Archive for Idioms

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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Moth eyebrows: lectio difficilior et tertium comparationis

Dieter Maue, a specialist on Old Uyghur, Tocharian, Sanskrit, and Brahmi script, wrote to ask:

The simile 'like the moon of the third day' (tertium comparationis: delicate, graceful; curved (eyebrows)) is currently occupying my mind. Attested in Tocharian A and in Uigur, it sounds, but it doesn't seem to be, Indian.

Tentatively I have translated Uig. üč yaŋıdakı ay täŋri ‘third day’s moon god’ into Chinese word for word; but sān rì yuè 三日月("moon of the third day") is not found in the dictionaries. In the Chinese Tripitaka, there is just one suitable instance. Elsewhere, the moon of the third day seems to be called éméi yuè 蛾眉月 ("moth eyebrow moon" — only poetically?). According to Giles (ChinEnglDict s.no. 7714 ): “ éméi 蛾眉 moth eyebrows, – alluding to the delicate curved eye-markings of the silkworm moth … moth-eyebrows is used figuratively for a lovely girl.   Also wrongly explained as referring to the small curved antennæ of the silkworm moth. ­ Éméi yuè 蛾眉月‚ the crescent moon’. “  The antennae of Bombyx mori are clearly visible, while I cannot find anything which corresponds to  the “eye-markings”. Do you have an idea how to solve the problem?

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Chinese fuzzwords and slanguage of the year 2021

If you want to get an idea of what preoccupies Chinese people, one good way is to take a gander at current lingo. SupChina provides a convenient compilation from two authoritative sources.  In the past, I've been disappointed by many Chinese words of the year lists because they seemed to have been blatantly chosen by government bureaus with a political bias in mind.  The lists assembled below strike me as more genuine and less skewed toward the wishes of authorities.  That is to say, they match well with my own perception of what people are thinking and talking about on a daily basis, and the words they use to express themselves.  So here goes:

"China’s top buzzwords and internet slang of 2021"

Two year-end lists of popular slang words and internet catchphrases were published this week. The words offer a glimpse into what’s on the minds of Chinese internet users and Chinese government officials. Here are all 16 words on the lists.

Andrew Methven, SupChina (12/8/21)

The fact that four of the expressions appear on both lists is reassuring that they represent actual preferences of Chinese citizens.

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Slang and fillers not allowed

From Jerry Friedman:

A secondary school in London banned various slang and "filler" expressions in formal contexts.  Linguists consulted by the Guardian don't think it's a good idea (though I wonder whether all the people consulted were linguists).

"Oh my days: linguists lament slang ban in London school:  Exclusive: ‘like’, ‘bare’, ‘that’s long’ and ‘cut eyes at me’ among terms showing up in pupils’ work now vetoed in classroom", by Robert Booth, The Guardian (9/30/21)

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Girlie men in the PRC, part 2

Why words matter.

Just talking about this strange locution, "niángpào 娘炮" (slang for "sissy; effeminate man"), let us hear what a necessarily anonymous PRC citizen has to say about it:

I think the CCP is widening its dictatorship under the veil of / through its social morality cultivation in various aspects these days, and that it bans "娘炮" from the entertainment industry (“boycotting being overly entertaining”) functions as one of its schemes to instill the antecedent atmosphere.

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I'm (like)

Yesterday, I had a ride with a young man (age 23) from East Liverpool, Ohio to Irwin, Pennsylvania, a distance of about 70 miles, so we had the opportunity for a good talk.  He is a tow truck operator by trade, but was also acting as a taxi driver to earn some extra income.

We had a nice, free-flowing conversation covering all sorts of interesting topics:  his work as a tow truck driver, the ceramics industry in that Tri-State (Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia) corner of the world, his 12-year-old niece winning the first demolition derby of her life and getting a 6-foot-high trophy plus a prize of $1,200 at the Hookstown County Fair, and much else besides.

Fairly early in our conversation, I noticed an unusual feature of the young man's speech, the prevalence of the word "I'm" at the beginning of sentences.

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GE

The particle "ge 個/个" is one of the most frequent characters in written Chinese (12th in a list of 9,933 unique characters).  It is generally thought of as a classifier, numerary adjunct, measure word.  Indeed, it functions as the almost universal, default classifier when you're not sure what the correct / proper measure word for a given noun should be.  In addition, "ge" has more than a dozen other definitions and usages, for which see Wiktionary. However, I'm not sure that any dictionary or grammar accounts for a very special usage that I have long been intrigued and enchanted by, namely the "ge" in this type of sentence:

Wǒ máng de gè yàosǐ

我忙得個要死!

"I'm so busy I could die!", i.e., "I'm incredibly busy!"

Here de 得 is a particle marking the complement of degree.

Because I lived with a big household full of Chinese (Shandong) in-laws, I picked this construction up very early in my learning of spoken Mandarin, but I always had a visceral feeling that it was extremely colloquial and unlikely to be encountered in written texts and was probably not covered in conventional grammars.  So I asked around among colleagues and native speaker informants how they would explain this unusual "ge", grammatically or otherwise.  Here are some of the replies I received.

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Yet another literary misreading by Xi Jinping

This one amounts to a Sinitic spoonerism.

In his major July 1 speech celebrating the 100th anniversary of the CCP, Xi Jinping wanted to impress people with this set phrase:

yízhǐqìshǐ

頤指氣使 / 颐指气使

lit. "chin / jaw / cheek — point out / at [with a finger] — haughty attitude / bearing — command / order / dispatch"

i.e., "(arrogantly / contemptuously) give orders; boss people around (by looks and gestures)"

Instead, what came out of his mouth was this:

yíshǐqìzhǐ

頤使氣指

which might be playfully rendered as something like "beatbrow"

This expression goes back to at least the Tang period (618-907).

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"Lying flat" and "Buddha whatever" (part 2)

A week or so ago, we looked at the phenomenon of "lying flat" (see under "Selected readings" below).

Karen Yang writes from China:

Hahahahha, tang ping ["lying flat"] was kind of a hot topic last month, for about one week. Maybe it’s because the College Entrance Exam was on-going, people tended to talk about life attitude such as tang ping or work hard. But you know how fast the Internet in China moves on,  so I wouldn’t say tang ping is a significant movement.

On the other hand, foxi (佛系) is a rather more frequently used word similar to tang ping. Basically it describes that young generations in East Asia, especially in Japan, tend to be indifferent or even negative about money, promotion, marriage, raising kids and so on, just like a Buddha. It’s an attitude in response to the heavy pressure brought by social development. 

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Rain rises

It rained for the last two or three days, so someone wrote me a note saying she was looking forward to "ameagari no aozora 雨上がりの青空" ("blue sky after the rain").  I knew what she meant, but when I started to analyze the semantics of the verb, I was drawn into a vortex of uncertainty about how the simple verb "agaru 上がる", whose primary meaning is "rise; go up", could mean "stop".  That, however, is to look at the kanji shàng 上 with the eyes of a specialist in Sinitic languages, where it has these meanings:

preposition:  on; above; upon; on top of

adjective:  upper; last; previous; superior; preceding; topmost; overhead; higher; better

adverb:  up

verb:  rise; go up; board; mount; climb; apply; send in; fill; present; leave for; serve; submit; supply; first  

prefix:  over-

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