This Taiwanese Ministry of Education site was unthinkable not too long ago, and not just because there was no Internet:

Until the 1980s, the use of Taiwanese, along with all dialects [= languages] other than Mandarin, was discouraged by the Kuomintang [Nationalist Party] through measures such as banning its use in schools and limiting the amount of Taiwanese broadcast on electronic media.

Fortunately things have changed to the point where even

politicians opposed to Taiwan independence have used it [Taiwanese] frequently in rallies even when they are not native speakers of the language and speak it badly. 슬럼독 밀리어네어 SULLOMDOK MILLIONEO

I was hoping for a more creative translation of you know what. It's number one in Korean ticket sales at the moment according to naver.com. Some other recent movie titles:

왓치맨 watchimEn (do I have to translate this?; currently no. 5 at the Korean box office, even though I presume almost no Koreans read the book)

레이스 투 윗치 마운틴 reisU thu witchi maunthin (Race to Witch Mountain)

마디아 감옥가다 madia kamok kada (Madea Goes to Jail)

Well, at least the last one is half-Korean. kamok is 'jail' and kada is 'go'. "SUNNY! FUNNY! ANY!"

As in 'any slogans better than these'? (Warning: strong language.)

The Korean slogans are

열린 방송 빛의 소리 GFN 광주영어방송

yOllin pangsong pitUi sori - GFN kwangju yOngO pangsong

lit. 'enlightened broadcasting light's sound - GFN Gwangju English Broadcasting'

(yOllin 'enlightened' is an extended usage of 'opened' and sounds nothing like pit 'light'.)

'Enlightened broadcasting - the sound of light - GFN Gwangju English Broadcasting'

꿈을 여는 젊은 방송 - GFN 광주영어방송

kkumUl yenUn cOlmun pangsong - GFN kwangju yOngO pangsong

lit. 'dream open young broadcasting - GFN Gwangju English Broadcasting'

'Young broadcasts that open dreams - GFN Gwangju English Broadcasting'

At least SyFy is in English ... badly spelled English. WHY NO TONGHE ON THE COVER OF SAHOE?

The 'Sea of Japan' is the 동해 (東海) tonghE 'East Sea' in Korea. Yet the English term Sea of Japan appears on the cover of this textbook titled 사회 (社會) Sahoe (Society). (Warning: strong language.) MYSTERY OF THE WESTERN TREE

Two mysteries, really. I just wanted a rhyme inside the title.

First, why is 栗 'chestnut' written as 西 'west' atop 木 'tree'? Neither element is phonetic. (It turns out that the graph was originally a drawing, and the top part was later distorted to look like an unrelated graph 西 'west'. Such distortion can't be used to explain similarly opaque Tangut characters since Tangut writing lacks the long history of Chinese writing.)

Second, why is 栗 'chestnut' read ryul in Korean and lœt in Cantonese even though its readings in other languages have no labial glides or vowels: e.g.,

Mandarin li

Taiyuan liəʔ

Suzhou liɤʔ

Meixian Hakka lit

Taiwanese lat (colloquial), lik (literary - with -k!?)

Sino-Vietnamese lật [lət]

The unexpected -yu- in Korean for 'chestnut' reminds me of the baffling Cantonese reading yut [jyt] for 乙. 'second in a sequence of ten' which has a labial vowel unlike

Mandarin yi

Taiyuan iəʔ

Suzhou iɤʔ

Meixian Hakka jat

Taiwanese it

Sino-Korean Ul [ɯl] < 15th century Sino-Korean ʔɯrʔ

Sino-Vietnamese ất [ət]

Sino-Japanese otsu is probably from an earlier *ət and is not evidence for an earlier *o.

(If you're wondering, these questions came to mind when I found this page with 栗山 (율산) Yulsan in the title while Googling for Korean names of apricot trees. 栗 is read as yul in Yulsan because ry- becomes y- in initial position.) JAPANESE APRICOTS, SINO-KOREAN NAMES

You'd never know these apricot trees were Japanese from their names which are composed of Chinese roots pronounced Korean-style:

Chinese characters



Literal gloss




white plum




red plum




black plum




blue plum




flower plum

I have no idea what their Japanese names are, or why they're called 'plum' instead of 'apricot'. (The two are distinct in native Korean vocabulary: plums are 자두 cadu and apricots are 살구 salgu.)

