The typhoon that struck Okinawa a few days ago and is now passing by Tokyo is called Neoguri. It gets it name from a Korean word meaning "raccoon dog".
The Japanese refer to it as Taifū 8-gō Neoguri 台風８号ネオグ リ ("Typhoon No. 8 Neoguri"), but most often without the "Neoguri" (see below for discussion of Japanese typhoon designation practices). However, the Chinese are calling it Huànxióng 浣熊 ("raccoon"), which is a clear mistranslation. The Chinese name for the raccoon dog is hé 貉 or háozi 貉子.
Bathrobe, who called Neoguri to my attention, writes: "Chinese has got itself in knots over naming precisely because of Chinese characters."
The crux of the matter lies in the fact that, for Chinese, lí 狸 means ("raccoon"), while for Japanese it is the celebrated tanuki 狸 ("raccoon dog"), about which we will have much to say in this post. While the tanuki is ubiquitous in Japanese folklore, legend, and art, Language Log readers outside of Japan may be familiar with this endearing creature mainly through the 1994 Japanese animated fantasy film produced by Hayao Miyazaki entitled Heisei Tanuki Gassen Ponpoko 平成狸合戦ぽんぽこ ("Heisei-era Raccoon Dog War Ponpoko").
The Chinese are digging in their heels on this, with the head of the Central Weather Bureau Forecast Center (Zhōngyāng qìxiàng jú yùbào zhōngxīn 中央氣象局預報中心) insisting that Huànxióng 浣熊 ("raccoon") is the correct translation of Neoguri.
See also "The origin of the name" in this article on the China dictionary website.
I should note that Yao's article is titled "Neoguri shì huànxióng ma? Neoguri 是浣熊嗎?" ("Does 'Neoguri' mean 'raccoon'?") and subtitled "Zhōngguó rén yào yǒu yīgè sīwéi gémìng 中國人要有一個思維革命" ("Chinese people need a revolution in their thinking / thought / cogitation")
Footnote 5 may also be of interest to Language Log readers:
Xiànzài cháng tīng rén shuō, Hànyǔ yīng kě chéngwéi guójì yǔyán. Dànshì Hànyǔ miáoshù xiànjīn shìjiè, kùnnán chóngchóng, chángcháng chūcuò, qiě nào xiàohuà, yòu bùnéng róngnà qítā yǔyán. Shìwèn: Hànyǔ rúhé kěyǐ chéngwéi guójì yǔyán?
現在常聽人說, 漢語應可成為國際語言。但是漢語描述現今世界, 困難重重, 常常出錯, 且鬧笑話, 又不能容納其他語言。試問：漢語如何可以成為國際語言?
"Nowadays we often hear people say that Sinitic / Chinese should be able to become an international language, but there are innumerable difficulties in describing the modern world with Chinese, and mistakes are frequent and laughable. Moreover, Chinese cannot accommodate other languages. Allow me to ask: how can Chinese become an international language?"
Incidentally, Yao was formerly a professor of mathematics at The University of Hong Kong, which may account for his perspicuity.
The raccoon dog bears an amazing resemblance to the raccoon, and in some respects even acts like a raccoon (e.g., it climbs trees), but it is actually a kind of dog and belongs to the biological family of dogs, Canidae. Thus it is more closely related to foxes (also belonging to Canidae), at least one species of which, the gray fox, climbs trees (see here, the second paragraph) The raccoon, on the other hand, belongs to the family called Procyonidae.
While the markings on the face of the raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides) are uncannily similar to those of a raccoon (Procyon lotor), the raccoon dog lacks the distinctive banded tail and semi-prehensile front paws of the raccoon.
Since "procyon" figures in the scientific name of both the raccoon (genus) and raccoon dog (species), let us take a closer look at this superficially forbidding term. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, Procyon is a:
bright star in constellation Canis Minoris, 1650s, from Latin, from Greek prokyon, from pro "before" (see pro-) + kyon "dog" (see canine (n.)); so called from its rising just before the "Dog Star," Sirius. By Roman astronomers, sometimes Latinized as Antecanis.
By the way, for fans of the Online Etymology Dictionary in East Asia, there is now a brand-new, official app for China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao.
In Japanese, the raccoon dog is called tanuki, a mysterious, lovable creature that is the source of an enormous amount of folklore and folk art. Its representation can be found in front of Japanese restaurants and other establishments, usually with grossly exaggerated scrotum.
At this point, I would like to introduce an extraordinary site on Japanese Buddhism (esp. statuary) and folklore. This page is about the TANUKI, but see along the left side for many other subjects. The author, Mark Schumacher, holds a graduate degree in Japanese Studies from SAIS (Johns Hopkins). Although the site is primarily about the Japanese subjects I mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph, it also includes a vast amount of information about related Chinese subjects.
