Recently, a humorous video titled “Obama hilariously mocks own retirement in skit” gained attention in the US and also in China. What was the occasion for the humorous video and what exactly did Obama do in it? He did something that we call “自黑 (zìhēi) self-mockery” in Chinese.
Each year, at the Washington Hilton, the White House Correspondents’ dinner is held as a humorous meeting between journalists and the presidential administration. This year, a video skit showing Obama pondering his retirement drew lots of laughs. There was a joke about how he was going from “Commander-in-Chief” to “Couch Commander.” The skit also poked fun at the birth certificate controversy, his rivalry with John Boehner and his new ability to “drink beer at 11:30am.” For the most part, Obama was happy to laugh and make fun of himself and his soon-to-be loss of power. This self-deprecation is what we call “自黑 (zìhēi) self-mockery” in Chinese.
Let’s break down “自黑 (zìhēi) self-mockery”:
Chinese language learners may know that “黑 (hēi)” most commonly means the color “black.” However, like most colors, “黑 (hēi) black” has more meanings than that, just as in English “black” may mean “dark.”
In the phrase mentioned above “自黑 (zìhēi),” “黑 (hēi)” is a verb, which has the meaning of to blacken/to vilify, or slander someone. “自 (zì)” means “self” here. “自黑 (zìhēi)” comes from the phrase “黑自己 (hēi zìjǐ) to mock oneself” to amuse others. It is an internet slang and used frequently by users. “自黑 (zìhēi)” can be regarded as a form of Chinese humor that is the equivalent of English “self-deprecation” such as that seen in the Obama retirement video.
A similar phrase with “黑 (hēi) black” is “你黑我 (nǐ hēi wǒ),” which literally translates to “You black me,” but we can translate it to the familiar “You are teasing me” or “You are speaking ill of me.”
Let’s look at some examples of “自黑 (zìhēi)” in action:
Nǐ wèishénme yào zìhēi?
你 为 什么 要 自黑?
Why did you speak ill of yourself?
Xiànzài de rén dōu xǐhuan zìhēi.
现在 的 人 都 喜欢 自黑。
Nowadays, people like to mock themselves.
So, now you’re ready to get out there and mock yourself and make your friends laugh!
1. What’s the meaning of “自黑 (zìhēi)?”
A. Someone thinks that his/her skin is black.
B. Someone makes fun of himself/herself.
C. Someone makes fun of his/her black skin.