At least I know why 'plum' is written as 梅, a combination of 木 'tree' with 每 'every'. Can you guess the function of 'every'? Select the blank space below for the answer.

每 매 mE 'every' is phonetic in 梅 매 mE 'plum'. If a character component makes no semantic sense, chances are that it's phonetic.

*I don't use the official Korean romanization used in the link. Official -km- (reflecting the hangul spelling ㄱㅁ -km-) corresponds to my -ngm- which reflects the actual pronunciation [ŋm]. WHY SYFY?

What's wrong with Sci-Fi? What next, LyfTym? "THE VOWEL SYSTEM IS ORIGINAL"

That's an interesting comment on English spelling from a native speaker of French (scroll down to "April 12, 2005, 15:13 GMT").

The spelling of Dutch vowels also has its own 'original' (= unique) aspects: e.g.,

ij for [ɛi]: e.g., hij 'he' (not 'hidge'!)

oe for [u]: e.g., hoe 'how' (not like Eng hoe!)

ui for [œy]: e.g., huis 'house' (not like Eng who is!)

The Pinyin romanization of Mandarin is the only spelling system I know of with

iu for [jow] (not 'ee-oo')

ui for [wej] (not 'oo-ee') PILED ON THE RIGHT

I like this visual approach to Dutch word order. One can see how infinitives (all ending in -en and in bold below) can pile up on the right:

One infinitive:

De tulpen zullen heel veel water opnemen.

lit. 'the tulips will very (cf. Eng whole) much water absorb'

'The tulips will absorb a lot of water.'

Two infinitives:

Hij heeft ons niet weten te overtuigen.

lit. 'he has us not know (cf. Eng wit) to convince.'

'He has not managed to convince us.' (< he doesn't know how to convince us)

Here's an extreme example with seven infinitives:

Ik zou jou wel eens hebben willen zien durven blijven zitten kijken.

lit. 'I would you well once have want see dare stay sit watch.'

'Once in a while (lit. 'well once') I would have wanted to see you daring to keep watching (lit. 'stay sit watch').'

I also found that example here. A similar monster sentence is analyzed here. A GOOD TEXTBOOK FOR ADVANCED DUTCH USERS OF ENGLISH ... ACCORDING TO ME

Advanced Writing in English: A Guide for Dutch Authors teaches the little things that distinguish native from near-native speaker writing. I've known a number of Dutch people with perfect English writing, and I wonder if they studied books like this one.

According to me is a literal translation of volgens mij 'in my view/opinion'.

Although the book is intended for Dutch native speakers, it can also help English native speakers avoid Anglicisms in Dutch. FLUENCY IS BETTER THAN NOTHING

I like this admission of the meaninglessness of fluency in popular usage (emphasis mine):

FSI [Foreign Service Institute] 3 or ACTFL [American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages] Superior are considered to be the levels of proficiency at which one can perform all functions in the other language, including conduct business or professional dealings, with sufficient accuracy to be effective. This level could be called "fluent", although it is carefully described whereas "fluent" as it is often used can describe almost anything from 0+ to near bilingual.

"0+" means "[a]ble to operate only in a very limited capacity." DI RIUR

The title is Tangut for 'character world':

It came to mind when I stumbled upon this passage from Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence:

In reality they all lived in a kind of hieroglyphic world, where the real thing was never said or done or even thought, but only represented by a set of arbitrary signs ...

Tangut characters are called иероглифы (ieroglify: hieroglyphs) in Russian Tangutology. "MY HAND IS IN WARM WATER."

If the thought of learning Dutch still terrifies you even after you were told not to worry about declension, think about this:

... the near relation of English to Dutch may be easily shown even now, whenever phrases are formed with exclusively Saxon (i. e. Teutonic) words. Ex. gr. that is good is in Dutch dat is goed (oe sounds as the English oo) [but Dutch g is [x], not [g]!). In the same way, the Dutch Waar is mijn dochter? is much nearer to the English Where is my daughter? than to the German Wo ist meine Tochter?, etc. etc. More striking examples of likeness might be quoted still. Ex. gr. when an Englishman would say to a friend of his: Come here now, Peter, will yer, it is so cool here in the boat. Do come here! every letter of this speech would be perfectly intelligible to the first best street-Arab [sic! Not very PC!] in Holland.