Returning to the basic terms of this discussion, in Chinese we have hé 貉 ("badger; raccoon dog"; in Japanese this character would be pronounced mujina ["badger; raccoon dog"]) and háo 貉子 ("raccoon dog"; this term doesn't exist in Japanese). Never mind that 貉 is pronounced mò when it means 貊 ("leopard"; name of a tribe in northeastern China). So far as I know, the most common term for "raccoon" in MSM is huànxióng 浣熊 (lit., "washing bear"), which I remember learning and using more than forty years ago.
The fact that the most common word in Chinese for raccoon literally means "washing bear" struck me as odd at the time I first learned it, but now that I am revisiting the word and thinking about it intensively, I am prompted to look at the etymology of the English word "raccoon" and related words for this adorably quirky animal in other languages.
The word "raccoon" was adopted into English from the native Powhatan term, as used in the Virginia Colony. It was recorded on Captain John Smith's list of Powhatan words as aroughcun, and on that of William Strachey as arathkone. It has also been identified as a Proto-Algonquian root *ahrah-koon-em, meaning "[the] one who rubs, scrubs and scratches with its hands".
Similarly, Spanish colonists adopted the Spanish word mapache from the Nahuatl mapachitli of the Aztecs, meaning "[the] one who takes everything in its hands". In many languages, the raccoon is named for its characteristic dousing behavior in conjunction with that language's term for bear, for example Waschbär in German, orsetto lavatore in Italian, mosómedve in Hungarian and araiguma (アライグマ) in Japanese. In French and Portuguese (in Portugal), the washing behavior is combined with these languages' term for rat, yielding, respectively, raton laveur and ratão-lavadeiro.
Note especially that, aside from the transliteration in katakana of the English word, rakūn ラクーン, the raccoon is also called araiguma アライグマ (the Ministry of the Environment does not use characters for the animal, only katakana; if written in kanji, it would be 洗い熊), which means precisely "washing bear". Curiously, this coincides exactly with the most common name in MSM for the animal, viz., huànxióng 浣熊, which could be added to the Wikipedia article quoted just above.
In a personal note and also on his site, Mark Schumacher mentions that the tanuki 狸 (var. 貍) is conflated with the mujina 貉 ("badger"). In fact, he says, it is the mujina that comes first to Japan. The mujina are mentioned only twice in the Nihon Shoki 日本書紀 (Japan's oldest text ). For reasons unknown, the mujina disappear from Japanese literature after the 8th century and do not reappear until the 18th century, when they are conflated with (by then) popular tanuki 狸.
Nathan Hopson observes that 狸 is a wonderfully descriptive kanji, in that the tanuki was perhaps the most familiar beast (⺨) seen in and around settlements (里). That may be an overstatement, but the tanuki was a frequent nocturnal visitor in many rural areas — and even urban ones, if I understand correctly — until quite recently.
While we are wrestling with the linguistic terminology and biological classification of raccoons (Procyonidae) and raccoon dogs (Canidae), we might as well take care of pandas, both because they are also attractive to humans, but also because their zoological classification has long been in doubt.
The Chinese call the giant panda dà xióngmāo 大熊貓 ("big bear cat") and the red panda xiǎo xióngmāo 小熊貓 ("little bear cat"), but neither of them are cats (Felidae).
According to UCSB ScienceLine,
…for a long time people have disagreed about whether ginat pandas and red pandas were bears or raccoons. Until some new technology came along, they mostly had to look at bones and teeth. Scientists have used DNA to find out that the giant panda is more closely related to the other bears than to the raccoons.
Giant pandas are in the family Ursidae with the seven other bear species. Raccoons are in the family Procyonidae, along with ring-tails and coatis. The bear family and raccoon family are closely related.
Red pandas (often called lesser pandas) are now put in the raccoon family.
Now that we've got our animals straightened out, how about our typhoons?
In general, the Japanese eschew the international naming system and stick to numbers.
So we get only 750 or so hits for "台風８号ネオグリ" on Google as opposed to about 8.7 million for 台風８号 (1.3 from Google News alone). [VHM: These numbers are from several days ago. Although they are understandably much greater now, the proportions are similar.]
Numerical naming is probably not a bad idea given that female-named hurricanes cause more damage because people don't take them seriously. No, seriously.
Frank Chance adds:
My only observation is that the naming of storms is ridiculous. Calling them by their number makes so much more sense. The only reason the Japanese have added ネオグ リ is that the Western-language media insist on calling storms by name.
For those who are interested in how the names of typhoons in Asia are determined, there is a thorough explanation here.
Out of 140 names, twenty are Korean (10 from North Korea and 10 from South Korea). Korean names include those that mean ant, lily, rose, and swallow (South Korea), rainbow, echo, pine tree, sunset (North Korea), etc. The raccoon dog (neoguri) was proposed by South Korea.
And how do we say "Neoguri" in English? Bob Ramsey will have the last word to this long post:
I had to laugh though. On US news reports the announcer pronounced Neo as you'd expect of English speakers: like the hero of the Matrix series. Not exactly an optimal romanization for speakers of English!
[Thanks to Michael Carr, Cecilia Segawa Seigle, Haewon Cho, and Hiroko Sherry]