Archive for Idioms

Kanji of the year 2022: war

Here are the ten top places in this year's event:

1. 戦 (ikusa / tatakau)* Conflict; war 10,804 votes
2. 安 (an / yasui) Contentment; peace; inexpensive 10,616 votes
3. 楽 (gaku, raku / tanoshii) Enjoyment; ease 7,999 votes
4. 高 ( / takai) High; expensive 3,779 votes
5. 争 ( / arasou) Strife; dispute 3,661 votes
6. 命 (mei; inochi) Life 3,512 votes
7. 悲 (hi / kanashii) Sad; sadness 3,465 votes
8. 新 (shin / atarashii) New 3,070 votes
9. 変 (hen / kawaru, kaeru) Change; strange 3,026 votes
10. 和 (wa / nagomu) Peace; harmony 2,751 votes

(source)

*VHM:  Instead of a slash, there should be a comma between ikusa and tatakau, plus three more Japanese-style readings:  ononoku, soyogu, and wananaku.  There should be a slash before ikusa, preceded by the Chinese-style reading sen in front of the slash.

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Hornet's / hornets' / hornets / hornet nest

Usage is split on this one.  Merriam-Webster goes for "hornet's nest", OED prefers "hornets' nest", and many other dictionaries and websites choose one of the four options listed in the title of this post.

To my mind, logically it should be "hornets' nest" because it's a home that belongs (genitive) to a colony of hornets (plural).

My high school sports teams were called "hornets", so I have a long acquaintanceship with this fearsome insect.

On the other hand, we also find "farmers market" and "farmers' market", usually the former, occasionally "farmer's market", but I don't think I've ever seen "farmer market".

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Catchphrases, mantras, and verbal tics

David Marjanović mentioned Ramzan Kadyrov's verbal tic [dɔːn] (a contraction of the Chechen filler /duj huna/, literally "there is for you"), no matter if he's speaking Chechen or Russian.  That made me wonder what the equivalent would be in other languages?  Something like "ya know" in English?

The common Mandarin word for this type of expression is kǒutóuchán 口頭禪 / 口头禅 ("catchphrase; favorite expression; stock phrase; pet phrase; mantra", where kǒutóu 口頭 ["on the mouth / lips; oral"] is the disyllabic modifier of the head noun).  The three constituent morphemes mean "mouth / oral", "head", and "Zen / Chan (< Skt. dhyāna ["meditation"]), i.e., a meditative mantra (from Sanskrit मन्त्र (mantra, literally “instrument of thought”), from Proto-Indo-Aryan *mántram, from Proto-Indo-Iranian *mántram, from Proto-Indo-European *mén-tro-m, from *men- (“to think”). Doublet of mind) that is always on one's lips.

A synonym for kǒutóuchán 口頭禪 / 口头禅 is kǒupǐ 口癖, a slang neologism ("one's favorite expression; stock phrase; pet phrase", where pǐ 癖 means "craving; disposition; addiction; weakness for; habit"), which is an orthographic borrowing from Japanese kuchiguse 口癖 ("phrase that one uses regularly").

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Useless as a soup sandwich

jin defang asked: 

New expression, or at least new to me: soup sandwich.  All that meant to me was an option at Panera, which didn’t fit the context. So I asked the last person who used it, Fred, and this is his reply.  (I also didn’t know what FUBAR meant but that was on google).

Fred's reply to jin defang:

I think it’s a Navy saying, at least that’s where I first heard and used it.

It’s used kind of like FUBAR only it’s an intentional mixed metaphor or non sequitur…like the saying “it ain’t rocket-surgery”.  

Saying it’s a ‘soup-sandwich’ is essentially saying it’s FUBARed.

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Jichang Lulu

That's the name of a treasured Language Log reader and contributor (see under "Selected Readings").  When I asked him how to write that in Sinoglyphs, he told me that it is this:

飢腸轆轆 / simpl. 饥肠辘辘

Wanting to get the tones, I typed "jichanglulu" into Google Translate (GT), but forgot to click the space bar to make the conversion to characters with Hanyu Pinyin transcription complete with tones.  When I pressed the speaker button to hear how that sounded, what came out was something like Mandarin with an English accent, but still perfectly intelligible:  "jichanglulu".  It resembled the Mandarin produced by the strangers on the street who read off the Pinyin texts handed to them by my wife, Li-ching Chang.  She was always delighted when she heard them pronouncing Mandarin without ever having studied it.  "Jichanglulu" — see, you can say it too!

