Archive for Language play

Character-shape wordplay

[This is a guest post by David Moser]

I happened to notice the following bit of character-shape play on a YouTube site called "Wen Zhao tangu lunjin" 《文昭谈古论今》。 He's talking about the tourists on Hainan island who were stuck there after a sudden Covid breakout.  In expressing the observation that these sudden incidents occur time and time again, he used a four-character phrase that is evidently a new Internet slang, 又双叒叕 yòu shuāng ruò zhuó, in which each subsequent character adds another 又 component, a visual representation of the concept "over and over again".

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Half-vast ideas

A CNN interview with former National Security Adviser John Bolton about the January 6th hearings is getting lots of attention for his casual observation, "As somebody who has helped plan coups d'état — not here, but, you know, other places — it takes a lot of work."

Shortly before that (about 40 seconds into the above video clip), there was another notable line, in which Bolton dismissed the idea that Donald Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election results constituted "a carefully planned coup d'état":

That's not the way Donald Trump does things. It's rambling from one half-vast idea to another. One plan that falls through and another comes up.

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A little Sinograph game

For cognoscenti.

Directions

Here's an amazing little game that was played by two of the brightest Sinology PhD candidates I've ever met.  It is a conversation between X and Y.  Y initiated the conversation by typing to X, without telling X the secret of the game.  When X received Y's first message, she immediately got what Y meant.  She understood as soon as she received his e-mail, then replied to him (by typing) in the same manner that he wrote to her.  And so off they went on their merry way in Lexiland!

Here I copy-paste this little hànzì yóuxì 汉字游戏 for Language Log readers who are well-versed in Sinographs and want to give it a try.  Even those who do not know any Chinese characters might still be able to gain a sense of how the game proceeds and what it signifies.

The "answer sheet” is at the bottom of this post. Please scroll down to the very, very end to see the answers. However, don’t look at the dá'àn 答案 ("solution") before trying really hard by yourself!

Warning!

This game is devilishly difficult.

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"Tigger Chen" and "Instant Noodle Sister"

In "Fly High, Frog Princess! Well Done, Chen No. 3!  The world’s most popular Olympians are household names. But to Chinese fans who delight in creating nicknames, they’re different characters entirely", Andrew Keh and John Liu (NYT, 2/15/22) highlight some of the affectionate monikers that have been applied to athletes at the Beijing Winter Olympics.  Here I extract several of the favorites:

Chén Sān 陈三 ("Chen No. 3") = Nathan Chen (figure skater), three-time World champion, three-time Grand Prix Final champion.

[This nickname] requires some understanding of international figure skating history. In the eyes of Chinese skating fans, he is the third prominent skater from North America with the Chinese surname Chen, which, in English, can also be spelled Chin, Chan or Tan, depending on the original dialect. Before him came Tiffany Chin, who was the U.S. national champion in 1985, and Patrick Chan, the 2018 Olympic gold medalist from Canada.

Chen's Chinese name is Chén Wēi 陈巍; some fans call him “Tigger” (Tiàotiào hǔ 跳跳虎), using the Chinese translation for the Winnie the Pooh character.

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Pinyin vs. characters

From Dotno Pount:

I received this poster in Chinese and thought you would enjoy it! It captures the Catch-22 of talents and careers very nicely, I think.

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Englishy Chinese

In a moment of whimsy, I concluded a note to a friend thus: 

wǎng qiánmiàn kànzhe 往前面看著 ("looking forward")

Whereas, the usual way to express that idea in idiomatic Chinese would be:

qídài 期待 ("expect; look forward to; await; wait in hope")

I referred to my intentionally deformed Chinese as Yīngshì Zhōngwén 英式中文 ("English style Chinese") and asked some friends what they would call that kind of writing (I was searching for a parallel to "Chinglish").

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Parenthetical, alphabetical, ironical commentary in Sinographic texts

Occasionally I see pinyin (spelling) interspersed with Sinographs (usually for phonetic annotation), but this one threw me for a loop:

Yěxǔ (jué duì) shì, gāi lǐngyù zuì qiángdà de jiǎngzhě zhènróng.

也许(jué duì)是,该领域最强大的讲者阵容。

"Perhaps (definitely) it's the case that this is the strongest lineup of speakers in this field.

It occurs about two thirds of the way down in this Chinese article.

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Another multilingual, multiscriptal sign in Taiwan

Mark Swofford sent in this photograph of a clever, curious sign at an automobile repair shop in Taiwan:

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Sumomomomomomomomo

That's the name of a three-year-old filly who had a maiden win at a Tokyo racecourse on November 1, 2021, as described in "Japanese Tongue Twisters", by Richard Medhurst, nippon.com (Nov 17, 2021).

The horse takes her name from the following Japanese tongue twister: Sumomo mo momo mo momo no uchi (スモモも、モモも、モモのうち), meaning “Both sumomo and peaches are kinds of peaches.”

A sumomo is a kind of plum (Prunus salicina), sometimes called the “Japanese plum,” although not to be confused with the famous ume. Botanically, it cannot really said to be a kind of peach (momo), which is only a close relation (Prunus persica). Still, the linguistic connection might be enough; at the word level, at least, we could say a sumomo is a kind of momo.

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Data, information, knowledge, insight, wisdom, and Conspiracy Theory

The relationships among these different types of knowing has always been something that intrigued me.  Now it's all spelled out diagrammatically:

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Please stoop

Photograph from Paul M in Taipei:

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Go protest on Causeway Road

From the Facebook page of the Hong Kong poet, Tammy Ho Lai-Ming, president of PEN Hong Kong, as reproduced in Andrea Lingenfelter, "At This Moment, Everyone Is a Revolution: The Poems of Tammy Ho Lai-Ming and the Hong Kong Crisis", Blog // Los Angeles Review of Books (8/4/19):

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Wo'men's'da'y

Tong Wang ran into this picture today in Beijing:

image.png

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