Archive for Idioms

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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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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