Feeling wet

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Yesterday in one of my classes, a female student from China said that she didn't like to exercise in the morning because she felt "wet".  At first, I couldn't believe my ears, so I asked her, "Did you say 'wet'?"  "Yes," she said, "wet".  I couldn't understand in what way she would feel "wet" in the morning and how that would prevent her from doing exercises.

We wouldn't use the English word "wet" to describe a morning condition that would discourage us from doing exercises, so I tried to think of other related words (synonyms or near-synonyms for "wet") that would work better.  "Logy"? "sodden"? "heavy"?  But I couldn't come up with any equivalent words that would fit the bill.  I specifically was disinclined to choose the word "shī 濕", which literally does mean "wet", but didn't believe that's what she meant because it would signify something like "drenched", "dripping", "soaked", not a systemic condition of the body, unless it means something in traditional Chinese medicine that I'm not aware of.

I puzzled over this conundrum for a while without making any significant progress, so today I sent her an e-mail asking the following question:  "What Chinese word / concept did you have in mind when you said you felt 'wet' in the morning"?

She promptly replied, "When I say 'wet', it means 'shī 濕'(cháoshī de 潮濕的 ['moist, damp'], shīrùn de 濕潤的 ['wet, humid']) in Chinese, or in English I may say 'moist', 'humid', or 'damp' instead."

I almost fell through the floor.

See the "Selected readings" below.

 

Selected readings

Here are a couple of additional posts that I dug up on my own:

If you look at the entries in this google search, you will find that studies on the phenomenon of "moist aversion" worked their way out from Language Log to the broader internet.

 



24 Comments »

  1. daisy said,

    April 12, 2024 @ 7:33 am

    "damp" is probably the best translation. that's the term in traditional Chinese medicine. a water/fire imbalance that can affect the relationship of the 5 elements/organs.

  2. Laura Morland said,

    April 12, 2024 @ 7:34 am

    I guess somebody (not you) needs to tell your student that "feeling wet" in the morning is not a fact of life that one should share with one's professor! Even less that one feels "moist"!

    (Maybe she suffers from night sweats?)

    It reminds me of a young Italian friend of mine who was acting as the master of ceremonies for a film series she had curated for a mid-sized city in Southern France. One evening, she apologized to the entire audience for having left to go to the toilet, explaining, "j'ai une véssie active."

    I couldn't believe a 27-year-old woman would share with a room full of mostly total strangers that she had "an active bladder." I guess Italians aren't embarrassed by discussing this sort of intimate information in public? No more than Chinese are by revealing that they feel "moist" or "damp"?

  3. AG said,

    April 12, 2024 @ 7:42 am

    would "sweaty" be a good possibility for a loose translation that gets at the original point but doesn't sound weird in English?

  4. Tim said,

    April 12, 2024 @ 7:48 am

    I feel like you have to translate this as “sweaty” in English, as well, to not sound deeply weird or deeply inappropriate. Some pretty serious innuendo to that translation.

  5. Seth said,

    April 12, 2024 @ 7:53 am

    I think the fitting English word would be "soggy", towards its sense of soft and fragile due to being water-logged. The idea is not so much the water part itself, but the resulting effects on some material when it's been soaked in the rain. Maybe "water-logged" is a more literal translation here, but for women that can have associations with menstrual miseries, which I don't think is intended in this case.

  6. loonquawl said,

    April 12, 2024 @ 8:09 am

    Feeling 'like a wet rag' would fit the bill of moistness related conditions preventing one from exercising, surely?

  7. nicoleandmaggie said,

    April 12, 2024 @ 8:15 am

    Clammy maybe? If it is cold and humid? (Or sweaty, if she doesn't shower right after and doesn't want to sweat in the morning.)

  8. rpsms said,

    April 12, 2024 @ 9:56 am

    daisy seems to have decoded it. Even a cursory examination of "dampness" in the Chinese Medicine system confirms it.

  9. Victor Mair said,

    April 12, 2024 @ 10:50 am

    From Heidi Lynné Mair (specialist on Yoga and Ayurveda):

    As you probably already know, water is one of the 5 elements of Chinese medicine and Ayurveda. In Yoga and Ayurveda, earth and water combine to create kapha dosha. Throughout the day and seasons of the year, the energies shift within us. Kapha time of day is 6 am – 10 am and 6 pm and 10 pm. It is when we often feel sluggish, tired, etc. as you suggested. I was taught to get up and go to the bathroom before Kapha time for better evacuation of bowels and bladder. And wash my mouth out, brush my tongue, clean out my nasal passages and brush my teeth. I linger a bit later these days – until 7 am. This morning, I used nasya, a nose oil with healing herbs, to clean out nasal passages.

    Likewise, the best time to go to bed is 6 pm – 10 pm, the other Kapha time of day. Your student may sweat at night and wake up feeling wet on the surface of her skin and feel congestion in her lungs, nasal passages, etc. It sounds like she has a kapha imbalance according to Ayurveda.

