Character-shape wordplay

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[This is a guest post by David Moser]

I happened to notice the following bit of character-shape play on a YouTube site called "Wen Zhao tangu lunjin" 《文昭谈古论今》。 He's talking about the tourists on Hainan island who were stuck there after a sudden Covid breakout.  In expressing the observation that these sudden incidents occur time and time again, he used a four-character phrase that is evidently a new Internet slang, 又双叒叕 yòu shuāng ruò zhuó, in which each subsequent character adds another 又 component, a visual representation of the concept "over and over again".

Here it is in traditional characters where the wordplay breaks down because 双 is written 雙.
Zhè 7 tiān zhòng yào jìnxíng 5 cì hésuàn jiǎnchá, dōu yǐnxìng cái nénggòu lí (Hǎinán) dǎo. Suǒyǐ dàjiā kàn, móhuàn xiànshí shì bùshì yòu shuāng ruò zhuó shàngyǎnle?
These 7 days 5 nucleic acid tests are required, and only if all five test results are negative will they be allowed to leave the island. So you see, this "magical realism" scenario is played out again and again? (又双叒叕上演了)


Selected readings


  1. Stephen L said,

    August 13, 2022 @ 7:49 am


    A few months ago I did a search of a big corpus of Literary Chinese poetry to look for poems which feature the same component repeated a lot (measured in various ways), and overall nothing really jumped out. It seems from my quick search that visual repetition isn't so much part of the tradition? Another problem is that I'm still learning Chinese and haven't even tried to decypher them yet, but for anyone interested:

    This poem has a lot of trees 木:


    This poem has a lot of gates 門:


    (some others listed here – badly labled – some featured becasue of having repeated components, some because their characters have especially few/many strokes). If anyone has suggestions/wants clarification I can run the searches again/new searches.

  2. Francesca Valli said,

    August 13, 2022 @ 8:16 am

    You say ‘ Here it is in traditional characters where the wordplay breaks down because 双 is written 雙’. What do you mean? The component 又 is there is the traditional character too.

  3. Martin said,

    August 13, 2022 @ 9:30 am

    I have only the most superficial knowledge of Chinese, but wondered why the writer chose to write 7 instead of "七" and 5 instead of "五".

  4. Thomas said,

    August 13, 2022 @ 10:19 am

    Shouldn't the negative test result be written “阴性” instead of “隐性”?

  5. David Moser said,

    August 14, 2022 @ 9:29 am

    @Stephen L

    Very nice! Thanks for the github examples. I'm sure there are countless examples out there.

  6. David said,

    August 17, 2022 @ 1:21 pm

    @Martin Using Chinese numerals instead of Hindu-Arabic has a more formal, literary feel. It's very similar to the feel of spelling numbers out in English, except that a lot of English speakers find Hindu-Arabic numerals overly informal for numbers less than or equal to ten, whereas I don't think that's true in Chinese.

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