East-West (东西)

Published 2006-09-16

The Chinese name for House (the TV show with Hugh Laurie) is “Hooligan Doctor” (流氓医生, Liumang Yisheng). Alias is “Double-Faced Spy Woman” (双面女间谍, Shuangmian Nujiandie).

A popular Chinese word for “um” (or “like” or “y’know”) is nege (呢个). This sounds so much like the very worst word in American English that it makes me uncomfortable.

Kentucky Friend Chicken is the most popular fast food by far. The Chinese call it KFC or Kendeji (肯德基), a (so far as I know) meaningless word whose characters signify “Virtuous Foundation.” Coca-Cola is written 可口可乐 (Kekou Kele, pronounced roughly as if every vowel were a schwa)...which makes for a visually arresting logo (all those boxes!) As with KFC, no one regards it as meaning anything, but the characters translate approximately to “Tasty Happy-able.” I don’t think 可乐 (kele) is a proper Chinese word, but the 可 (ke) prefix means the same thing as “-able” in English. So why is it neither Chinese or English has a word meaning “Happyable?”

“America” is 美国 (Meiguo), “Lovely Country,” which sounds about right. “England” is 英国 (Yingguo), “Heroic Country.” Yeah, I could buy that. “France” is 法国 (Faguo), “Lawful Nation.” In that yes, they do have laws, I suppose this also is true. “Germany” is 德国 (Deguo), “Virtuous Nation.” I think they picked these names before 1914. But if we used Chinese characters for every language, this would be a lot simpler. “Japan” is 日本 (Riben) “Root of the Sun.” In Japanese (a completely unrelated language) it’s pronounced Nihon, but written the same way with the same meaning.

The word for “thing” or “whatchamacallit” is 东西 (dongxi), meaning “East-West.”