Sunday, May 3, 2009

无 (wú, mó: negative, not)

OK, so 每日汉字 was on hiatus a little more than one month. Meantime, we moved back the U.S., bought a house, made a person, and I started working for Mercy Corps.

But I feel a little guilty that my proficiency with 汉字 has slipped so far.

Friday at work I noticed a shared library on the iTunes network called 无为而无不为, which was chuckyjam full of brilliant music, about half of it in Chinese. But to my horror, I recognized every single character in "无为而无不为" ... and yet could translate only one of them (不 [bù: no, not]). Meaning: I had learned 无 and 为 and 而 and then forgotten them.

So, today's 汉字:

无 (wú, mó: negative, not) might be one of the first Chinese words I ever learned, from Tao of Pooh. It's one half of wuwei, the concept of doing without knowing, or natural action. But translated directly, 无为 means simply “inactivity.”

Bonus 汉字: 为 (wéi, wèi: do, handle, act; be)

Friday, June 1, 2007

Metapost: The Slack in Daily Hanzi

I realize that Daily Hanzi is barely a week old but I’ll be on hiatus for as much as a month. Beijing has finally closed the loophole that allows blogspot bloggers to publish (but not view) our blogs. I can still get around the firewall: it isn’t difficult, but it’s slow. This, coupled with our impending return to the U.S., means I might not have time/energy/inclination to keep up with the daily posts.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

尚 (shàng: “still, even”)

Another quick one today as work continues to bury me (as I suspect it will for the next five weeks).

I saw 尚 on a billboard this morning during my commute and remembered the stroke order. It has the radical 八 (bā: “divide, eight”) which literally means “eight” but as a radical is supposed to have the sense of “divide.” This is over the sound-part 向 (xiàng: “face, to”). It appears in two words I don’t know (but wouldn’t my life be better if I did?): 尚且 (shàngqiě: “even”) and 尚未 (shàngwèi: “not yet”).

Monday, May 28, 2007

禁 (jìn: “forbid, prohibit”)

A quickie today as I’m squeezing the Daily Hanzi in at lunch time. I see 禁 all the time on signs in the park. I suspected it had something to do with prohibitions (what else do wordy signs in parks tell you other than “no campfires, no skateboarding, no unleashed dogs,” etc.)

The radical 示 (shì) is an uncommon one, and according to has an unusual history. It means something like “the revealed truths of gods” and carries a vague connotation of “demonstrate, show, protest.” It’s topped in 禁 by two 木 (mù: “wood, tree”) characters.

Altogether this character emits a potent bronze age miasma: forbidden forests? Augured taboos? Wooden idols?


Sunday, May 27, 2007

油 (yóu: “oil, fat, grease”)

I cribbed 油 from the ventilator hood over our stove, which has a large advertising sticker proclaiming it to be a 吸油烟机 (xīyóuyānjī: lit. “grease smoke sucking machine”). All the appliances in our apartment were new or newish when we moved in, and neither our landlady or the previous tenant (or, indeed we) had removed the showroom stickers touting their virtues.

油 takes the radical 水 (shūi: “water,” in radical form simplified as two dots and a stroke on the left of the character), which usually signifies a fluid or body of water. The sound part, helpfully, is 由 (yóu: “from”). So in the case of 油, both the radical and sound-part are actually useful.

Spectators of sporting events shout 加油! 加油! (jía yóu: lit. “add oil”). This is also how you say “fill one’s car with petrol.”

Saturday, May 26, 2007

每 (měi: “every, each”)

每 is one of those characters I see everywhere and had, until ten minutes ago, no idea what it meant. It also turns out that I knew the word 每 as a compound with days of the week: e.g. 每星期三 (měixīngqīsān: “every Wednesday”), but never knew how to write it.

My dictionary (a bright yellow Langenscheidt’s Pocket) is unhelpful about this character. I think the radical is 人 (rén: “person”), but I don’t seen an overhead configuration for 人 in the radical index. The sound-part is 母 (mǔ: “motherly”), which I knew already from other contexts but which is also not in the radical index.

This is one of the hardest things about learning Chinese: you can’t learn just a little. Chinese is very contextual: the meaning of a sound like mei will vary dramatically by context, as does a series of shapes like 人 and 母. It takes a long time to gain some traction in that context. If I were translating a Chinese text and encountered 每 for the first time, and didn’t already know it meant “every,” Langenscheidt wouldn’t be able to help me either, and I’d languish in ignorance. Only by using Google can I turn 每 into “daily,” and then use Langenscheidt to find měi in reverse.