One popular adjective created and becoming fashionable in the new millennium is '最牛'. It is a mocking term that can mean, in humorless translation, "boldest" or "hottest" or "most awesome" or "formidable," depending on the object it modifies. The following image, borrowed from a Chinese blog called 西交虫, might help illustrate the meaning of '最牛':
最牛的司机 "The most [ ] driver"
I've left the English translation for '最牛' blank in the caption above, because none of the English adjectives I mentioned earlier can convey the mocking tone of this Chinese term. Furthermore, "awesome" is a commending word while '最牛' could be used with either positive or negative connotation. The other modifiers might be neutral enough, but they do not bring laughter.
When in doubt, I find that often the best solution to such a challenge is go for the literal, or verbatim (直译), as opposed to free translation by meaning (意译). In this case, because '牛' means "cow," and an associated adjective is "beefy," I'm inclined to translate '最牛' as "the beefiest." The (invisible) driver in the above image thus becomes "the beefiest driver."
The origin of '最牛' seems no longer traceable. In fact, I noticed on the Chinese internet that several such origin-seeking questions had met with mocking answers like "you've posed the beefiest question!". I remember one of the first times the term caught my eye was when bloggers named the Chongqing nail house "the beefiest nail house" and brought it to the attention of the public and the media (even NYT) in early 2007.
More recently, this seemly harmless mocking expression has been frequently applied to bad behaviors of government officials. For example, when a judge tried to force Zhang Hui, a victim of Shanghai hooks, to drop his lawsuit and Zhang did not agree, the judge angrily yelled at Zhang as if to a child, "Be obedient!" ("你要听话!") Immediately that judge surnamed Huang was termed "the beefiest judge" on the internet.
"The beefiest official line" occurred in
The term has become so trendy that even main stream media can't afford to not use it. On Nov. 11th, xinhuanet.com reported "The Beefiest Developer Sentenced to Death," about a
developer who tried to get rid of a nail house owned by an old couple, by hiring thugs to kill their only son. Chongqing
"Beefiest" is only one of many new slang words coming into being with the internet. I don't view this as simple folk language evolution; rather internet slang symbolizes a new popular culture, providing for the first time a viable means for Chinese people to publicly make fun of officials. I would be curious to know how those officials who are named "the beefiest" something feel when they see their new title. Perhaps they will step a bit more gingerly next time.
Related post: "The Beefiest" (最牛) and "It Sucks"