East Asian Trumponyms

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Last year, we looked at various transcriptions of Trump's surname:

Now, in "Why China Won’t Pressure North Korea as Much as Trump Wants," New Yorker (Sept. 19, 2017), Evan Osnos writes:

Chinese intellectuals have taken to joking that “Telangpu”—which is one of the Chinese pronunciations of Trump’s name—sounds like “te meipu,” which means clueless or lacking a plan.

There's some discussion on Twitter here about how best to translate tè méipǔ 特沒譜.  Since the Twitter discussion was not conclusive, let's take a closer look, starting with the individual syllables:

tè 特 ("especially; particularly")
méi 沒 ("hasn't; haven't; not")
pǔ 譜 can mean lots of things, as outlined here:

register; list; table
(music) score
to set (a poem, etc.) to music
(colloquial) grasp; foundation; confidence
(colloquial) airs

Also "guidebook; manual; genealogy", etc.

So, character by character, the syllables mean "especially-has no-register / list / table / manual / spectrum / (music) score".

Tè 特 ("especially; particularly") is no problem; it just means tè 特 ("especially; particularly").

When you put the last two syllables together — méipǔ 沒譜 — they become a colloquial expression with idiomatic overtones that transcend the meanings of the individual syllables.  According to various online dictionaries, here are some of the available renderings:

XPCHA and zdic:

topolectal:  be unsure; have no idea
have no plan


to have no idea about sth
to lack bounds or limits
to be unreliable or unsettled

Some dictionaries, such as this one, read the 沒 as mò:

mòpǔer 沒譜兒 ("be unsure; have no idea") — the retroflex er 兒 final is a topolectal feature that adds no special semantic content

Here are comments by native speakers on the meaning of the expression under discussion:

Méipǔr 没谱儿 means someone has no idea of the current / future happening.
Likewise, kàopǔr 靠谱儿 is used to describe someone who is dependable, for he / she has a clear idea in mind.
I figure they are all northernisms (běifānghuà 北方话,but somehow became recognized nationwide in the recent few years.

It means "have no idea, have no thoughts, have no plans about something". For example, duìyú míngtiān de ānpái, wǒ hái méipǔr ne 对于明天的安排,我还没谱儿呢 means "for tomorrow's plan, I have no idea about it".

méipǔr 没谱儿 / 沒譜兒 means "doesn't have a plan in mind."  We usually say "xīnlǐ méipǔr 心裡沒譜兒".

Depending on the context, it could mean "not sure," "not certain," "not confident." E.g.

Zhè jiàn shì wǒ yě méipǔr, bù gǎn shuō xíng bùxíng 这件事我也没谱儿,不敢说行不行。("On this matter I'm not sure either, so I don't dare say whether it will work or not").

Or it could mean "don’t know what I am / he is doing," "undependable," e.g.

Zhè rén zuòshì wánquán méipǔr, nǐ kě bùnéng kào tā 这人做事完全没谱儿,你可不能靠他。("This person is completely unreliable in what he does, you can't depend on him".)

Both meanings are closely related. This expression is sort of a metaphor. Pǔr 谱儿 is composed music, méipǔ 没谱 is playing without a score, hence you never know how it will turn out.

This word, méipǔr 没谱儿, means unreliable and uncertain.

tā zhège rén méipǔ'r 他这个人没谱儿 means "he is not reliable".
zhè jiàn shìr hái méipǔr ne 这件事儿还没谱儿呢 means "this matter seems uncertain".
wǒ de gōngzuò hái méipǔr ne 我的工作还没谱儿呢 means "I haven't found a job yet. "
nǐ shénme shíhòu huíjiā? Méipǔr ne. 你什么时候回家?没谱儿呢。 “When will you go home?” "I am not sure. (I haven't decided yet.)"

I guess pǔ 谱 means something like plan or decision. méipǔr 没谱儿 thus means "without any plan". People also use it in questions: zhè shìr dàodǐ yǒu pǔr méi pǔr 这事儿到底有谱儿没谱儿?
Its antonym is kàopǔr 靠谱儿, which means reliable and certain.
I am not sure if it is Pekingese, but I know people in Beijing say it a lot.

In "Dotard" (9/22/17), we examined a North Korean epithet for Trump.  Now South Korea joins the game.  M.J. Lee on CNN, "Inside Politics" (Sept. 24, 2017), said:

I have been paying some attention to how South Korean local media has been reacting to all of this. And there's some buzz going around, because a conservative commentator in South Korea has made up a nickname for Donald Trump, playing off of the sound Trump, giving him a nickname that sounds a little bit like someone who has gone a little mad.

Ben Zimmer asked M.J. on Twitter what the nickname was exactly, and she responded:

The nickname is 도람프 or 도람푸 — a play on the Korean word that means to be crazy/insane/mad.

Krista Ryu remarks:

돌다 (dolda) literally means to turn (v).
But when you use it after the word "head" or directly to a person, it can mean you are crazy or "nuts".
So it is a combination of this verb and the name Trump.
Trump in Korean transliterated would be Teuleompeu 트럼프
(Some one is crazy) dol-assda 돌았다 ("turned")
–> dolampeu 도람프

Haewon Cho comments:

According to my quick research, the commentator used 도람뿌 (Doramppu  – RR) to address Trump when he is not living up to his name (trump card). 도람뿌 is a combination of 돌+아이 (dol + ai – RR, meaning "weirdo, crazy guy") and Trump: dola + mp –> dolamppu. The term 돌아이dolai is a less offensive/more polite replacement for the term 또라이 (ttorai, crazy person).
And yes, 돌다 dolda (the infinitive form of 돌았다 doratda, which is the past tense of 돌다) has several meanings and one of them is "to go off one's head."

Theme and variations!

[h.t. Ben Zimmer; thanks to Yixue Yang, Jinyi Cai, Melvin Lee, Jing Wen, Fangyi Cheng, Haewon Cho, and Krista Ryu]

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