The Dutch equivalent of that last English example would be

Kom hier nou, Pieter, wil je, het is zo koel hier in de boot. Doe kom hier!

though I'm not sure Doe kom hier! is correct since it has zero Google hits.

The above passages remind me of these two Afrikaans sentences:

My pen was in my hand.

My hand is in warm water.

In 2000, I borrowed a Danish textbook whose first page contained a story consisting solely of Danish words that were visually recognizable to English readers. Danish spelling is more historical than phonological. Compare the Danish spelling (old or new) of this passage with an IPA transcription. I-HOOD-NAME-WORDS

is a literal translation of the now obsolete (but then novel) term ikheidsnoemwoorden that I found on p. 29 of Hoogvliet and Ahn's (1908) Elements of Dutch. Can you guess what it means? Select the blank space below for the answer.

ikheidsnoemwoorden means 'personal pronouns'. The current term is persoonlijke voornaamwoorden. voor- corresponds to pro- and naamwoord 'nameword' is 'noun'.

I guess the ikheid in jij 'thou' or hij 'he' is relative: 'thou' art 'not me', and 'he' is 'neither thee nor me'. "DUTCH GRAMMAR IN HALF A PAGE"

is the title of a section of Hoogvliet and Ahn's (1908) Elements of Dutch, which is more than a half page long. That section contains all the basics I started out with, and a bit more: e.g., why is draaien 'turn' the third most important verb after zijn 'be' and hebben 'have'? I'd put nemen 'take' before draaien, but nemen comes fourth.

I enjoy reading these old textbooks because they were written in a casual style reminiscent of blogs. Their authors don't hold back their opinions: e.g., on gender (pp. 24-25):

... Dutch has followed exactly the same way in the course of its history as English has. The greatest difference only consists in this, that, whereas the English nation has hailed the abolition of cases and genders as a natural and in many respects a useful and a practical reform, the Dutch nation, or at least the authors and learned people in Holland, often wholly absorbed in classical studies, admiring the Greek and Latin languages for their riches of grammatical forms, and having besides this on the eastern frontier of their country a neighbour people which in its language had still in the course of centuries preserved the greater part of that exuberance of forms, which the Dutch language had had to part with, were very sorry for the 'losses' they had sustained and tried by any kind of violent means to have their riches back. In this way the system of 'genders' and 'cases', condemned and thrown away by language itself, continued to be reared and cultivated arti- ficially by the authors and the learned people. They held on like grim death, they strove and struggled with might and main — they plodded on, toiled on, trudged on ... and succeeded in keeping the thing going to the present day.

The result is this, that even now a well-educated Dutchman, when going to write no matter which contribution to a magazine or paper, or even an ordinary letter, nay nothing more than a simple postcard of a few lines, will most inevitably have to turn a good many of dictionary-leaves just to ascertain whether in his own language this or that word belongs to the masculine or to the feminine gender. — Of course in our present idiom we have a large quantity of words, which in the middle-ages, during the period of 'genders' and 'cases', did not exist at all — What in all the world may be the gender of all those words, ex. gr. of a word like fiets (a bicycle) or trem (a tramway)? Of course nobody knows. But never mind ... Our learned men will set to work at a moment's noiice and for each new word which you choose to bring them they will forge at their private workshop a brand-new 'gender' while you wait*.

Elements of Dutch ignores declensional endings that existed only in writing a century ago and advises the reader

to consider all those [final] n's as quite superfluous penflourishes in printing-ink and all right it will be.

Whew! I feel so much better now!

I'm sure the authors felt better once the literary declension system became obsolete except in idioms.

*I wonder what these gendermakers would have done with blog (which woordenlijst.org lists as masculine):

Celebrated poets such as Joost van den Vondel and Pieter Cornelisz. Hooft often disagreed in assigning gender to nouns, which they arbitrarily based on equivalents in Latin, German, or other languages whenever they saw fit. Their choices were adopted by the grammarian David van Hoogstraten ... where Vondel and Hooft disagreed, Van Hoogstraten would assign a gender to a noun by his own choice.

