Archive for Metaphors

Chinese acronyms

Apollo Wu sent in this list of what he calls "Chinese acronyms" (Romanizations, translations, links, and comments are by VHM):

GJBZ 国家标准 Guójiā biāozhǔn ("National Standard") — this is commonly reduced still further to "GB"

YDYL 一带一路 Yīdài yīlù ("One Belt, One Road" or "Belt and Road")

RMB 人民币 Rénmínbì ("RMB", the Chinese yuan)

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Bear talk

The bear seems a particularly fecund source of images, metaphors, memes, and symbols.  I'm currently preparing a Language Log post on words for bear in Sinitic and in languages with which it was in contact.  At the same time, I'm editing a closely reasoned and heavily documented philological study of bear words and lore by Diana Shuheng Zhang for Sino-Platonic Papers.  I'm hoping that both of them can be published by the end of this month or the early part of December.  In the meantime, as an interim offering, here are some notes on interesting expressions involving the word for bear in Northeastern colloquial speech.

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Metaphor wrestling

Michael Birnbaum, "E.U. rejects Boris Johnson's Brexit proposal, raising prospect of chaotic break within weeks", WaPo 10/3/2019:

"There are problematic points in the U.K.'s proposal, and further work is needed," said European Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud.

Although British Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay had admonished that the ball was in the European Union's court, Bertaud emphasized, "This work is for the U.K. to do, not the other way around."

"We are not going to be the ones left holding the bag, the ball or any other kind of object," she added — reflecting a fear on the European side that Johnson is setting them up to take the blame for a Brexit failure.

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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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