Uncommon words of anguish

« previous post | next post »

From a manual for a thermal printer:

Dǎyìn kòngzhì bǎn nèizhì GB18030 Zhōngwén zìkù, chèdǐ miǎnchú shēngpì zì de kǔnǎo

打印控制板内置 GB18030 中文字库,彻底免除生僻字的苦恼

Printer control panel built-in GB18030 Chinese character, thoroughly remove the uncommon words of anguish

(courtesy of Amy de Buitléir)

A more accurate English translation would be:

Printer control panel with built-in GB18030 Chinese character font, thoroughly removing the anguish brought about by uncommon / obscure characters

"GB" stands for "guóbiāo 国标" ("national standard"), and is used for many technical terms in the PRC (another instance of encroaching digraphia, for which see here and here [with extensive bibliography]).

GB 18030 is a Chinese government standard, described as Information Technology — Chinese coded character set and defines the required language and character support necessary for software in China. GB18030 is the registered Internet name for the official character set of the People's Republic of China (PRC) superseding GB2312. As a Unicode Transformation Format (i.e. an encoding of all Unicode code points), GB18030 supports both simplified and traditional Chinese characters. It is also compatible with legacy encodings including GB2312, CP936, and GBK 1.0.

In addition to the "GB18030 character encoding", this standard contains requirements about which scripts must be supported, font support, etc.


With 70,244 characters, that should cover almost all characters one might encounter, but you can never be absolutely certain, since — for example — some people have extremely rare characters in their name, or sometimes even invent a character for their name, which will still lead to frustration and anguish for anyone who wants to print them.


Selected readings


  1. Phil H said,

    July 18, 2021 @ 7:48 am

    The anguish is very real. My wife had a character in her name that most computers will not reproduce ([石羡]), despite it being relatively common in names in our part of the world, and has been refused bank accounts, credit cards, and a mortgage because of it. In the end she changed her name rather than continue to deal with the hassle. The character is in the standard, but it was too late for us.

  2. Michael Watts said,

    July 18, 2021 @ 11:32 pm

    According to https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%F0%A5%96%84 , is unicode point U+25584. It's been in Unicode since 2001, but it is indeed not recognized by the input method on my phone.

  3. Michael Watts said,

    July 18, 2021 @ 11:32 pm

    I see wordpress seems to object to the character too.

  4. Michael Watts said,

    July 18, 2021 @ 11:35 pm

    Just checking whether inserting an HTML entity will work: 𥖄 𥖄

  5. Phil H said,

    July 19, 2021 @ 12:30 am

    Yeah, there have always been ways to get the character onto a computer, but any given piece of bank software might not recognise it, and any given bank functionary might be unfamiliar with them. We then had trouble when some organisations used the pinyin XIAN in place of the character, but that then made their documentation inconsistent with her national ID card (which had the right character on it) and so yet further bodies would not accept them… It was the standard "mild computer snafu + large inflexible bureaucracy = major headache" equation.

  6. BL said,

    July 19, 2021 @ 1:11 am

    I'm curious – is a Cantonese-only character?

  7. Phil H said,

    July 19, 2021 @ 8:01 am

    @BL if that was addressed to me, I live in Fujian, where they speak Minnanhua (also known as Taiwanese or Hoklo). means diamond in this dialect… so far as I can tell, it only has this meaning in Minnanhua, though it exists as a variant of 羡 in other regions, too.

  8. Jonathan Smith said,

    July 19, 2021 @ 9:50 pm

    Hmmm; apparently (some?) Minnan suān, more typically written 璇… which character is used in names all over (Mand. xuán) and is Sinologist-famous given "璇~璿璣玉衡" of the Shang shu, etc.
    Also here for a tale set in Xiamen similar to that told by PhilH…

  9. Jonathan Smith said,

    July 19, 2021 @ 9:52 pm

    Oops; the story I wanted to link (concerning the exact same character) is here

  10. Michael Watts said,

    July 21, 2021 @ 8:13 pm

    I recall an earlier post on Language Log which included an image of a Qing Dynasty document referring to America with the character [口美] (depicted here), presumably following the convention that a 口字旁 marks a character which is used purely for sound value.

    Interestingly, our online-question-answering friend provides the information that this character should be pronounced xiào, which would conflict with the "America" use.

    The image made me wonder when "美國" displaced "𠸍國", and — likely related — when the idea died that you could compose new "sound-only" characters on the fly by following a convention.

    I've looked for the old LL post, but haven't been able to find it – does anyone else know where it is?

  11. Michael Watts said,

    July 21, 2021 @ 9:21 pm

    I found what must be the post I was thinking of, here: https://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=26204

  12. David Marjanović said,

    July 27, 2021 @ 4:08 pm

    is displayed fine on my computer, but I note that the Wiktionary entry says it's not in the Kangxi dictionary, and the only pronunciations it gives are Cantonese and Min Nan.

  13. David Marjanović said,

    July 27, 2021 @ 4:10 pm

    …there it was, right at the beginning of my comment, but WordPress cuts it out.

    But it is displayed in the comment Michael Watts composed using HTML entities. I copied the character from Wiktionary instead.

  14. BL said,

    July 27, 2021 @ 6:54 pm

    @PhilH thank you. Interestingly, I'm a Minnan speaker living outside China and I've never seen used for diamond where I am; it's usually (as Jonathan Smith pointed out) 璇.

RSS feed for comments on this post