Kaylee asks, “What?” (Ep4, “Shindig” 20:40)
Chinese: 什么 (shénme)
Context: Mal brings Kaylee along to a ballroom party on Persephone in order to meet a potential client. Kaylee is wearing a dress that she had seen in a shop window earlier in the day. At the party, Kaylee approaches a group of fashionable-looking young women. After being subtly criticized by the group of girls, the ringleader of the group finally makes an insult that Kaylee can’t ignore, saying the dress looks like a store-bought one.
Usage: Shenme is a word that is used to introduce “what kind” or “what type” questions. For example, 这是什么？ (“What is this?”); 你喜欢什么？ (“What do you like?”); 你吃什么？ (“What are you eating?”). Said on its own, it means roughly the same as in English: either the cool “What do you want (don’t waste my time)?” or the surprised/confused “What did you say!”/”What do you mean?” Implicit in the latter is that the asker wants the statement repeated either because they didn’t understand or because they are so flummoxed that they can’t think of a proper response and want confirmation from the speaker about what they said.
Execution: Oh poor Kaylee! She just wants to fit in, but those mean girls want nothing to do with her. Kaylee’s tone implies she’s more confused than flummoxed; she simply doesn’t know what they mean by “your girl” (that is, servant). If you add a little extra flutter to the end of your me, you indicate shock, but Kaylee’s tone is a flat, neutral one, indicating she’s still clueless and doesn’t get the implicit criticism just yet.
Pronunciation: Absolutely perfect on Kaylee’s part, but listen below in case you want to hear what an annoyed shenme sounds like compared to a surprised or confused shenme. It’s pretty much just like English. (1=What do you want? 2=Surprised. 3=Confused.)