I love etymology.
I’m not sure what about knowing “why” a word is what it is that steams my baozi, but I just dig it. I confess, I’m not hardcore about it, but do frequently visit www.etymonline.com for casual reading.
For armchair etymologists like myself, the Chinese language is a fantastic source of wonders. Learning new words in Chinese is unquestionably an uphill battle, and sometimes looking at the literal translations of character combinations is not only helpful for memorization, it is also just a whole lot of fun.
Back when “Chinese” was still just something I said mostly for the amusement of onlisteners, I remember being taught “小心“, which of course means “take care, be careful.” Literally translated it becomes “small heart”. The image of a man with a small heart (in my mind, meaning cruel) trying to hurt me has reminded me of the meaning ever since.
As convoluted as the above may be, some are very direct, and very humorous. Take, for example, vagina. In Chinese this is “阴道“, “阴” has a number of meanings, but for the sake of amusement, lets go with “covert, concealed, hidden”; “sinister, treacherous”; and/or “of the nether world”. “道” means “way, path, road, channel, etc.”
None of these are quite so amusing as the names of places and nations. For me this offers some, rather ill-conceived, insight into the opinion of Chinese towards 外面的世界. Here are a few:
|Italy||意大利||wish big profits|
Those last two are possibly the most interesting. I mean, obviously these are transliterations made to use similar sounds as their English counterparts, but really, is this the best they could come up with?
Now, before you scroll down and comment on how I’m being a far-too-literal asshole and reading WAY too much into what characters were chosen, am I wrong to think that perhaps more positive characters (with the same phonetic) could have been picked?
Perhaps someone with a bit more knowledge about the subject could chime in and enlighten me. As it is, despite what the media indicates, I’m sure as the world understands Chinese language more… two things are sure to happen – American-Chinese relationships may bloom (who doesn’t like being called beautiful), and African-Chinese relationships may sour… I mean, “evil-doing continent”? Bit hard to linguate your way out of that one.