While riding the subway in Shanghai last week, I glanced at the TV playing some commercials and saw what looked like a slightly off spelling of the city's name (上海). I could not get a very good look (and my area of [limited] expertise is kanji, not hanzi), but I am pretty sure the second character was: 嗨 (instead of 海).

When I looked it up in my Mandarin dictionary, sure enough '嗨' had a similar pronunciation, and a meaning ('alas', but also slang for 'hi!', according to that dictionary) that seemed to make it a pretty good fit for a pun on 上海.

However, the tone seems to be different:

上海 [shàng-hǎi] vs. 上嗨 [shàng-hāi]

To my limited understanding, this would make the two words completely different to a native Mandarin ear...

My question is therefore:

To a regular Mandarin speaker, would 上嗨 sound close enough to 上海, to work as a pun? Would it only work as a visual pun (and not so much when read aloud)? Neither?

  • Could it be that what you saw was part of a sentence such as "在大街上嗨"?
    – BertR
    May 15, 2012 at 7:03
  • @BertR: It is very possible. I only caught a glance, while busy riding the subway... I thought I saw the word apart from the rest, but it's quite possible it was the ending of a sentence. Judging by the answers, it probably was.
    – Dave
    May 15, 2012 at 7:34

4 Answers 4


I don't really know the answer, but have some hypotheses.

  1. What you saw is actually part of a sentence such as "在大街上嗨" where 嗨 has the meaning of 啊 (an emotion particle).
  2. It's actually Shanghainese. On Baidu somebody asked for the meaning of 吾雷给欧上嗨吾 (which is supposed to be Shanghainese) and somebody answered 我在学上海话 (I'm studying Shanghainese). So according to this 上嗨 refers to 上海 in Shanghainese. I didn't find any other websites supporting this claim. The answer also got the remark that if it would have this meaning 吾 should actually be 哎吾.
  3. This forum is called "学嗨吾吖" which actually refers to 学海无涯 (no limits to what one still has to learn). In this example the tones are changed and 海 is changed into 嗨). This is something that often happens on the Internet (mostly done by young people and sometimes used to bypass the Great Firewall of China). Some famous examples: 和谐 => 河蟹, 什么 => 神马, 肏你妈 => 草泥马, 压力 => 鸭梨, 央视 => 央屎. So maybe the advertisement wanted to appeal to young people.
  • 2. It uses pronunciation in Mandarin as a notation for Shanghainese. It is not precise and non-standard. Shanghainese does not have its own writing system (as far as I knows). 3. 学嗨吾吖 for 学海无涯 is more like a writing style on the internet called "火星文" (language of the Mars). It uses characters with similar writing or pronunciation instead of the original. It is quite hard to understand sometimes. This is a little different from the latter example you gave.
    – fefe
    May 15, 2012 at 8:46

To me, no.

In the fist place, 上嗨 is meaningless to me, so it cannot work as pun either by pronunciation or shape.

Different tone would sound quite different in Mandarin. I cannot think of any examples for Mandarin puns now. But I think they should have exactly the same pronunciation to work as puns, including the tone.

上嗨 is more like a typo to me.

  • 2
    This is not correct. There are many examples where the tone is changed and everybody still knows what it is about. Some examples: 和谐 => 河蟹, 什么 => 神马, 肏你妈 => 草泥马, 压力 => 鸭梨, 央视 => 央屎. Sorry for the explicit language :-)
    – BertR
    May 15, 2012 at 7:19
  • 2
    @BertR Not everybody. Only the ones that often surf on the web. This is some kind of net slang, and only a few of such expressions can find their ways into everyday life. People who are not familiar with this kind of slang will have a hard time guessing what they are.
    – fefe
    May 15, 2012 at 8:05
  • Thanks for the input... Indeed, everybody seems to agree that this is not a standard play on words (/hanzi). I am rather confident this is not a typo either, since I imagine it would have been caught long before it started getting shown on TV displays in thousands of subway cars ;-) It is possible that I misread the left part of the character, but I am reasonably certain that the right part was the same as 海, with something added to the left (otherwise it wouldn't have attracted my attention).
    – Dave
    May 15, 2012 at 14:26

The overall matter for 嗨 is never "tone", stupid or not.

嗨 is vocal, usage translation is "hi", and created from "Hi", the usage is glimmick and illusive, simply improper and nowhere applicable, but maybe unofficially cute for its existence.

"hi" is an english greeting, in Chinese, we'll proper say "你好", "早上好", "新年好", etc..

It has been some years that there is a trend to play with chinese words to produce illusive titles, but to make excitements.

  • Even I do know that 你好 is the proper traditional Chinese greeting, not "Hi". That absolutely does not answer my question, however.
    – Dave
    May 16, 2012 at 4:03


I'm not native, but I've been speaking Mandarin for some time.

I would say that it depends on how clearly the two were pronounced, but if they were pronounced with any clarity at all then even I would be able to tell the difference.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.