Archive for Metaphors

The enigma of the black hands

"UPDATE 1-China tells U.S. to remove 'black hands' from Hong Kong"

Reuters   (7/23/19)

China said on Tuesday that U.S. officials were behind violent chaos in Hong Kong and warned against interference, following a series of protests in the city, including bloody clashes on the weekend. "We can see that U.S. officials are even behind such incidents," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying at a regular press briefing on Tuesday.

China's allegations of U.S. "black hands" fomenting unrest in Hong Kong have been all over the news during the last few days.  Politically, no one knows exactly what the PRC is referring to (they haven't given any evidence for the involvement of American officials).  Linguistically, the origin of this expression in Chinese is far from clear.

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Chicken baby

Just to show you how up to date Language Log can be, in this post we'll be talking about a neologism that is only a few weeks old in China.  The term is "jīwá 鸡娃", which literally means "chicken baby / child / doll".

The term surfaced abruptly and began circulating virally on social media, following a heated discussion over two articles on K-12 education (the links are here and here).  The articles are respectively about the fierce competition among parents in Haidian and Shunyi districts of Beijing municipality.  Haidian is a large district in the northwestern part of Beijing with many famous tourist attractions, outstanding universities, and top IT firms.  Shunyi district is in the northeastern part of Beijing.  Although it is not as large and powerful as Haidian, it is also considered a very desirable place to live because of its posh villas, easy access to the international airport, and China's largest international exhibition center, but above all — from a parent's point of view — some of the best private and international schools in the country.

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Mixed metaphor of the week

Andrew Lopez, "David Griffin on staff changes, team makeup and his relationship with Danny Ainge", The Times-Picayune 4/23/2019:

"We're certainly going to add infrastructure. There're really good bones there, they had some very good people here. I don't look at this as a situation where we have to come in a sweep everything away to the studs, but I think what we're going to do is we're going to make sure we get all the right people on the bus. If we do that, titles aside, we get everybody in the right frame of mind and heading in the right direction, then we're going to be successful."

 

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Playing a small abacus

A learned colleague observed:

A few days ago, a Chinese military spokesperson was criticizing U.S. Department of Defense budget priorities.  The spokesperson said, "We have noticed that the U.S. defense department always likes to play 'small abacus' when seeking military budgets, in an attempt to gain more benefits for itself by rendering the threat of other countries [sic]."

From China.org and Xinhua.

The colleague went on to ask:

That must have sounded better in Chinese.  What did he mean by that?  Does it refer to lowballing budgets?  Is it like "penny-wise-pound-foolish?"

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Metaphor mixture of the week

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Spring mud

Sign in a restroom at the Taipei Public Library:

biàn hòu suíshǒu chōng
chūnní liǎo wú hén

便後隨手沖
春泥了無痕

After relieving yourself, don't forget to flush,
So there will be nary a trace of "spring mud".

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"China has no intention to touch the cheese of any country"

A tweet by Kelsey Munro:

https://twitter.com/KelseyMunro/status/1062464615257231360

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Learning curves: up and down, steep and shallow

Daniel Drezner, "Five thoughts about the firing of Rex Tillerson", WaPo 3/13/2018 [emphasis added]:

There is no signature idea or doctrine or accomplishment that Tillerson can point to as part of his legacy. He was woefully unprepared for the job on Day One and barely moved down the learning curve. His incompetence undercut his ability to advance any worthwhile policy instinct.

My reaction on reading this passage was that Drezner should have written that Tillerson "barely moved up the learning curve". As we'll see, this opposition in directional metaphors is apparently a cultural difference between psychology and economics, or maybe among a more complicated set of academic subgroups.  And while I was looking into this issue of directionality, I was reminded of another curious quirk of learning-curve metaphors that I've been meaning to write about for a while, namely the inverted meaning of "steep".

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Ask Language Log: Metaphors for megabytes?

From Bob Ladd:

I have recently become aware that files that in English are too "big" (for example, to send as email attachments) are too "heavy" in French (lourd) and Italian (pesante). Any chance you can post a note asking for the metaphors in all the other languages that LgLog commenters speak?

Update — Based on the comments, there are several other languages where files can be too "heavy". But what about "long", as in tl;dr? That would be another natural metaphor, either in the spatial or the temporal sense.

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Headlessness in North Korean propaganda

[This is a guest post by Jichang Lulu]

After coverage of dotage and DOLtage, as diagnosed by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Victor Mair's latest Korean-themed post deals with a more serious condition: headlessness.

Varieties of the ailment have been reported in, e.g., chickens and compound nouns, but the latter sense would be out of place in KCNA vocabulary; (at least South) Korean linguists would talk of nouns 'lacking a nucleus' (핵어(核語) 없는 haegeo eomneun / 무핵(無核) muhaek 합성명사(合成名詞) hapseong myeongsa) rather than a 'head'. Another candidate for headlessness is the North Korean state itself, per OPLAN 5015 (작전계획(作戰計劃) 5015 jakjeon-gyehoek ogong-iro). Said PLAN involves a 'decapitation' (참수(斬首) chamsu) strike against Kim Jong-un. He's supposedly familiar with the nitty-gritty of the PLAN, reportedly obtained by hacking into South Korean military networks. The South Koreans, rumour has it, are speeding up their defence upgrade plans, so it's understandable any potential decapitees would feel uneasy.

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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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Becoming an adjective

A friend points out to me that according to this Abe Books description of a hardback copy of Jane Jacobs' classic book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, on the back cover it is reported that Toronto Life made the following assertion:

Jane Jacobs has become more than a person. She is an adjective.

If you care to read on, I will do my best to explain the meaning of this comment.

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Mixed metaphor of the month

A friend of mine who works in the Federal government recently received an email posing this rhetorical question:

How do agencies mitigate risks and achieve FedRAMP compliance in multi-tenant environments to successfully pave their way to the cloud?

He naturally wondered whether there can ever be a paved road leading to a cloud. And I naturally wondered how anyone could get paid for writing jargon-laden garbage as bad as this. We can but wonder.

(I actually live in a multi-tenant environment. It's great; all the other tenants are lovely people. But I'm not sure whether I am FedRAMP-compliant. I hope I am.)

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