Archive for Puns

Hot words

It is my solemn duty to call the attention of Language Log readers to a seriously deficient BBC article:

"China's rebel generation and the rise of 'hot words'", by Kerry Allen with additional reporting from Stuart Lau (8/10/18). 

Language Matters is a new column from BBC Capital exploring how evolving language will influence the way we work and live.

Even though the article annoyed me greatly, I probably wouldn't have written a post about it on the basis of the flimsy substance of the last 23 paragraphs were it not for the outrageous first paragraph, which really requires refutation.

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Artsy-fartsy

Japanese artists depicted almost anything imaginable concerning humans, animals, and the natural world, and they did so with great skill and emotional power.  One sub-genre of Japanese painting that I recently became aware of is that of the fart battle (hōhi gassen 放屁合戦):

"21 Classic Images Of Japanese Fart Battles From The 19th Century", by Wyatt Redd, ati (7/23/18)

As soon as I perused this astonishing scroll, I could not get the expression "artsy-fartsy" out of my mind, and I wondered how and when English acquired such a peculiar term.  Merriam-Webster says that it's a rhyming compound based on "artsy" and "fart", and that its first known use is 1962.

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Oh, 18!

Robert Hay writes:

There's a Korean pitcher in the majors named Seung-Hwang Oh who was just traded to the Colorado Rockies. Both his previous uniform numbers, 26 and 22, were already taken, so he got number 18, leading to this realization by Sung Min Kim on Twitter:

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"Despacito" transcribed with Mandarin, Taiwanese, and English syllables

This amazing song from Taiwan seems to have been inspired by some Japanese cultural practices, which we will explore later in this post.

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Sexist tech ad

The news about sexism in China's high tech industry is out and it's all over the internet:

The most damning account of all comes in Lijia Zhang's "Chinese Tech Companies’ Dirty Secret" (New York Times Opinion, 4/23/18), which includes a video presentation.  At 1:34, there's a job ad from the Chinese tech company Meituan which is so disgusting that I've purposely put the screenshots on the second page.  (What follows in the video is even more repulsive.)  I didn't want to pass up the Meituan ad altogether, however, because it does have an interesting linguistic hook.

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Dung Times

There's a roundly execrated publication of the CCP called Global Times in English.  The Chinese name is Huánqiú shíbào 环球时报.  Associated with the People's Daily, it is infamous for its extreme, provocative, anti-Indian, anti-Japanese, anti-Western (especially anti-American) editorials and articles.

Now it seems that some Indian Tweeps are referring to the Global Times as "Gobar Times", using Hindi  gobar गोबर ("cow-dung") to mimic the sound and the sentiment the name evokes. A tweet by Donald Clarke calls our attention to this fecal phenomenon.

Here it is in use.

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Using riddles to circumvent censorship in China

We are thoroughly familiar with the use of puns to foil and irritate the censors in China:

"Punning banned in China" (11/29/14)

"It's not just puns that are being banned in China" (12/7/14) — with links to earlier posts on puns in China

"Fun bun pun" (4/9/17)

And many others, including the most recent post on puns and censorship, which focused squarely on the heated controversy over the abolition of term limits for the presidency:

"The letter * has bee* ba**ed in Chi*a" (2/26/18 — the day after the announcement of the constitutional change)

Another means of evading the censors, and more difficult to detect than puns because they speak through indirection (the answers are not given), are riddles.

"Lantern Festival riddles outwit and enrage Chinese censors", by Oiwan Lam, Hong Kong Free Press (3/6/18)

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Sinitic is a group of languages, not a single language

Pro-Cantonese sign in Hong Kong:


A man holds a sign professing his love for Cantonese as he attends a Hong Kong rally in 2010 against mainland China’s bid to champion Mandarin over Cantonese. Picture: AFP

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Of dotards and DOLtards

[A guest post by Jichang Lulu.]

After all the brouhaha over Kim Jong Un's 'dotard' philippic, I was reminded of some other Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) invective: those sexist insults against Park Geun-hye, the racist insults against Obama, and specifically those aimed at Michael Kirby, the Australian judge who led a UN inquiry on North Korean human rights. The NK leadership didn't appreciate the scrutiny, and responded by calling Kirby, who is openly gay, a DOL (Disgusting Old Lecher). I was wondering what the Korean for that would be, so I looked for the original piece.

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Ball ball 你

Yep, just like that.  This expression is very common on the Chinese internet, messaging, chatting, etc. now, but — for those of us who are not in the know — what does it mean?

I'll just give one hint:  nǐ 你 means "you".

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Learn from President Learn

By itself, the phrase "xuéxí lù shàng 学习路上" means "on the path / way / road" of learning.  However, when you see it in large characters at the top of a lavish website devoted to the life and works of President Xi Jinping, you cannot help but think that it also punningly conveys another meaning.

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Banned by Beijing

Just saw this great post by the editors of supchina:

"Here are all the words Chinese state media has banned:  A full translation of the style guide update from Xinhua, and why it matters." (8/1/17)

We can be grateful to the editors for their reliable translations, complete with Chinese characters and Hanyu Pinyin romanizations, with word spacing and tonal diacritics.

The list is divided into sections on "Politics and society" (including politically incorrect and vulgar terms), "Law", "Religion and society", "Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, territory, and sovereignty", and "International relations".  Specialists in all of these areas will have a field day examining these sensitive terms and analyzing their political, social, and cultural implications.  I encourage everyone who has an interest in contemporary China to avail themselves of this extraordinary opportunity to get inside the most fundamental level of the censorial apparatus of the Communist Chinese state.

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June 4, 198brew 2.0

Many people have called my attention to this article by Didi Kirsten Tatlow in the New York Times:

"A High-Proof Tribute to Tiananmen’s Victims Finds a Way Back to China" (5/30/17)

The article begins:

It’s a big journey for a little bottle, even one so potent in alcohol and symbolism.

The liquor bottle — whose label commemorates the 1989 crackdown on democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in Beijing — made a monthslong trip around the world and arrived in Hong Kong days before the 28th anniversary of the killings on Sunday and one year after it was produced in Chengdu, in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan.

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