘好了吗?

D. (pointing at yourself)

wǒ kěyǐ pán něige cài?

我可以盘哪个菜?

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