When I Sanskritize modern words, I have to choose genders for nouns: e.g., should 'blog' be

ब्लागस् blaagas (masculine)

ब्लागा blaagaa (feminine)

ब्लागम् blaagam (neuter)

I also have to choose a declension class. The three Sanskritizations above have vowel-final stems. I could treat 'blog' as a consonantal stem ब्लाग्- blaag- without an overt gender marker in the nominative singular. There is no way to tell if ब्लागक् blaak (-g > -k in absolute final position) is masculine, feminine, or neuter. There is a non-neuter/neuter distinction in some forms: e.g.,

ब्लागौ blaagau (non-neuter nominative dual)

ब्लागी blaagii (neuter nominative dual)

The masculine/feminine distinction emerges when adjectives are added: e.g., 'beautiful blog' (nominative singular):

सुन्दरो ब्लाक् sundaro blaak (if blaak is masculine)

सुन्दरी ब्लाक् sundarii blaak (if blaak is feminine) 徽 釁 BEAUTIFUL QUARREL

Tonight I found 釁 'smear with blood; quarrel' among 鄭衆 Zheng Zhong's first century AD 周禮 Zhouli glosses in Coblin (1983: 150 #71):


'釁: read as 徽'

徽 Old Chinese *hməj < ?*sm- 'rope' has the phonetic 微 OC *məj 'small' surrounding the semantic element 糸 'thread'. 徽 'rope' was also used to write OC *hməj 'beautiful' which is presumably cognate to the far more common word 美 OC *rməj 'beautiful' with an *r- prefix (or infix?).

Coblin reconstructed 釁 and 徽 as *hj(i)ə̃ and *hjwəi in Zheng Zhong's dialect. He assumed that *hm- had already shifted to a fricative *h- yet he reconstructed *hŋ- instead of *h- in glosses #93-94. To be consistent, one could reconstruct a voiceless nasal *hm- for both 釁 and 徽 and assume that all nonemphatic voiceless nasals had not yet shifted to fricatives in ZZ's dialect.

An OC initial *hm- for 釁 is labial like the initial of its bottom component 分 OC *pən 'divide' / *N-pən-s 'division' which is phonetic according to Shuowen. But I can't think of any other *hm-graphs with *p-phonetics. Perhaps the *hm- of 釁 is from an earlier cluster *s-N-p- with a voiceless stop, but I have not yet seen any other evidence for *s-N-C > *hN-.

血 OC *hmik 'blood' also has initial *hm-, but I don't think it's cognate to 釁 OC ?*hmrəns 'smear blood' because its rhyme is too different. 釁 could have had a (palatalized?) liquid coda *-r in ZZ's dialect corresponding to a final *-n in other dialects instead of Coblin's final nasalized vowel. I know of no other word families containing both *-ik and *-ər members. 辛 夷 BITTER BARBARIAN

Who or what is it? Answer here.

I wonder if the name is just a phonetic transcription of a non-Chinese word. It has a homophonous spelling 新夷 xinyi 'new barbarian'. Other names are clearly meaningful:

木筆 mubi 'wood (writing) brush'

木蘭 mulan 'wood orchid' (yes, as in Mulan)

木蓮 mulian 'wood lotus' AUTOGRAPHS: BLOOD BITTER

In "Blood Half", I discussed the hard-to-remember 25-stroke character

xìn 'smear with blood; quarrel'

whose structure has no obvious relationship to its meaning or reading and its simplified form

whose right side 半 bàn 'half' has an unknown function.

If you were to create your own character (a 自字 zìzì 'autograph'?) for xìn, what would it look like? My first solution was


xuè 'blood'+ xīn 'bitter'

with an imperfect phonetic (the tones don't match) that is reminiscent of 'quarrel'. However, I think phonetics should ideally be meaningful to speakers of multiple Chinese languages. Tones aside, 'quarrel' and 'bitter' are homophonous in standard Mandarin, but have different initials as well as tones in Cantonese: 'quarrel' is yan but 'bitter' is san. (Cantonese y- < *hy- and Mandarin x- [ɕ] in 'quarrel' both descend from an earlier *x-.)

