A Chinese character that is harder to write than "biang"

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From Nick Tursi:

The most difficult Chinese character in the world, it's pronunciation is huáng .Even most of Chinese people don't know how to read it.#language #polyglot #calligraphy

Posted by Tik Tok China on Wednesday, July 15, 2020

According to the person who posted this monstrosity, it's supposed to be pronounced huáng.  Although they don't tell us what it means, they say that "Even most of Chinese people don't know how to read it."  I would say that 99.999+% of Chinese people don't know how to read it, how to write it, and what it means.

Most long-term readers of Language Log are familiar with what was formerly held to be the “hardest character to write”, viz., "biang" of "biangbiang noodles":

"Biang" is variously held to have 56, 57, 62, or … strokes.  Anyone who wishes to do so is welcome to tally up the strokes in huáng, featured in the video at the beginning of this post.

Before people get all excited about this new "hardest character to write", three notes of caution:

1. All Chinese characters must be able to fit in the same size square as all other Chinese characters. Try that with "biang" and "huáng" in any typical font.

2. The Chinese writing system is open-ended, so anyone with enough chutzpah is free to invent their own "hardest Chinese character" at any time.

3. Judging from its constituent elements and overall shape (rectangular [elongated top to bottom]), this freakish symbol has more the quality of a Daoist talisman / tessera / charm / amulet than a typical square-shaped Chinese character, most of which consist of a semantophore and a phonophore.

Don't waste a goodly part of your life by trying to memorize how to write this "character".

 

Selected readings

 



6 Comments »

  1. Victor Mair said,

    July 31, 2020 @ 10:25 am

    From Diana Shuheng Zhang:

    I’m so glad that you talked about the talismanic aspect of this “character” — and personally I don’t even think that this is a character! Perhaps just an artwork. Let's look at its structure and elements. (You can see them at the end of the video.) It first starts with rain 雨 on the top; then moves down to fields 田, earth 土; then in the middle there are, in the chronological order of being written, Phoenix-dragon-fly-ascend-turning-clouds 鳳龍飛升回云; towards the bottom those are wind-deers-mountain 風鹿山. At last, perhaps to imitate the structure of biáng, there is a 走之旁, there is a walking semantic classifier. So, I think this is just an artwork design, using the surface form of a Chinese character. It depicts beautiful scenery with rain, fields, mountains, clouds, wind, animals, and in the end a person “walking around appreciating everything”. Who would not say it’s a kind of cross-border creativity, taking full advantage of the characteristics of the Chinese writing system?

  2. David Moser said,

    August 1, 2020 @ 12:54 am

    By the way, this character clearly has a simplified 简体字 version. Not that it would make the graph any easier. And that's not the point, anyway. It's pronounced huáng, so, perversely, I could simply add a radical at the left of the character, say 扌,to make a new character pronounced huáng, and give it a meaning of, say, "writer's cramp."

  3. Christian Weisgerber said,

    August 1, 2020 @ 3:24 pm

    What kind of pen is that?

  4. Philip Taylor said,

    August 1, 2020 @ 4:33 pm

    Christian, I think that it might be one of these.

  5. reader_not_academe said,

    August 4, 2020 @ 3:08 am

    Re: David Moser: The character does indeed have a simplified version, 迉. In this character, the semantic component 辶 combines with the empty component 尸, which contributes neither meaning nor sound; it is simply a calligraphic shorthand for the original, very complicated sound component on the right, which has fallen into disuse over the centuries. As a mnemonic, suggest “corpse 尸 of a character from times long gone 辶.”

  6. AJ Luxton said,

    August 4, 2020 @ 6:02 pm

    This sort of thing reminds me of being a nerd kid in a family of nerd kids, and how my mother was very proud of teaching us all how to spell "pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis".

    I find that I haven't particularly had cause to do so as an adult, except in the context of discussing stunt words used to showcase spelling abilities!

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