What are the possible reasons that authoritative Chinese dictionaries tend to include less new slangs or idioms (mainly talking about those that got popular from the 90s to 10s, or even the 20s) than authoritative English ones?

By slangs, I refer to those that managed to stick around and are widely used. By authoritative dictionaries, I refer to ones like 现代汉语词典/辞海/新华字典 vs. Oxford English Dictionary/Webster-Merriam Dictionary/Cambridge Dictionary.


  1. “细思极恐” was initially internet slangs, but it hacked its way into our real life and is still commonly used. Yet it is not included in authoritative dictionaries. Same for “破防“, “躺平” and so on.

  2. GOATED is in Webster-Merriam Dictionary

  3. Padawan is in OED By the way, this is surprising to me as I have never seen any slang originating from a film character in Chinese dictionaries.

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    I realize this is not your point, but the definition you are looking for can be found in《两岸》: moedict.tw/~%E8%90%8C | It is difficult to back sweeping statements without some sort of empirical data. Do English dictionaries contain more slang? Do Chinese dictionaries contain less? And which dictionaries?
    – Mou某
    Nov 6, 2023 at 16:33
  • @Mou某 Thanks for pointing out. I will try to modify my question to make it more detailed.
    – Robin
    Nov 7, 2023 at 10:07

3 Answers 3


The '萌' is actually a borrowed word from Japanese,in Japanese, '萌え(moe)' means cute, so using '萌' to represent cute isn't an official meaning

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    Yes, these words are slang words, the Chinese dictionaries don't usually collect slang words because the dictionaries are based on standard Chinese, these words are only used in a certain community, or contain offensive content, or have just become popular recently. For example, in the 2000s we used '我晕'/'无语' to mean speechless, but after 2010 we don't use it anymore.These words are called '网络热词(Internet hot word)' in Chinese, so the official dictionary won't collect them. @Robin Nov 6, 2023 at 10:03
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    '无语' and '细思极恐' have become part of our real-life language already, not just limited to internet usage or a certain community. I think they are still commonly used.
    – Robin
    Nov 6, 2023 at 11:18
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    @Robin 细思极恐 and 屌丝 can both be found in Wiktionary and MDBG.
    – Mou某
    Nov 6, 2023 at 16:38
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    What is the definition of "karen" in the US/UK dictionary?
    – r13
    Nov 6, 2023 at 17:33
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    Though added useful info, this answer by itself does not really answer the question.
    – 王博龙
    Nov 12, 2023 at 4:41

Your particular example of 萌 is included in the latest version of 现代汉语词典, but this example is not representative of modern slangs.

现代汉语词典 萌

For cultural reasons most dictionaries lean toward prescriptivism than descriptivism. Thus dictionary editors are usually unwilling to include slangs unless they have gained widespread use. See for example the Douban (China book review website) reviews of 现代汉语词典: https://book.douban.com/subject/26893148/ You can see a lot of criticism against adding in popular usages.

Also Internet slangs tend to fade away extremely fast, while a paper dictionary is intended to last for a long time. The 2009 edition of 辞海 included "斑竹", then a popular slang for BBS moderator, but this word is rarely used today due to the decline of BBS in mainland China.

辞海 斑竹


I think most dictionaries absolutely do contain slang. However its important to keep in mind that bilingual dictionaries still have a target audience of one or the other language.

A dictionary with a target of chinese speakers will likely include english slang, but define it with regular chinese. See example below:

enter image description here Same thing with dictionaries aimed at an english audience, in reverse, like below:

enter image description here I do not think you will find any term like GOATed in a dictionary, because it is actually not slang, but an acronym. An acronym specific dictionary would have it but that is less likely to be bilingual.

In the same way I think padawan has not crossed the line into true slang, but is just a pop culture reference. I can confidently say if I had never seen starwars I would have no idea or use of that term. If it crosses that line to be used wildly with no concept of starwars attached, it will be true slang. As is, its less likely to make it into anything bilingual considering even most natives need to look it up.

All this happens in chinese too, not just the english side. Someone would want to go online instead of a traditional dictionary to ask about an acronym like kswl or pop culture reference like 葛優癱

Hope this helps, images from two different pleco dictionaries (◐‿◑)

EDIT: for those who cannot see the photos, the first is an entry aimed at chinese of english slang "iffy". it shows the definition "bad" in english slang with chinese definition of 可疑的;有問題的;有點壞的 as well as slang definition of "uncertain" with chinese definition of 未確定的;有變數的. Note how the english slang is defined with normal chinese not slang equivalents.

the second photo is aimed at english speakers and defines the chinese slang "同志" with the definition "COMMON NAME FOR gay; homosexual" it also gives the regular definition of "comrade".

  • I think your opinion that “Someone would want to go online instead of a traditional dictionary to ask about an acronym like kswl or pop culture reference like 葛優癱” makes sense. But the point is that “GOATed”(GOAT is simply an acronym, but GOATed counts as a slang) and “padawan”(the sense: a naive person) ARE indeed included in authoritative English dictionaries, Webster-Merriam Dictionary for the former, and OED for the latter, while as for Chinese dictionaries, it’s almost impossible .
    – Robin
    Nov 19, 2023 at 5:02
  • Btw unfortunately, I can’t seem to access the images on this website :( it’s probably because I’m in China.
    – Robin
    Nov 19, 2023 at 5:09
  • @Robin ah, I added a transcription of the important text on the photos for you, and anyone else who cannot see the photos, in the original post. My main point was that while those slang you mention may appear in native dictionaries, bilingual dictionaries have to be selective and cannot be exhaustive. Keep in mind they have double the entries immediately and many more example sentences than native dictionaries. An exhaustive dictionary might break a million entries total. Although it probably exists somewhere, expensively haha (◐‿◑)
    – zagrycha
    Nov 19, 2023 at 18:26
  • @Robin to put it another way, chinese only dictionaries do include the same amount of slang as native english ones, with much of that slang being from chinese besides standard mandarin. I have an entire dictionary on cantonese sayings and slang for example, but its all chinese chinese, not bilingual.
    – zagrycha
    Nov 19, 2023 at 18:29
  • considering the fact that “GOATed”, “Padawan”, “tweet” are even included in OED/Merriam-Webster dictionary, those authoritative English dictionaries strike me as more open to newer slangs than their Chinese counterparts
    – Robin
    Nov 20, 2023 at 12:19

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