Vocab learning is essentially the dull bit of learning a language. No matter how pretty your flashcards, how complex your algorithms or how well you speak grammar, there are just a lot of words. And unfortunately, there’s no way around that – a language is basically a pile of words stuck together with some stuff about which order to put the words in – grammar, a Greek word meaning meaning ‘art of letters’.
Sometimes, the language likes to cheat. It can’t think of a word, and creates some clever little compounds, some of which are downright ingenious. For some reason, English has a lot of different words for some animals – like ‘horse’, ‘zebra’, ‘giraffe’, ‘weasel’, ‘penguin’ and more. However, Chinese has been a bit… creative with translations of some of these words. Take a look at some of these translations, then scroll down to see how many you’ve guessed right!
Let’s start easy with ‘striped horse (斑马)’. ‘Changing colour dragon‘ (变色龙). The bizarre ‘enterprising goose‘ (企鹅). The less-strange ‘terrifying dragon‘ (恐龙, pronounced ‘kong long’ which is the least scary word I’ve ever heard – and are dragons not already terrifying enough)? ‘Yellow rat wolf‘ (黄鼠狼) is slightly contradictory, as well as the ‘sea piglet‘ (海豚 – isn’t the piglet the least likely animal to gracefully swim through water?). And finally, we come to the infamous name of this post – the ‘long neck deer‘.
Let’s see how many you could guess. The striped horse is clearly a zebra, and the changing colour dragon is a beautiful way of describing a chameleon. The enterprising goose seems to be a penguin (is it the suits?). A terrifying dragon is a dinosaur, but I think it really should be the other way round – which one breathes fire?
A yellow rat wolf is the distinctly un-wolfish weasel, and the description of a dolphin as nothing but a ‘sea piglet’ seems to be pretty insulting. And yes, as you may have guessed from the picture, the giraffe is nothing but a long neck deer.
Some words have a long and unique ancestry (which always tend to go back to Granny Greek and Grandad Latin), but some have a fascinating and unique backstory. Take our wonderful ‘long neck deer’. A medieval Chinese admiral came back with a fantastic beast and the country used a variety of words to describe it before agreeing on the genius long neck deer. The ‘camel leopard’ appeared in texts along with the ‘long neck deer’, with some valiant attempts to even create some new words – but eventually long neck deer (adapted from ‘long neck strange deer’) won the day.
Three things I’ve learned this week:
- Grammar is art now! I’m an artist!
- Penguins are the new entrepreneurs. I can see it now.
- Even making words is a competition now. The ABC Factor anyone?
If you enjoyed this post, both Imperial Racing and Coffee – let’s Chinese-ify this. from related topics (ish) should interest you! The archive pick for this week is Talking Gymnastics – the second ever post on this blog. Check back next week for more!
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