With the country’s transformation and the changes in the economic system, some words no longer have the same life. 差不多, chàbùduō, illustrates the differences in behaviour.
The approximate is losing ground
In the 80s and even 90s, one of the words a stranger could often hear was 差不多, almost. The country was in the process of emerging from a state economic system in which the unit of work 单位 still encompassed the entire existence of the vast majority. So, accuracy, rigour, efficiency, profitability were not always the main concern in the work. Sometimes we were in the ballpark. Now, as a sign of the evolution of the system and of society, the approximation has taken back a more modest place, and the 差不多 is less present. The time is ripe for greater efficiency, private companies abound, and we cannot be satisfied with a rough cash flow. Rigour is gaining ground and is a sign of the times, 差不多 no longer shows approximate work.
A bit of language
Of course, in everyday life, 差不多 has all its rights. I took notes on its use in 2016, and I can’t resist getting my notes out:
这两位老师年龄差不多, These two teachers are almost the same age. （En as an adjective, it is placed after the noun it qualifies).
As an adverb, it is placed before the adjective, the numeral adjective, or the verb :
离这里差不多三公里, From here, it’s about two miles.
你们差不多高, You are almost the same size.
我差不多跑了两个小时, I ran for nearly two hours.
3 July 2020