Adding the tones, we get jīcháng lùlù.  What does this somewhat odd assortment of sounds signify?

GT says "hungry", more literally, "hungry intestines are rumbling".

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Wind head

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Ask Language Log: "He who plays with fire will get burned"

From Claudia Rosett:

I have a question about a phrase that China’s foreign ministry attributed to Xi in his call with Biden last week:

In English:  “Those who play with fire will perish by it.”

That phrase, in English translation, is exactly the same as threats Chinese officials issued against Hong Kong during the protests in 2019.

I am wondering if this is a standard threat in Chinese — much as it is a proverb in the West — or something that for effect in English they have swiped from us.

I’m not sure it’s of any great importance which way that goes, but in the cataloguing of PRC threats made in English, it stands out as memorable, a phrase the press latches onto. Perhaps because it is so familiar to us.

If you have any insights on this, I’d be grateful.

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Low-hanging fruit: the history

Someone asked me recently about (sources for exploring) the history of idioms like "low-hanging fruit" in business jargon. Unable to suggest any truly suitable data sources, I did a few of the obvious things.

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Learning Chinese is easy — not

From the Facebook page of a friend:

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Subtleties of slapping

Lately I've been encountering this expression quite a bit on the Chinese internet:

dǎ liǎn 打脸

It seems transparently to mean "slap face", but my Chinese students and friends all characterize it as jargon and netizen slang, and they say that it has only been gaining currency within the last two-three years.

Here I rank "dǎ liǎn 打脸" numerically against other terms for "slap" that I've been acquainted with since I started learning Chinese more than half a century ago.

dǎ liǎn 打脸 ("slap face") 48,700,000 ghits — that was yesterday's tally; this morning it is 59,500,000

dǎ ěrguāng 打耳光 ("box [someone's] ear") 3,420,000 ghits

dǎ yī bāzhang 打一巴掌 ("strike with the palm") 2,300,000 ghits

dǎ zuǐbā 打嘴巴 ("smack on the mouth") 975,000

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Me, myself, and I

This morning, while washing my face and still not fully awake, I heard a rap song on the radio that kept repeating "me, myself, and I".  It started to bother me.  Why would anybody say that?  Why would they say it over and over?  What do they mean by it?

Emma Bryce (TEDEd [8/28/15]) tells us that " 'Me' is an object pronoun, 'I' is a subject pronoun, and 'myself' is a reflexive or intensive / emphatic pronoun."  Well, so what?  What's the point?  What statement are they trying to make?

According to YourDictionary, "me, myself, and I" implies "Only me, me alone, me without companionship."  Fair enough; that makes some sense.

Wiktionary agrees that "me, myself, and I" emphasizes the speaker's aloneness, i.e., only me; myself alone.

English Language & Usage Stack Exchange (5/6/16) tells us that "Me is the physical aspects. Myself is the soulful aspects. I is the spiritual aspects."  I'm not so sure about that, but at least somebody believes it.

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Ginger tea

[This is a guest post by Mark Swofford]

Those who have never lived in northern Taiwan during the winter may scoff at the idea that 11 °C (52 °F) can seem miserably cold. But cold it is here nevertheless, especially during a week of seemingly endless rain.

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How to pronounce the surname "Mair" and other Doggie talk

People pronounce my surname all sorts of different ways — Myer, Mare, Meer, Mire, as in Golda Meir, etc., etc., with the number of syllables (one or two), accent, and vowel quality varying almost limitlessly  — but I've never once in my life "corrected" anyone, because I think they're all legitimate.  Think of the different ways to pronounce Sun Yat-sen's and Chiang Kai-shek's names, and how to pronounce 陈 (Chen, Chin, Chan, Tan).

After all, people in the same family may pronounce their own surname differently, e.g., Boucher ("Butcher, Boochez"), Naquin ("Na-can, Næ-kwin"), and the famous Penn Sinologist Derk Bodde (1909-2003) introduced himself as "Derek Bod", whereas most other people called him "Durk Bod-de").

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