Pretend dog

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Zabrina Lo has a new article in Zolima CityMag titled "Pop Cantonese: 裝假狗 – Installing a Fake Dog" (10/24/19).  It begins thus:

In film sets in Hong Kong, one often hears the phrase zong1 gaa2 gau2 (裝假狗) – literally "installing a fake dog." It isn't too implausible to associate the first two characters with installing props or faking an act for filming purposes, but surely not every movie is about dogs, and what does it even mean to install a fake one?

Dogs have long had a pejorative connotation in Chinese culture, as University of Pennsylvania sinologist Victor Mair notes in his paper "Of Dogs and Old Sinitic Reconstructions." There are many derogatory expressions associated with dogs, such as zau2 gau2 (走狗, "go dog," a traitor), keoi5 hou2 gau2 (佢好狗, "the person very dog," the person is such an asshole), gau2 naam4 neoi5 (狗男女, "dog men and women," awful men and women) and gau2 ngaan5 hon3 jan4 dai1 (狗眼看人低, "dogs' eyes look people down," powerless people looking down on others). In all these cases, dogs are frequently referred to a person's vulgarity, unworthiness or lack of integrity.

After a bit of interesting historical background reaching back to Emperor Jing (188-141 BC) of the Han Dynasty, Lo explains some of the linguistic niceties of the term gau2 狗 as used in contemporary Cantonese:

In Cantonese, the pronunciation of the word gau2 (狗) is similar to one of the five main vulgar words gau1 (㞗), which refers to male genitals. To avoid profanity, the original swear word has been replaced by its derogatory—but not vulgar—homonym. Frequently in the film industry, when directors wish to suggest nudity without showing the private parts of actors and actresses on screen, they ask the cast to "install a fake dog," meaning that the actors' and actresses' private parts will be covered with models or costumes imitating what should not be shown.

Following a discussion of the alternative origin of the expression in "beware of the dog" signs when property owners didn't actually have a dog, Lo takes another historical excursion showing how the usage may apply in scenarios where "something real is replaced by an imitation, or when someone tries to conceal their weakness through pretence".  The example she gives is the famous Three Kingdoms (220-280) legend of Zhuge Liang "borrowing arrows with straw[-filled] boats" (cǎo chuán jiè jiàn 草船借箭).  Here's a nice version of the story for language learners in Hanyu Pinyin, Chinese characters, and English translation, and here's an encyclopedia article on the origins and evolution of this chéngyǔ 成語 ("set phrase").

I would like to focus for a moment on Lo's first example of other dog-related expressions, viz., "zau2 gau2 走狗" [MSM zǒugǒu], which she explains literally as "go dog" and figuratively as "a traitor".  This term is usually rendered as "lackey / lacquey; servile follower; running dog; lap dog; bad people's sidekick"

See the usage note in the online CantoDict:

The meaning of "run" [for 走] is mainly used in Cantonese [zau2], not in Mandarin. However, we can still find some idiomatic usage of "run" in Standard Written Chinese, e.g. 走馬,* **.

*zǒumǎ-kànhuā (lit. "flower viewing from galloping horseback" (set phrase)​; fig. "superficial understanding from cursory observation; to make a quick judgment based on inadequate information; gain a superficial understanding through cursory observation; give only a passing glance at things; give a hurried and cursory glance")   Source

**bēnzǒu-xiānggào ("lose no time in telling each other; pass the news from mouth to mouth; speed the news from one to another")

I would elaborate further by saying that the original meaning of 走 in Old Sinitic was "run; jog", an archaic meaning which is retained in Cantonese and other southern topolects, whereas in modern Sinitic languages such as Mandarin, this has transformed into "walk" (the word for "run" in MSM is pǎo 跑).

Middle Sinitic: /t͡səuX/, /t͡səuH/

Old Sinitic:

(BaxterSagart): /*[ts]ˤoʔ/

(Zhengzhang): /*ʔsoːʔ/, /*ʔsoːs/

Source

The temporal and spatial vagaries of just this one characters show the perils of maintaining that there is only a single Sinitic language throughout time and space, and there are thousands of other similar examples that could be adduced.

[h.t. Reid Mitchell]



5 Comments

  1. Chris Button said,

    October 28, 2019 @ 5:36 pm

    I would elaborate further by saying that the original meaning of 走 in Old Sinitic was "run; jog", an archaic meaning which is retained in Cantonese and other southern topolects, whereas in modern Sinitic languages such as Mandarin, this has transformed into "walk" (the word for "run" in MSM is pǎo 跑).

    走 is used for "run" in Japanese too.

    It's original meaning was probably more on the "jog" side though given the attestation of 奔 (Qiu Xigui has a brief discussion of this in his Chinese Writing book)

  2. Chris Button said,

    October 28, 2019 @ 8:09 pm

    Then again, perhaps the differentiation only occurred later.

    夭 being the earliest attested form with one foot 止 being added to give 走 or three feet to give 奔 in the later bronze forms

  3. Chris Button said,

    October 29, 2019 @ 5:01 am

    Tangentially, the part I appreciated most about Prof. Mair's paper on dogs was the suggestion that 狗 *káwʔ and 犬 *kʰʷə́ɲʔ were different loans from Indo-European of the same lexical item into Old Chinese. We discussed it here:

    https://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=36996.

  4. Michael Watts said,

    October 29, 2019 @ 11:20 pm

    the original meaning of 走 in Old Sinitic was "run; jog", an archaic meaning which is retained in Cantonese and other southern topolects, whereas in modern Sinitic languages such as Mandarin, this has transformed into "walk" (the word for "run" in MSM is pǎo 跑).

    What was the original meaning of 跑? Did the character exist in Old Sinitic? If not, when did it arise?

  5. Chris Button said,

    October 30, 2019 @ 10:08 pm

    Pulleyblank's lexicon has páo 跑 with a definition of "paw the ground. Graph now used for an unrelated word, pǎo run."

    Thinking of how a horse paws the ground, I'm curious as to why he considers them ultimately unrelated…

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