A phonetic that would work in both Mandarin and Cantonese would be 欣 Md xīn, Ct yan 'joyful'. But it would make no semantic sense (except from an ironic viewpoint) to write 'quarrel' as 'blood joyful'. Although most phonetic elements have irrelevant or sometimes even inappropriate meanings*, I would like the replacement of 釁/衅 to be easy to remember.

*What is friendly about 崩 bēng 'collapse of a mountain, (by extension) death of an emperor' which contains 朋 péng 'friend' as phonetic beneath the semantic element 山 'mountain'? BLOOD HALF

The Chinese character 衅 xin looks like 血 'blood' plus 半 'half'. It is the odd man out among 28 variants of the 25-stroke character

which looks like the top of 興 xing 'rise' but is actually an abbreviation of the 29-stroke character

cuan 'cook rice' (not the normal word); 'furnace'; also a surname and the name of an extinct people

over 酉 you (a drawing of a wine vessel) and 分 fen 'divide/division'*.

Can you guess what 衅/釁 means? ("AC" in the linked page refers to Ancient Chinese.)

*According to Shuowen,fen is phonetic in 釁 xin, though the two share nothing but an -n in modern Mandarin. Both belong to the Old Chinese *-ən(s) rhyme class, but their OC initials (*p- and *x-) are irreconcilable.

半 OC *pans 'half' is similar to 分 OC *pən 'divide' / *N-pən-s 'division' but is even less like 釁 OC *xəns and is therefore a highly unlikely phonetic in 衅. According to Karlgren (1957: 122), "The Seal [version of 衅] has 'blood' and 'ox cut in half'." I presume 半 'half' is standing in for 'ox cut in half'.

xin and 興 xing sound similar in modern Mandarin, but I doubt the latter is phonetic in the former since they belong to OC rhyme classes (*-əns and *-əŋ[s]) with different nasals. I know of no other cases of *-əŋ phonetics in *-ən graphs. ANYAANI CARMAANI

Here's a tough translation problem: Try to come up with an acronym meaning 'shield' that also means something like 'Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division'. See some solutions here. I won't even try to translate SHIELD in Sanskrit.

*Sanskrit for 'other shields'. -aani in both words is the neuter nominative plural ending. "THE WORST BAND NAMES EVER"

I don't know what most of these bands sound like, and I've never even heard of many of them before.

Until today, I didn't even realize that Beatles includes the word beat! D'oh! And I never thought of it as being bad, probably because it's a name that I've always known. Perhaps I would have rejected it if I had seen it for the first time as an adult in 1964. ETYMYTHOLOGY

is a term I just discovered for 'folk etymology' which has been on my mind since I blogged about proposed origins for leprechaun.

One Chinese etymythology has its own Wikipedia article!

If Eugene Mo is correct, the alternate spelling 危幾 for 危機 'crisis' may indicate that the word is a synonym compound 'danger-danger' since 幾, like 危, can mean 'danger'*. Is 危幾 older than 危機?

*幾 normally means 'how many' (with the 'rising' tone) and 'nearly' (with the 'level' tone). 'Danger' is a rare meaning associated with the 'level' tone reading of 幾. HALF-BODIED LEPRECHAUNS?

Is this etymology correct?

There are a number of possible etymologies of the name "leprechaun". One of the most widely accepted theories is that the name comes from the Irish word leipreachán, defined by Dinneen as "a pigmy, a sprite, a leprechaun; for luchorpán"; the latter word Dinneen defines as "a pigmy, a leprechaun; 'a kind of aqueous sprite'"; this word has also been identified as meaning "half-bodied", or "small-bodied" ...

The word which is widely believed to be the root and one of the ones quoted by the Oxford English Dictionary is luchorpán, from lu small + corp body.

It seems phonologically implausible: the first two vowels (e e vs. u o) don't match, and multiple metatheses would be needed to account for the consonants (pr ch vs. ch rp). Is this mismatch the result of a deliberate deformation process (e.g., like a complex Irish version of Pig Latin)?

My modern Irish dictionary lists 'smaller' (comparative of beag 'small'), corpán 'body', and lucharachán [luxaraxaan] 'dwarf; elf; toddler', but not leipreachán [leprexaan].

