Monday, October 29, 2007

Is there a 成语 that means "grrrrrr" ?

I want to give you an idea as to where I am in my Chinese studies:

I'm reading a (quite interesting) novel, and have to stop to look up the unfamiliar, fairly obscure character 盏. It turns out to be a measure word that is only used for the arithmetical counting of lamps and/or small cups of wine.

Meanwhile, the characters that I am very familiar are starting to take on new and crazy meanings. For example 公文旅行, which is made up of very simple characters, turns out to have this whopper of a definition:

"An official document concerning a practical problem or requiring a solution to it is passed from one government department to another and the problem can't be solved for a long time."

One the one hand, it's great that these silly obscure things are the only things I have yet to learn; it's like dotting the I's and crossing the T's on my study of a very complex language.

On the other hand, these little pesky bits are:

A) ENDLESS. I mean, almost literally innumerable. Though you only need a couple thousand characters to read and write most Chinese, there are over 50,000 that might pop up in one place or another.

B) FRUSTRATING. You see the measure word for lamps, you look up in the dictionary, and you immediately forget it. Unless you're determined-- as I am-- to retain these ridiculous words, in which case you spend hours and hours looking at flashcards of the bastards.

C) FUNDAMENTAL. Obscure as they may be, you still gotta know 'em. I recently learned the word that means "singe," which got me thinking about learning English. Singe, burn, roast, sear, grill, blacken, char, it goes on an on. You could easily see any one of them in a book, newspaper, or simple document. If you haven't learned them, you don't know what the sentence means. The same with Chinese. Except with Chinese, they're even more important, because a character in Chinese can convey a hell of a lot more meaning than a single word in English (see the bit about the "traveling official document" above).


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