Jichang Lulu

« previous post | next post »

That's the name of a treasured Language Log reader and contributor (see under "Selected Readings").  When I asked him how to write that in Sinoglyphs, he told me that it is this:

飢腸轆轆 / simpl. 饥肠辘辘

Wanting to get the tones, I typed "jichanglulu" into Google Translate (GT), but forgot to click the space bar to make the conversion to characters with Hanyu Pinyin transcription complete with tones.  When I pressed the speaker button to hear how that sounded, what came out was something like Mandarin with an English accent, but still perfectly intelligible:  "jichanglulu".  It resembled the Mandarin produced by the strangers on the street who read off the Pinyin texts handed to them by my wife, Li-ching Chang.  She was always delighted when she heard them pronouncing Mandarin without ever having studied it.  "Jichanglulu" — see, you can say it too!

Adding the tones, we get jīcháng lùlù.  What does this somewhat odd assortment of sounds signify?

GT says "hungry", more literally, "hungry intestines are rumbling".

I'm tickled pink that the onomatopoeia for the sound of the intestines rumbling — like carts trundling  — have wheel radicals.  Think of what's going on down in your bowels when they make these noises.

One must not think of cháng as purely physical organs.  Often in Chinese poetry, the cháng 腸 are used metaphorically to evoke intense feeling and emotions, as in the last line of this canto by Ma Zhiyuan [ca. 1250-1321:, which is one of my favorites in the entire Chinese poetic canon:

"Tiān jìng shā · qiūsī” Mǎ Zhìyuǎn


Kū téng lǎo shù hūn yā

Xiǎo qiáo liúshuǐ rénjiā

Gǔdào xīfēng shòu mǎ

Xīyáng xī xià

Duàncháng rén zài tiānyá

And this is my English translation:

Tune:  "Heaven-Cleansed Sands"
Autumn Thoughts

Withered wisteria, old tree, darkling crows —
Little bridge over flowing water by someone's house —
Emaciated horse on an ancient road in the western wind —
Evening sun setting in the west —
Broken-hearted man on the horizon.

The challenge for the literary critic is how to understand the psychological transference from the rupture of the physical entrails to the expression of deepest grief.  Of course, the same process takes place with "broken-hearted".


Selected readings


Guest posts and comments by Jichang Lulu:


  1. Tom Dawkes said,

    September 26, 2022 @ 12:24 pm

    In Ancient Greek phrēn (φρήν) expresses the midriff as the seat of emotions.

  2. DaveK said,

    September 26, 2022 @ 2:33 pm

    Cf. “It tore my guts out”.

  3. Victor Mair said,

    September 26, 2022 @ 2:40 pm

    @Tom Dawkes

    Your comment is incredibly helpful. It gets us into all sorts of important questions about the heart and the mind.

    As soon as I saw your mention of Ancient Greek phrēn (φρήν), I immediately thought of phrenology, but that made me think of the shape of the skull, which is far from the midriff.

    Pursuing the matter further, I realized that, even among the ancient Greeks, there was a difference of opinion about just what the phrēn was and where it was located.



    Ancient Greek φρήν (phrḗn, “mind; stomach, midriff”).


    phren (plural phrenes)

    (philosophy, historical) The brain or mind.

    Some ancient Greeks, including Aristotle, believed that the phren was located in the heart rather than the cranium.

    (obsolete, anatomy) The diaphragm.





    From Proto-Indo-European *gʷʰren- (“soul, mind”). Related to Old Norse grunr (“suspicion”).


    φρήν • (phrḗn) f (genitive φρενός); third declension

    (often in the plural) The midriff, stomach and lower chest or breast
    The seat of emotions, heart; seat of bodily appetites such as hunger
    The seat of intellect, wits, mind
    will, purpose



    This will only whet our appetite for more on cháng 腸 and phrēn (φρήν).

  4. David Morris said,

    September 26, 2022 @ 3:32 pm

    Learning something '(off) by heart' is a common phrase in English.

  5. Philip Taylor said,

    September 26, 2022 @ 4:19 pm

    So common, in fact David, that never before in my 75 years had I ever thought how illogical the phrase was, if taken literally.

  6. Lucas Christopoulos said,

    September 26, 2022 @ 4:20 pm

    The three "dantian of Plato" (all his Philosophy is mostly centered around that…), the Three seats of the human soul.

    1. Up; soul psyche (ψυχή). Immortal, reason. In the head
    2. Middle. thymos (θυμός). Emotions, mortal soul. In the chest, heart.
    3. Down; epithimia (ἐπιθυμία). Desires. Mortal soul. stomach, intestine

  7. Lucas Christopoulos said,

    September 26, 2022 @ 5:57 pm

    in fact the upper soul" is nous ( νοῦς ) or intelligence…with the beautiful "metaphor" of being like and upside-down invisible plant having its roots in Heaven.

  8. Theo said,

    September 27, 2022 @ 3:39 am

    This podcast episode about the gut-brain connection (gut-brian axis) may interest you:

  9. /df said,

    September 27, 2022 @ 10:31 am

    Given the definition of φρήν above (and the other Ancient Greek metaphors for the mind), you might wonder how the quack science "phrenology" was so named. In fact the word "craniology" appears to have been used originally in English works around the time of founder Franz Joseph Gall. Then his follower Spurzheim coined the new word, according to http://www.historyofphrenology.org.uk/phren_prt1.html (lots more at that site):

    "Gall's first inquiries were physiognomical; he looked for external signs of internal capacities. They were generally styled Dr. Gall's doctrine of brain and skull, Gall's Hirn- und Schedellehre. When we began to publish in 1808, under our joint names, the title, Anatomy and Physiology of the nervous system in general, and of the brain in particular, seemed preferable to designate the nature of our investigations. In extending my views, I found it necessary to change the name again. I have chosen that of phrenology, which is derived from two Greek words: ypfy — mind, and Uyoq—discourse; and I understand by it, the doctrine of the special phenomena of the mind, and of the relations between the mental dispositions and the body, particularly the brain."

    Plainly the OCR failed on ypfy = φρήν and Uyoq = λογος.

    Spurzheim's mind-related coinage directly reflects his belief that the study of the head revealed the character of the mind.

    Cognate: "frenzy" (etc)

  10. Victor Mair said,

    September 27, 2022 @ 3:57 pm

    From Denis Mair:

    Indeed, an almost visceral sense of pain associated with grief and separation from loved ones. This has been borne out by studies in neuroscience. The same neural circuitry that registers pain from the viscera is also activated to feel the pain of separation. This was discussed in Jaak Pankseep's book AFFECTIVE NEUROSCIENCE in the chapter "Loneliness and the Social Bond: The Brain Sources of Sorrow and Grief."

    So I think the Chinese coinage of "broken intestine" to express the pain of separation is very compelling, as we can see from its use in the poem you translated. When a person feels hungry, a sense of existential isolation from the mother-principle is probably part of his discomfort. It's not only a direct physical sensation of gnawing hunger. There are emotional associations because the pain sensing regions have overlapping uses. It hurts when we are cut off from the bonds that we have formed. I think the comfort of bonding, mediated by neurochemicals in the brain, is part of the mother principle. Mother Nature wants us to stay within the web of nurturant bonds, so she makes it HURT inwardly when they are broken, and we learn to avoid that pain.

  11. Victor Mair said,

    October 5, 2022 @ 9:45 am

    Jichang Lulu also uses the name Lulu 陸鷺; e.g., in this old doggerel he wrote to comment on one of the sadder moments of the disgraceful ‘international relations’ blog _The Diplomat_.


RSS feed for comments on this post