    SUMMARY POINTS

    Kapha is the energy of construction, lubrication and nourishment

    Elements: earth and water

    Attributes: moist, cold, heavy, dull, soft, sticky and static

    Tastes: sweet, sour, salty

    Kapha is seated in the stomach and lungs. Chest openers and twists are good to access respiratory flow, ease congestion and balance kapha.

    Two-12-hour cycles make up the 24 hours of each day. The first phase starts at sunrise and finishes at sunset. The second phase starts at sunset and finishes at sunrise. In the winter, nights are longer and days shorter, while the opposite is true in summer.

    Daytime

    o 6 am – 10 am – Kapha

    o 10 am – 2 pm – Pitta

    o 2 pm – 6 pm – Vata

    Nighttime

    o 6 pm – 10 pm – Kapha

    o 10 pm – 2 am – Pitta

    o 2 am – 6 am – Vata

    Ideal mealtimes

    Breakfast 7 am – 7:30 am

    Lunch 11 am – 1 pm – heaviest meal when digestive fire is at its peak

    Dinner 6 pm – 7:30 pm

    Dinacharya (Ayurvedic and Yogic Daily Routines)

    Morning 5:30 – 8:00 am

    Wake up early – @ 30 minutes before sunrise

    Empty bowels and bladder

    Rinse your face, mouth and eyes

    Brush your teeth, floss and scrape your tongue

    Nose drops or neti pot

    Drink a glass of water

    Give gratitude for your life

    Practice Yoga, including pranayama and meditation

    Massage your body with a soothing oil.

    Bathe or shower

    Eat a light breakfast

    Work or study

  10. Eugene Anderson said,

    April 12, 2024 @ 12:10 pm

    Makes perfect sense to me, after long experience with Cantonese folk medicine. She feels sap, with low tone–Cantonese pronunciation of shi. In medicine, it means heavy, dull, vulnerable, damp, and subject to bad attacks by wind and such. Fungsap (feng shi, "wind wet") is rheumatism or arthritis, which I have all too much of. The cure is nice drying stuff like coffee. She should drink a cup or two of cof or tea and then try the gym. There are medicinal herb preparations that fix it.

  11. J.M.G.N said,

    April 12, 2024 @ 12:35 pm

    @Victor Mair

    Would "soaking wet" make any difference for you tho?

  12. Sean said,

    April 12, 2024 @ 2:25 pm

    Seth: I also think British English has lots of idoms like "all wet" for "feeling poorly and without energy" but they are not my idiolect so its hard for me to give examples.

  13. Fritz Newmeyer said,

    April 12, 2024 @ 3:24 pm

    Surely AG is right when they translated it as 'sweaty'. How else would you feel after working out but before going to work if you don't have time to shower?

  14. DaveK said,

    April 12, 2024 @ 8:00 pm

    “Logy” is a word that describes how I feel when I get out of bed and feel sluggish. Could your student be conflating “logy” with the “-logged” of “waterlogged”?

  15. KC said,

    April 12, 2024 @ 9:20 pm

    In Cantonese it's specifically 濕滯
    https://baike.baidu.com/item/%E6%B9%BF%E6%BB%9E?_swebfr=220011

    Though it would've never occurred to me to use the same English word for 濕 and 濕滯!

  16. JPL said,

    April 12, 2024 @ 11:17 pm

    I can see why the floor opened up under you (as if). This case has an interesting weirdness. I have zero knowledge of Chinese, but if I could hypothetically put myself in that situation (with a proficient knowledge of Chinese), I would have felt compelled to (me still being me) sort it out on the spot, and instead of asking, "What Chinese word/concept did you have in mind when you said you felt "wet" in the morning", I would have asked, If you were expressing that idea speaking Chinese, how would you express it?" After eliciting that expression, I would have clarified that we were talking about "how you feel before (not after) exercise, and that you generally feel this way (not just once or twice in the past)". Then I would have asked, using Chinese (but one could also use English), "what property in or on your body are you feeling that makes you not want to exercise? Does your skin have moisture on it, or do feel what they call "bloating" inside your body? Describe what is making you feel this way using different words." Then, if possible, I would have asked another native Chinese speaker whether your student's original description with "wet" made sense to them, and whether the student's Chinese description made sense. It's possible the Chinese expressions are being used with a metaphorical sense.

