Monday, March 14, 2011

Earth Heart Suck Power

Ever since I started studying Chinese, I've been amused by how words are constructed by individual characters. Each character is monosyllabic, and not quite a word, (although some characters can stand on their own individually), but could be thought of as parts of words such as prefixes, suffixes, or root words, each part not an independent word itself, but adding a syllable and a change to the overall meaning of the word.

When the literal meaning is taken from each individual character in a word, you're often left with a mildly entertaining mnemonic device for remembering the word. Common examples often include: 电话 - electric talk (telephone), 电脑 - electric brain (computer), and 手机 - hand machine (mobile phone).

Some of these constructions, however, are downright hilarious. I imagine it may be quite difficult to take someone who has diabetes seriously if they came to me crying saying that they just found out they had sweet pee disease (糖尿病).

I get such a kick out of words like 濑尿虾 - rapid flowing stream of urine shrimp (mantis shrimp), 橄榄求 - olive ball (American football), and 拍胸脯 - pat the chest meat (vouch for someone) that I once had thought to collect them as I go and share them on this blog, but in the end it never amounted anything more than a passing thought.

A couple years later, I cursed the sky with fists raised into the air when I found out a fellow language learner had taken the same idea and took a bit more initiative than I to actually get it off the ground. took gems such as 子宫 - baby palace (uterus), 跳蛋 - jumping eggs (vibrator), and 耳屎 - ear shit (earwax), and brought them out on display for the general public to enjoy. Tragically, after only about 20 posts or so the site fell into disrepair, was abandoned, and has now been turned into a parked domain.

While reading 1984 in Chinese this morning, I came across a word I hadn't seen before, but was such a strange construction I had to look it up immediately. The results reminded me of the sad fate of, and has inspired me to take it upon myself to collect such treasures as 毛毛球 hairy, hairy balls (earmuffs) and post them here from time to time.

The word I came across this morning was earth heart suck power (地心吸力), or as we say in English, gravitational force. The logic of this language reminds me why I love studying it so much. Stay tuned for more entries like 心肠 - heart intestines (intentions / state of mind), 唱片 - singing slice (record), and one of my personal favorite idioms, 癞蛤蟆想吃天鹅肉 - a toad wanting to eat swan meat (aspiring after something one is not worthy of).

It should also be pointed out that the same word, (灌肠), can mean either enema or sausage. Be careful what you order, friends.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The hilarity of diabetes is also found in our textbook name. Diabetes mellitus is a mixture of Greek and Latin that translates as "siphon sweetened with honey." This refers to the early days of medicine when the only way to detect diabetes was to taste the patient's urine.