‘Dog shit luck’ — phrase of the week

Business & Technology

TikTok's international success is down to much more than luck. But its suppliers and competitors got lucky thanks to TikTok's explosive growth and big advertising budgets. This kind of luck is known as dog shit luck in Chinese.

Illustration by Derek Zheng

Our phrase of the week is: dog shit luck or very good luck (狗屎运 gǒu shǐ yùn).

Context

TikTok is the most successful Chinese content-based tech business that has truly broken through into Western markets.

A recent article published in Chinese, Inside TikTok: Zhang Yiming’s voyage through the waves (TikTok内幕:张一鸣的巨浪征途), charts the path of the company and its founder.

When Zhāng Yīmíng 张一鸣 founded TikTok in 2016, he had already set his sights on Facebook, first to imitate and look up to, eventually as the enemy to compete with and beat. Within five years, TikTok had overtaken Facebook as the world’s most downloaded app, with its users spending longer in its app than those on Facebook, and with the number of active monthly users outside of China reaching 1.2 billion by the end of 2021. This is expected to hit 1.5 billion by the end of 2022.

Killing off the competition at pace in any market in which it appeared was part of the ruthless strategy. Burning through huge amounts of cash, TikTok also invested heavily in advertising on Facebook. As a result, the Facebook sales executive for APAC became its top global salesperson in 2018, rumored to have received a bonus of over $1 million. This was much to the envy of his colleagues, who used a confusing Chinese phrase to make their point:

Colleagues in Singapore and Hong Kong all said that he had dog shit luck.

新加坡和香港同事都在说,他踩了狗屎运。

xīnjiāpō hé xiānggǎng tóngshì dōu zài shuō, tā cǎile gǒu shǐ yùn.

Translation

Dog shit luck means “to have very good luck” in Chinese. It’s a phrase that has its roots in ancient rural China, when farmers fertilized their crops with animal manure and human waste.

Dog excrement was also a good source of nutrients for crops, so early in the morning, some enterprising villagers would go out to collect it to sell to farmers. So finding and even treading on dog shit was a good thing because it meant making extra money.

A dog in Chinese culture also symbolizes money; the character for woof (汪 wàng) sounds the same as the character for prosperous (旺 wàng).

So the phrase to have dog shit luck means to have a stroke of luck — an unexpected bit of good fortune.

For Facebook’s head of APAC sales, it was completely unexpected that he would do so well in 2018, thanks to the aggressive investment in advertising by a company that would soon overtake it globally.

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Andrew Methven