Archive for Idioms

Face, B face, 13 face, and C face

A student called my attention to this cloying glorification of PRC President Xi Jinping:

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More vitriolic rhetoric from KCNA

We've already had a taste of the crass, crude contumely that the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) typically spews forth against the perceived enemies of the North Korean state:

"Dotard" (9/22/17)
"Of dotards and DOLtards" (10/4/17)

KCNA hits a new low with their latest denunciation of the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzō Abe:

"North Korea promises to bring 'nuclear clouds' to Japan, mocks PM as 'headless chicken'", by Katherine Lam, Fox News (10/3/17)
"N. Korea threatens nuke strike on Japan, calls Abe ‘headless chicken’:  Abe’s comments at UN will 'bring nuclear clouds to the Japanese archipelago,' says KCNA", Asia Unhedged, Asia Times (10/4/17)

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When taking a stand involves sitting

The most pervasive metaphor in English may be the use of "higher" to mean "better" (e.g., stronger or more moral), which has spawned endless figures of speech.  It's hard to avoid those metaphorical phrases, although that might be wise in situations in which "higher" also has a relevant physical meaning.  The New York Times on Saturday ran the following headline:

(1) As Trump Takes On Athletes, Watch Them Rise

Indeed, these athletes may be rising metaphorically as a political force.  But they're refusing to rise physically for the singing of the U.S. national anthem.  On the same day, the New York Times wrote (in this article, though it has now been edited away):

(2) Some people urged more players to kneel or sit during the anthem at football stadiums on Sunday as a way to reinforce their First Amendment rights. Others urged more white players to stand with black players who have knelt or sat during the anthem.

How confusing!  White players are urged to stand metaphorically with their black teammates … by physically kneeling or sitting with them, or by speaking out afterwards.

But how do we readers know that "stand with" in (2) is metaphorical?  Why couldn't the second sentence be about white players standing physically?

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Thoroughly earthy

Because I like the Chinese term tǔ 土 ("earth; soil; dirt; ground; earthy; rustic; colloquial") so much, I was going to add the substance of the remarks below as a comment to the "Fun bun pun" (4/9/17) post, in which we devoted a lot of attention to one of my favorite expressions, "tǔbāozi 土包子" ("earthy steamed stuffed bun", i.e., "country bumpkin, hick, rube, clodhopper, backwoodsman, boor, dolt, yokel").  But the ramifications grew to such large proportions that they merited their own post.

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You're a cow

From David Cragin:

I was exchanging WeChats with a friend and she called me a cow, i.e.,  “Nǐ niú de 你牛的.”  It immediately made me laugh because calling someone a cow isn’t a good way to engender warm feelings in English.  Hā 哈!, but I guessed that in Chinese it must be a compliment.

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Fecal Intensifiers

[This is a guest post by Brendan O'Kane, written on the evening of 3/24/17]

At a friend’s dissertation defense this morning, a certain distinguished Dutch professor emeritus, explaining the appeal of prosimetric vernacular literature to audiences in late imperial Shandong, noted that “people before about 1950 were mostly bored shitless.”

This cracked the room up, naturally, but it also seemed slightly off: in my own idiolect, I might be scared shitless, but not much else. On the other hand, something that scared the shit out of me might bore the shit out of a more jaded spectator, or cause an onlooker with a meaner sense of humor to shit themselves laughing.

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Chicken is down

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Meaning good

Corey Williams, "Donald Trump to visit Detroit Saturday", AP:

For Trump, courting black voters is a challenge. Most polls show his support among black voters is in the low single digits. Many blacks view some of his campaign rhetoric as insulting, and racist.

"Donald Trump does not mean any black people any good," said Crystal Jackson, who has owned the C-Spot barbershop in northwest Detroit for the past seven years.

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Furigana-like glossing in Mandarin

On Language Log, we have often touched upon the use of furigana ruby to gloss kanji (Chinese characters) for various purposes, most recently in the comments to "Roman-letter Mandarin pronoun of indeterminate gender " (8/9/16).

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The love organ of many names

British comedian Richard Herring is the author of a 2003 book entitled Talking Cock: A Celebration of Man and his Manhood, so he naturally seized upon the republicization opportunity provided by the recent story of the world's first successful penis transplant. He made it the topic of his weekly humor column in The Metro, the trashy free newspaper that I sometimes reluctantly peruse in my constant search for linguistic developments that might be of interest to Language Log readers.

In a bravura display of diversity of lexical choice, Herring contrived to use a different euphemism for the anatomical organ every time he could find an excuse for mentioning it, which, believe me, was a lot. And he left me pondering a serious lexicographical question: just how many euphemisms are there for the appendage in question?

[Unusually, this post is restricted to adult males. Please click "Read the rest of this entry" to confirm that you are male and over 18.]

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Moving house with military precision

I just moved house this week. (Had to. Lease unexpectedly terminated on the second day of classes in the new academic year. Gaaahh!) Colleagues and friends keep asking me how it went. I've decided that the right thing to say is: "It all went like a military operation."

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Josh Marshall, "Did Dave Brat Fib About Princeton?", TPM 6/11/2014:

The Post suggests that Brat was trying to give would-be supporters the sense he locked horns with the elites on an Ivy League campus. And if that was the plan or the impression. That's really not right. But picture, I don't think there's much to see here. As a gotcha, it's an extremely weak one.


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My country

Sima (long-term resident in China) from writes:

I've been a regular Sina Weibo [VHM:  PRC clone of Twitter] user for some time and enjoy default news updates on my phone. Each update usually has two stories and, of late, almost invariably, one is about the outing of a corrupt official (cash, apartments, mistresses) and the second is about the latest 'play' over those rocks in the sea near Taiwan.

My latest update says:


[VHM: wǒ hǎi jiān chuán zài rù Diàodǎo jùjué Rìběn kàngyì
literal rendering of each syllable or word:  I / We sea surveillance ship(s) again enter Fishing Island reject Japan protest]

Whilst I'm used to expressions like 我国 [VHM:  wǒguó {"my / our country"}], which I wilfully employ when talking about 'my England', much to some people's disgust, and 我校 [VHM:  wǒxiào {"my / our school"}], which I actually write in articles and official documents relating to the school cricket team [VHM:  in China] (which I may have bored you about at some time), I'm not accustomed to such flexible employment of 我.

Do you know whether this use of 我校, 我国, etc. has a long history (i.e., pre-1949, or pre-1919)? Can 我 be freely applied? Is there a name for this phenomenon?

It reminds me a little of Western attitudes to sports teams; 'we won the world cup', when obviously said cup was won by eleven or so over-paid men who kick balls for a living, and not (usually) by the speaker himself.

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