Chinese Slang for “Newbie”

Whether you’re brand new to Chinese or not, you”ll find use for today’s Chinese slang word: 菜鸟 (càiniǎo) – “newbie”.

This very popular word, which also means “rookie”, refers to someone that is new or inexperienced at something. The word gotten much more popular in the internet age, when newbies (sometimes written as “n00bs”) are found all over forums and games. Maybe you are even a 中文菜鸟 (zhōngwén càiniǎo) – Chinese newbie – yourself!

Let’s take a closer look at these two characters:

菜 (cài): dish, vegetables (ie 菜园 – càiyuán – vegetable garden)

鸟 (niǎo): bird (ie 鸟巢 – niǎocháo – “bird’s nest” or the nickname of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Stadium)

There are a few theories about where this unusual phrase came from and why it means “newbie”.

笨鸟 (bèn niǎo) is an older phrase that means”clumsy bird”. It was used to describe someone foolish or silly. The characters 笨 and 菜 are quite similar. At some point, someone might’ve mistaken the two. This resulted in “菜鸟”, which eventually came into popular use.

菜鸟 (càiniǎo) can also mean “rookie”. In this context, it refers to inexperienced sports players, most often the NBA (as many Chinese guys are obsessed with American basketball).

Here are a few examples of 菜鸟 (càiniǎo) in the wild:

Example 1)


“xīnxiù càiniǎo pàsēnsī ná xiàle chuàng zhíyè shēngyá xīn gāode 20 fēn.”

Rising star rookie Parsons scored a career-high 20 points.

Example 2)

“从菜鸟到高手 – 佳能IXUS230HS终极攻略”

“cóng càiniǎo dào gāoshǒu – jiānéng IXUS230HS zhōngjí gōnglüè

“From newbie to expert: Canon IXUS230HS Ultimate Guide”

Example 3)


“dāng nǐ háishì yīgè càiniǎo shí, tāmen jiù péizháo nǐ yīqǐ chéngzhǎng.”

“If you’re still a newbie, then they grow along with you.”

Hope you like this Chinese slang! 

What about you? Care to share some of your Chinese slang?

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