The American Heritage Dictionary lists a variant of the above etymology including an improbable shift of chr [xr] to pr.

This etymology also seems phonologically implausible:

An alternative derivation for the name and another one quoted by the Oxford English Dictionary, is leath bhrógan, meaning shoe-maker — the leprechaun is known as the fairy shoemaker of Ireland and is often portrayed working on a single shoe.

leath bhrógan is pronounced [le vroogan] which isn't much like [leprexaan] or [luxaraxaan].

Maybe these are attempts to impose Irish-internal etymologies on autonyms in leprechaun languages!

Níl mé ach ag magadh (lit. 'is-not I but at joke') - I'm only joking! IS WATCHMEN UNTRANSLATABLE?

No, not the book or movie (which have been translated), but the title. An ideal translation would have to encompass the following (and perhaps more):

watch in the sense of 'oversee': who oversees the overseers?

watch in the sense of 'protect': the Watchmen are protectors who themselves may need protection from a 'mask killer'

watch in the sense of a wristwatch: e.g., the watch that led to the creation of Dr. Manhattan

watch in the sense of seeing: e.g., Ozymandias' watching the world through his wall of TV screens

Watchmen is about Weltanschauungen - worldviews:

Series writer Alan Moore created the main characters to present four or five "radically opposing ways" to perceive the world, and to give readers of the story the privilege of determining which one was most morally comprehensible.

My worldview resembles Rorschach's. KO RAKṢAAPURUṢAAN RAKṢATI?

को रक्षापुरुषान्रक्षति।

ko 'who' (nominative singular) < kas (-as > -o before r-; cognate to who, Latin quis in the original version of this phrase)

rakṣaapuruṣaan 'watchmen' (accusative plural)

rakṣaa 'watch (alas, not also a timepiece); security'

puruṣa 'person' (the resemblance to person is coincidental, as person is ultimately from non-Indo-European Etruscan)

rakṣati 'watches' (present indicative 3rd person singular)

If a word ending in a consonant is followed by a word beginning with a vowel, the two are written together.


rakṣaapuruṣacalacitram apaśyam.

rakṣaapuruṣa 'watchman' (uninflected stem in a compound)

calacitra 'movie' (accusative singular)

cala 'moving'

citra 'picture'

apaśyam 'I saw' (imperfect 1st person singular)


tan 'it' (nominative singular) < tad (cognate to that); -d becomes -n before m-

mahyam 'me' (dative singular; cognate to me)

arocata 'pleased' (imperfect 3rd person singular; root is ruc, lit. 'shine'; cognate to light, Latin lux) 保衛奇俠 BOUWAI KEIHAAP

is the Hong Kong title for the only movie I might see in a theater this year:

保衛 bouwai 'defend'

bou 'protect'

wai 'guard'

奇俠 keihaap

kei 'strange'

haap 'hero'

I have provided Cantonese readings since the HK title is probably mostly used by Cantonese speakers. The Mandarin for 保衛 奇俠 is Baowei qixia.

守護者 Shouhuzhe turns out to be the Taiwanese title. The PRC title is similar: 守望者 Shouwangzhe with 望 wang 'observe' instead of 護 hu 'defend'. 守望 shouwang 'defend-observe' is 'keep watch'.

None of the three translations imply time - a major theme in the comic. And 'who defends the defenders?' is not a translation of Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Here are a few names of the 'defenders'. Can you guess who's who?

變臉羅夏 Md Bianlian Luoxia 'change-face net-summer'

笑匠 Md Xiaojiang 'laugh-master'

智謀者 Md Zhimouzhe 'resourceful one', lit. 'wise-scheme-er'

Select the blank space below for the answers:

Bianlian Luoxia is Rorschach. Luoxia 'lwoh-shyah' is a Mandarin-based transcription of Rorschach. When read in Cantonese, 羅夏 Loha barely sounds like Rorschach at all.

Xiaojiang is the Comedian.

Zhimouzhe is Ozymandias (the subject of the first poem I ever read, thanks to Roy Thomas who quoted it in an issue of Avengers!). Presumably the translator thought that 奧西曼達斯 Aoximandasi was too long and/or obscure.

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