Category: Chinese - Dreams and Dialects
 
Today I am stuck in bed with the worst cold I've had in years. So naturally I am cheering myself up by reading up on Chinese logogram etymologies. Yep - this is how I spend my sick days. What of it.

It's really interesting how some of these characters came to be. For example, 令, originally meaning an order or command, is made up of the symbol for a mouth (亼) above a kneeling person (卩). Pretty cool, right?

Also, let's look at the character for bird: 鳥. Looks nothing like a bird, right? Check out the development of the character and you'll totally see it.
PictureLeft to right: Bird who dropped his keys; Bird running away from the police; Meth addict bird






So some of these are really quite obvious and make a lot of sense. Those obviously look like birds, right? But then there are some that are just so strange and interesting, and one cannot help but see other pictures in these symbols. So today I present to you the daft imagination that my cold has granted me and I will guide you through the secret hidden etymologies of Chinese characters that nobody ever told you about because they're silly and were made up by me.

WARNING: Silliness imminent.

1. is a cat being tickled

In reality, this is a tripod or a three-legged couldron, also known as a ding. But just take a quick peek at the history of the character and damn well look me in the eye and tell me that's not a cat being tickled.
Picture
How many tickled kitties does it take to fill a ding? Can honestly say I never saw myself producing that sentence in my entire life.
That is blatantly a picture of two arms reaching up and tickling a cat whose legs are wriggling around in joy. Don't try to pretend it isn't. Also, I think the cat may be blindfolded. Should we be worried? What kind of cat-tickling practices did the ancient Chinese partake in?

2. ...I'll let it speak for itself

Now I'm not really the type to be immature, bu-- okay yes I'm immature. Just thought I'd get this one out of the way.
Picture
Yeah... sorry
Let's move on.

3. is a Wugballoon

If you haven't been anywhere near an Intro to Linguistics lecture then this may take some explaining. The Wug is a fictional creature invented for use in the Wug test. Essentially, the Wug tests how first language English-speaking children understand and pick up inflections, and in the Wug's case in particular, it's testing plurals. Here is an example of the Wug test. Isn't he cute?
Picture
This is a Wugballoon. Now there are 99 of them. There are 99 ________________.
Wait a minute. What the hell is a Wug doing in some ancient Chinese scripts? This symbol means moon or month, and it developed from a pictogram of a crescent moon. So how on earth did it even turn into a Wugballoon? Jean Berko Gleason has some explaining to do.

4. is a baby dragon that is totally pleased to see you

Some people would have you believe that this character means leader or chief. Some say it developed as a pictogram of a head with lots of hair. Ya know, like this guy. Yeah? Do you see it? Well you're wrong, and I have too much respect for you to not tell you what it really is. Because It's a happy baby dragon that is totally pleased to see you.
Picture
"Hey, buddy! Wanna get some take-out?"
Isn't he just an adorably little happy baby dragon? He's so happy to see you! But he's not happy about the fact that he has been forgotted in the mists of etymology. This guy is the rightful heir to the throne of the 首-symbol and he refuses to be forgotten.

5.  is two cats arguing over a garden fence

Don't see it? Are you sure? This character actually means dance, and is compromised of  + . Historically, the character is made up of a picture of a dancer holding two animal skins. was originally compromised of two feet facing each other, i.e. steps. Look at this Bone Oracle script version, it's so obvious now. It's a person dancing, right? It's a dancer.

Yeah, no it isn't.

Look at other forms of this character and it becomes obvious that the secret hidden etymology of this symbol is that of two cats shrugging at opposite sides of a fence.
Picture
"Srsly I has no idea who poopt in ur flowrs"


Yeah, now I'm just going to roll around in a bath full of Vicks Vapour Rub and wait for death. Thanks for reading.
 
Yup, my life is so void of any real excitement that my favourite thing to do is collect interesting words. Since I have a vast collection of many, many words, today I thought I’d share about 10 of these with you. Enjoy!

1. 積ん読 tsundoku (Japanese) 

(n.) The act of leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piled up together with other unread books

I think many of us can relate to this one. I myself have quite a few books that I will probably never really read. My grammar of Middle Breton, for example. I just love to collect books, to have them there on my shelf whether I read them or not, just so I can say, "Hey, look, I have a book on Middle Breton grammar" or "And this is my Irish dictionary from the 1920's written in An Cló Gaelach". A lot of people would criticise this practice, but really, with books slowly being pushed aside for e-readers and so on, I'd assume that one day most books will only have ornamental value anyway. 

2. Wīwī (Māori)

(n.) France
I don't think this word needs much explanation. It comes from French "oui, oui". Can you imagine naming a country after one stereotypical phrase used by its language's speakers? Just beautiful.  

3. snowlight (English)

(n.) The light reflected by snow

I'll be honest, I thought I had invented this word myself, so I was a little disappointed to see that it already exists, but it's a wonderful word nonetheless! Have you ever noticed how the world just glows when you're outside in the snow at night? You could walk through a field in the middle of the night and be able to see clearly just from the light reflected by the snow. It's one of my favourite things about winter.

5. molotulun (Ngarrindjeri)

(vb.) The ebbing and flowing of the waves on Lake Alexandrina, South Australia

I can't vouch for the authenticity of this word, as a Google search will only give you links to various dictionaries and a couple of books. Whether this word is genuine or not, the idea of a language having such a specific term fills me with joy. 

6. 森林 sēnlín (Mandarin Chinese) 

(n.) Forest

"Forest?" you might ask, "that's an interesting word?". Well, stop asking such silly questions and just look at it. It's literally a picture of five trees. In fact, from what I've seen, it gets even better. Let me show you how often you can use this simple 木 character: 
木 林 森 𣛧 𣡕 𣡽

How can you not adore this language!?

7. ននៀល [nɔniel] (Cambodian)

(vb.) to lie on the ground and thrash about (as a fish out of water or as a child having a temper tantrum)
It's essentially comparing a spoilt brat to a dying fish, what more could you possibly want from a word? There can't really be that many instances in which you could use it, but I can just imagine it being hilarious. 

8. crebi (Welsh)

(n.) A sheep that has lost its wool by forcing its way through thorns and briars, etc

I discovered this word the other day through the Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, and it had me laughing for a good five minutes. Only Welsh could have such a specific sheep-related word. I love this language.

9. serein (English)

(n.) fine rain falling after sunset from a sky in which no clouds are visible

I can't say I've ever experienced this myself, and as someone who doesn't know the first thing about meteorology, I don't quite understand how you can have rain without clouds (someone enlighten me?) but I just love nature words that are so specific. 

10. petrichor (English)

(n.) The distinctive scent which accompanies the first rain after a long warm dry spell.

Some people use this word to mean 'the smell of the earth after rain', but it does have a slightly more specific meaning than that. It was coined by two Australian researchers, and it is an absolutely beautiful word: it's combined of the Greek words 'petra' (πέτρα) meaning 'stone', and 'ichor' (ἰχώρ) the ethereal golden blood of the gods.