Under the above rubric, my friend Apollo Wu sent around a note (copied below) about the economic impact of the use of Chinese characters in the operation of his business. Since Apollo was for many years (from 1973 to 1998) a top translator in the Chinese Translation Service at United Nations headquarters in New York, he knows whereof he speaks. Among other interesting tidbits that I heard from Apollo over the decades was that, of the official languages of the United Nations (Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Castilian Spanish) Chinese was by far the least efficient and most expensive to process.
Our company tried to pay two PRC women workers, namely Kang Xi 康肸 and Li Di 李頔 for the services provided by them. However, we failed because our Bank in Shenzhen (Nanyang Commercial Bank) did not accept their names [VHM: here Apollo provided an attached screen shot of an electronic communication from the bank informing his company that the names were cuòwù 错误 ("mistaken") and consequently could not be entered in the bank's computer system] .
Prior to making payments, we did have a hard time trying to find out how to input their names with our Pinyin input system. We failed to input the Xi 肸 of the first person as it is not included in the Sogou Pinyin Input (I don't know how my colleague ultimately managed to find the character). The whole affair was very time consuming. We were at the end of our rope when the Bank refused to accept these Chinese names as valid. It may very well be that the ID issuing Authority in China uses a larger character set in creating ID cards, while different banks use different character sets. It really cost a lot of trouble for everybody.
I would like to write something to highlight this incidence in the context of language and economy. In contrast to the practice in the PRC, banks in Hong Kong only accept alphabetized names without any problem. The Pinyin or English names coupled with their respective account numbers provide sufficient accuracy, while avoiding a lot of possible trouble in the use of Chinese text.
By the way, a previous rejection of payment was due to a homophonous character used by us, as Guo Yicheng was mistakenly written as 郭意诚 instead of 郭意成. Subsequently we had to call long distance to find out what character was used by the recipient.
This sort of costly, frustrating delay due to problems with characters is especially galling to Apollo, now a software developer in Hong Kong who has business contacts all over the world.
What is particularly ironic in this case is that xī 肸, while certainly not an everyday word, is contained in the phenomenally popular Xīnhuá zìdiǎn 新华字典 (Xinhua [New China] Character Dictionary), which has sold hundreds of millions of copies in numerous editions and is considered to be the standard dictionary of single characters for common use. The Xīnhuá zìdiǎn contains approximately 10,000 characters, counting variant forms. Considering that there are upwards of 80,000 characters in the total set that font managers must contend with, any character that is in Xīnhuá zìdiǎn cannot be considered to be truly obscure. In fact, the definition for xī 肸 in Xīnhuá zìdiǎn says merely this: "commonly used in a person's name"! So Apollo is not the only businessman or other type of bank client (not to mention workers in post offices, hospitals, colleges and universities, etc) who is going to be having trouble with people who unfortunately have the character xī 肸 in their name.
(For purposes of comparison with the 10,000 characters in the Xīnhuá zìdiǎn and the 80,000+ in mega data bases, "full literacy" in modern Chinese requires a knowledge of between 3,000 and 4,000 characters.)
There are still some more bizarre aspects to the question of xī 肸. Apparently, people who have this character in their names are either oblivious of its meaning or just don't care. Why they would choose it is beyond me. Because it sounds good? But there are more than 200 other characters pronounced xī (forget about the hundreds more pronounced xi in one of the other three tones), some with verifiable, felicitous meanings. Because it looks good? Well, I wouldn't vouch for that; to me it actually looks a little ungainly and ill-proportioned (though I'm prepared for disagreement on that point).
Once we start digging more deeply into xī 肸, the mysteries proliferate, such as that it may also be written with 兮 as the phonophore on the right hand side rather than the awkward (to me) group of four strokes that is there now. And, if we try really hard by going to big dictionaries with classical citations, we discover — lo and behold — that this same character xī 肸 is also pronounced bì (no phonological resemblance to xī!), in which case it signifies the name of an ancient place in what is now Shandong Province. Burrowing still more deeply, we find that xī 肸 actually does have a meaning (or rather did have a meaning two millennia or so ago.), namely, to indicate a spreading or crescendoing sound. Much later, but only when reduplicated, mind you, it came to be used as onomatopoeia for the sound of laughter. In combination with other characters, xī 肸 also entered into disyllabic expressions meaning such things as "adjust / shake / vibrate ornaments / decorations"; "spreading, dispersing" (as of vapors); "thorough interpenetration of numinosity / spirituaility"; "dimly discernable, diaphonous". Once again, I must stress that xī 肸 only acquires these evocative meanings when used in disyllabic expressions with other characters.
Anyway, why anyone (or, more likely, anyone's parents) would want to choose xī 肸 for their personal name — other than that lots of other people have done so — is beyond me, especially in light of the fact that we now know it is causing problems in information processing systems. My advice to everyone: don't inflict xī 肸 on your child, and stay away from it yourself. It will only give you trouble in this modern world of electronic data processing.
I needn't spend so much time and energy on dí 頔. I will say only the following:
It's not in Xīnhuá zìdiǎn (10,000 character range).
It is Hànyǔ dà cídiǎn 汉语大词典 (Unabridged Dictionary of Sinitic) (23,000 character range).
It is fairly often used in personal names.
It is said (in a character dictionary dating back about a thousand years) to mean "good(ness)".
In a word, characters cost (a lot), both for learners and for users, especially in the Electronic Age.