It’s a kind of analogy. Originally, 卡壳 (qiǎ ké) meant “a cartridge got jammed inside the gun.”
When people are talking very fast and fluently, they are like a gun continuing shooting without any interruption. Words are “shot” (spoken) fast and continuously. There is also an expression “说话像机关枪一样,” the literal meaning of which is that someone “speaks like firing a machine gun.”
So when someone gets stuck while speaking, we say that he or she “卡壳”.
It’s an internet phrase to indicate network lag.
You use 你卡了吗 went you need to confirm whether the person is still there or have disconnected.
The community revolving around the e-sports game DOTA 2 is an incredibly international one. The game, which has as of now more than 12 million unique users every month, is immensely popular in not only North America and Europe, but also Brazil, Russia and China.
The Chinese teams play an especially important role in professional DOTA 2 tournaments. A nation that has had arguably the most endearing interest in the game’s predecessor, DOTA 1, its professional DOTA 2 teams are unsurprisingly amongst the world’s best. As a result, it’s becoming increasingly common for western tournaments to contain matches that are essentially “Chinese derbies” – matches where both teams were Chinese. This also, of course, incites in the western audience as well as the media an interest in Chinese DOTA 2 tournaments.
It’s not surprising then, to see Chinese DOTA 2 phrases adopted into the western scene. “Ka le” are the pinyin expressions of the Chinese characters “卡了”. The first character, “卡”(ka) means lag, while the second character “了”(le) is a modifying character that indicates past tense. Therefore a translation of “ka le” would be “there was a lag”.
As the Chinese DOTA 2 scene became ever-so-increasingly popular, this expression became known as well. However, the expression would never have become truly popular in the west, particularly North America, were it not for the coincidence that “ka le” bears such a striking resemblance to an infamous/famous word in our language (especially nowadays), “kale”.
So it happened. Many western players now, professionals and amateurs alike, type in all-chat: “kale” instead of “lag”.
The informant is currently a student in university. We were teammates together on our DOTA 2 team. As of now he has been a player and an active participant in the community for 3 years.
He learnt of this folkspeech through in-game experience; he was watching a live-stream of a tournament match, during which the players on the western team used this phrase during a pause. Later in one our team’s matches he told us about this experience.
This is an intriguing example of how one culture’s folklore or joke can come from a translation and its subsequent misinterpretation o2f another culture’s common phrase.