    In answer to your question, she offers 'shi' as a translation equivalent, as well as two further expressions with more specific meanings, where the segment "shi" occurs in both of them (the same seems to be true for the written character), indicating that perhaps 'shi' is a hypernym with relation to the other two (that in usage, if a description using the hyponym is appropriate, a description using the hypernym will also be appropriate). If we take the English lexemes she refers to — 'wet', 'moist', 'damp', 'humid' — that morphological relationship is not there. And English 'wet' is not generally (it may be in the odd case) a hypernym wrt 'moist' or 'humid'; and while it can be a hypernym wrt 'damp', it isn't always (i.e., the denotata are not identical). (Roughly, 'damp' is used to describe moisture on a surface, 'humid' is used to describe moisture in the air, and 'moist' is used to describe moisture on the internal surfaces of a substance.) So she may be regarding English 'wet' as a hypernym wrt situations that would be appropriately described in English as "moist", "damp" or "humid".

    I'm not saying that this solves the mystery here, but that kind of thing (among other reasons) is why I'm against the use of translation in descriptive linguistic fieldwork.

  17. Peter Grubtal said,

    April 13, 2024 @ 11:34 am

    Also qualified to engage in this by zero knowledge of Chinese, although I can recognize characters from Japanese Kanji.
    But I wonder if it isn't a social thing, where to say sweating directly is considered non-U. There was an expression in England: "horses sweat, men perspire, and ladies just glow".

  18. David Marjanović said,

    April 13, 2024 @ 12:45 pm

    Maybe she suffers from night sweats?

    That's what I thought; after all, lots of people habitually shower every morning because they sweat that much in their sleep – and if you're already sweating, you might not want to exercise and sweat even more. But I know next to nothing about TCM or Ayurveda.

    Lynné

    May I ask if that's a portmanteau of Lynn(e) and Linné?

  19. katarina said,

    April 13, 2024 @ 5:45 pm

    @Eugene Anderson,

    Thank you, Eugene, for the Cantonese word _sap_ "wet". Do you know what is the opposite of _sap_ in Cantonese?

  20. Kate Bunting said,

    April 14, 2024 @ 9:22 am

    Sean: "I also think British English has lots of idoms like "all wet" for "feeling poorly and without energy"."

    Not to my knowledge. The British colloquial meaning of 'wet' is 'lacking strength of character', nothing to do with physical feebleness.

    Incidentally, I had never come across 'logy' and had to look it up.

  21. Pamela said,

    April 15, 2024 @ 10:53 am

    This suggests to me, which rarely happens, that sometimes when a person speaks a foreign language, they should speak it as a real language and not translate their own language into it. There are lines in every language and there comes a point where the speaker must respect the fact that the foreign language is not just something you translate your own language into. It's a language of its own, and was there before you arrived. It is certainly true that "wet" is expansive, and you can watch movies from the 40s in which people tell each other (recalling the Britishism) that they are "all wet" meaning they are covered in nonsense or disinformation. That was then. Young women need to learn to not go around telling people they are wet or feel wet, especially not professors. It's just part of the learning the language. No need for embarrassment, we have all done something analogous (at least) in learning other languages. Interesting to me, since my usual reaction is whatever people say is okay if you can somehow make out the meaning. Here, people really can't make out the meaning safely.

  22. Emma said,

    April 17, 2024 @ 5:39 pm

    Does she not like sweating? Or is it like a 濕氣太重 situation?

  23. bookie said,

    April 25, 2024 @ 12:31 pm

    @Pamela, yes, obviously it is true that a 1 to 1 literal translation is not always appropriate. The issue is that when you are speaking a second language you don't know exactly when that 1 to 1 is appropriate or not. You can't extrapolate a person's overall philosophy on interpretation to their having done something that every other language learner has done at one time or another in their lives, simply by not having a perfect grasp of their target language.

  24. Chris said,

    May 3, 2024 @ 8:25 pm

    I live in Japan and have had Japanese people tell me about feeling wet as well. And, just as in this situation, on further inquiry and use of a translation app, the person confirmed, yes, "wet," not " tired" etc.

    Nevertheless, I don't think these people actually mean wet in the sense a native English speaker would use it. Note, for example, that avoiding exercise (which makes you sweat) because you feel "sweaty" doesn't make any sense. (In fact, I often exercise first thing in the morning for this reason–you feel at a low ebb of cleanliness after waking anyway, so why not just exercise and then shower.)

    Neither do I think it is a Chinese medicine thing, except inasmuch as Chinese medicine terms are derived partly from psychological insights.

    I have noticed another phenomenon in Japan that I believe is related–the desire to avoid being rained on, even a little. In the USA, we would often go oit without an umbrella if there were just a light drizzle forecast, but in Japan, everyone takes an umbrella or a rain jacket.

    I think DaveK, Sean, and Seth are in the right direction, and that connection with the rain avoidance is the association of wetness with non-freshness or uncleanliness. The fact that clothes and dishes are cleaned via water simply makes the association a non-sequitur, but I have argued this point with my wife (Japanese) and she insists that getting rain on you is totally different from washing your clothes or taking a shower.

    My wife also usually has matted hair in the morning, which is like what you would have after getting wet. I think it's the same feeling–"not fit for public display".

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