March 15, 2009

Adventures in Chinese Characters

I was eating dinner with some friends on Friday, and the topic turned to Chinese ... someone said "I heard somewhere that the character for 'trouble' is a combination of two characters for 'woman' under a character for 'roof'?"

I really tried not to laugh too hard. This is how rumors get started, folks. What's funny about it is how closely related to the truth that statement is, even though it's completely off the mark.

If you ever hear this bit of information, say at a dinner party, here's what you should say (which is what I said):
"I don't think that's true. But what is true, and what your friend might be thinking of, is that the character for peace, 安 (an), is the character for "woman" (女, nv) combined with the radical for "roof" (宀, mian). That might be what you mean, which is actually the opposite of a combination that would mean 'trouble'."
To showcase my point, I then pulled up my right sleeve to show the 安 tattooed on my arm. (It's there as part of my Chinese name, 高瑞安. And yes, my parents know, so you don't have to go running to tell them ;-).

(I understand if you cannot do this yourself.)

This is along the lines of "crisi-tunity", the rumor (so famously espoused in The Simpsons) that the Chinese character for "crisis" (危机 weiji, actually two characters) is the same as the one for "opportunity" (机会 jihui). It'd be nice and pleasant, and full of meaning, if only it were true :-)

Bonus: If you further want to impress people at said dinner party, tell them the character for "good" (好, hao) is a combination of the characters for woman (nv, above) and son (子, zi). That actually is true -- and I think says a lot about the Chinese culture and language. Don't worry, you can back up your statements with "I read it on a blog somewhere!" and everyone will believe you.

(This post is along the lines of how useful knowing Chinese is in Austin, TX -- a cool party trick, interesting dinner conversation topics, but not useful in day-to-day life like Spanish would be :-)

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