simplified characters in Taiwan

posted in: words, taipei 0

Not sure why and when people use simplified characters in Taiwan. If it were simply a matter of ease in writing, it would be more prevalent. Here it says 周年庆 instead of 週年慶.


Look me!

posted in: words, kids 0

look me, Look Me, LOOK ME, LOOK MEEEE mummy!

I still have to remind attention-seeking S that it’s “Look at me” and not “Look me.” I believe this grammatical mistake stems from him being more used to saying 你看我! in Chinese, where of course prepositions do not exist.

language wars

posted in: words 0

For you English language buffs: a brief history of the fight between prescriptivists and descriptivists (by Joan Acocella in the New Yorker). In short, prescriptivists believe language follows certain rules, so there is a correct way to speak and write; descriptivists believe that language doesn’t necessarily follow strict rules so the best we can do is describe how people currently use it.

Anyway, one funny bit in the article was a short table of “upper-class” and “non upper-class” English words:



Expensive Costly
False Teeth Dentures
Pregnant Expecting
House (a lovely) Home (a lovely)
What? Pardon?
Napkin Serviette
Awful smell Unpleasant odor
Rich Wealthy
Curtains Drapes

Get it? It shows what words (non-U) middle-class people use to pretend to be upper-class. At least in 1954, when this table was published (this was taken from “U and Non-U: An Essay in Sociological Linguistics” by Alan S. C. Ross).

So folks, the moral of the story is not to use fancier sounding language when a simpler word exists.*


*Unless you’re a lawyer, in which case the extreme version of “non-U” is how you make their money.

per petterson

posted in: words 0

James Wood, from the New Yorker:

I have a friend, a writer, who became so obsessed by the Norwegian novelist Per Petterson’s “I Curse the River of Time” that he copied it out, word for word—perhaps hoping that his pure replica might unlock the secrets of that mysterious book, with its curling form and drifting sentences. When he told me this, I had not read anything by Petterson. But how could anyone resist such a recommendation? As soon as I opened “I Curse the River of Time” (one of the great titles), I understood the dementing lure.

(read more here)

And who could resist *that* recommendation? Up to now I’ve only read Out Stealing Horses, which Wood calls “more straightforward and less interesting” (and more prize-winning). Was happy to find a copy of Jeg forbanner tidens elv on our bookshelf, but yes, in Norwegian…


pom & arvo

posted in: words 0

…words I wouldn’t have known without having an Australian officemate.

thinking in norwegian

posted in: oslo, words 0

A common difficulty for Norwegian learners is to distinguish between the different “thinking” words. Using the right word for the right context is not always easy–at least if you’re worried about offending people.

jeg tror = I think, but only in circumstances for which you are uncertain about something. for example, “I think he is 32 years old”–implying that you don’t know for sure (if you did, I suppose you would say “I know he is 32” or simply “he is 32”). as a result, it is mildly offensive if to say something like jeg tror du er pen (“I think you’re pretty”): the uncertainty in the word tror implies that you are either unsure or lying.

interestingly one uses the same word for religious belief: jeg tror på gud = I believe in god.

jeg synes/mener = I think, in the sense of “in my opinion”. So you can safely use this one if you want to say that “I think he is nice”.

jeg tenker på = I think about, as in, the actual process of thinking (“I think a lot about work”).

Only after a year do I actually get it. Or at least I recognize now when I’ve used the wrong one. (Knowing is half the battle, right?)

how Ai Weiwei got his name

posted in: china, words 0

well, this is according to Wikipedia, but it’s cool if true: Ai Weiwei’s father was a famous Chinese poet called Aì Qīng (艾青). But that wasn’t his real name; his original name was Jiang Zhenghan (蒋正涵), styled Jiang Haicheng (蒋海澄)–in addition to his numerous pen names.

Anyway, this poet was tortured and imprisoned in 1932 for opposing the Kuomintang (KMT) party. While in prison, he wrote his first book Da Yan River–My Wet-nurse (《大堰河——我的保姆》)… But while writing his surname (Jiang) he stopped at the “艹”, because he resented sharing the same surname as KMT leader Chiang Kai-shek (“蔣介石”). So he finished the rest of the word with an X. This happens to be the Chinese character ai (), and since the rest of his name, Hai Cheng, meant qing (, the color blue), he adopted the pen name Ai Qing.

sounds like an interesting family.

Self-portrait by Ai Weiwei: its caption(草泥马挡中央, "grass mud horse covering the middle") sounds almost the same in Chinese as 肏你妈党中央, "Fuck your mother, the Communist party central committee". (The Australian via Wikipedia)

norwegian = really old english

posted in: words 2

I learned from my first Norwegian teacher that the English and Norwegian languages used to be very much the same, but then went divergent ways over the centuries. Today I found on my bookshelf (it must be G’s) a book called The Mother Tongue: English & How It Got That Way by Bill Bryson–and while skimming through it I found an interesting passage, at least for English-speaking Norwegian learners. The author writes about where English words come from, and how their meanings could change over time:

Sometimes an old meaning is preserved in a phrase or expression. Neck was once widely used to describe a parcel of land, but that meaning has died out except in the expression “neck of the woods.” Tell once meant to count. This meaning died out but is preserved in the expression bank teller and in the term for people who count votes. When this happens, the word is called a fossil.

*ahem* the Norwegian word for count is teller.

Occasionally, because the sense of the word has changed, fossil expressions are misleading. Consider the oft-quoted statement “the exception proves the rule.” Most people take this to mean that the exception confirms the rule, though when you ask them to explain the logic in that statement, they usually cannot. After all, how can an exception prove a rule? It can’t. The answer is that an earlier meaning of prove was to test (a meaning preserved in proving ground) and with that meaning the statement suddenly becomes sensible–the exception that tests the rule. A similar misapprehension is often attached to the statement “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.”

(er… the Norwegian word for test is prøve.)

Sometimes words change by becoming more specific. Starve originally meant to die before it took on the more particular sense of to die by hunger. A deer was once any animal (it still is in the German tier) and meat was any food (the sense is preserved in “meat and drink” and in the English food mincemeat, which contains various fruits but no meat in the sense that we now use it).

  • animal = dyr
  • food = mat
  • food & drink = mat & drikke

Okay, yes, Norwegian in that sense is very similar to English–but believe me, from hearing it you would never think so. There are some particular similarities, however, and other than the new tech-related words that all languages have adopted (like “internet”), these tend to be really old-fashioned words:

  • plyndre: plunder (as in, “vikings steal and plunder”)
  • ha behov for: to have a need for, to behove (old English: “it behoves me to speak frankly with you”)
  • et kloster: a cloister (where monks live)
  • en fiende: a fiend (enemy)
  • farvel: farewell

So you can imagine that learning Norwegian is like learning the lines of a Shakespearean play: Farewell viking! You have plundered our cloister enough! It behoves me to cast you out now, fiend!

Or something like that.

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