Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Today's Word: Nun's Dragon

#chinese #mandarin #hanzi #japanese .
There is a goldmine of "funny words" to be explored in the "hanzification" of imported words. This is one area where Japanese has the edge, so to say. Where Chinese only uses Hanzi to write foreign words - and then you have to know how the character is pronounced - Japanese has the phonetic Katakana to make the pronunciation easy; more later.

It would be tempting to search for some correlation between the meaning of the individual characters and the word they represent, but I think this is in vain for 99% of the time. So what is a Nun's Dragon, or if you prefer, Nun Dragon? Ní + Lóng = Nylon. To satisfy out never ending quest for interesting images, we can visualize a nun putting on her Nylon Dragon Stockings in her cell. Beware though: 尼姑 is a Buddhist nun and 修女 is Christian nun.

We have already explored various dragon characters here, but I am still too fond of the traditional Dragon Character to skip it here:

A beauty, isn't it? (Would be interesting, though, to learn how the Masters of Simplification arrived at the version above!) Finally a look at Nylon from the Japanese perspective:

As you probably know Japanese has two scripts on top of Kanji: Hiragana and Katakana. The latter is used mostly for foreign loanwords - and do they have those in tons in Japanese? - and some emphasis in ordinary text. This means that once you have learned the 48 syllables in Katakana you can pronounce most loanwords, but there is a black hole here: these loanwords are not always what we think! アルバイト arubaito, from German Arbeit, does not simply mean work, but part-time work. And so on....

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