Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Ridiculously flexible words

When you start learning Chinese, you figure out relatively quickly how the language puts characters together to make words.

Since 好 (hǎo) means 'good', it makes sense that 友 is a 'close friend', 看 is 'good looking', 处 is an 'advantage', 心 is 'kind hearted', and so on.

Deep down, I want Chinese to be like this all the time: consistent, and easy to learn. Unfortunately, life isn't fair. And Chinese isn't like this.

The one character, more than any others I have found, that seems to represent so many different things, is the character 节 / 節 (usually pronounced jié). The MDBG dictionary provides this selection of possible meanings: "festival / holiday / node / joint / section / segment / part / to economize / to save / to abridge / moral integrity / classifier for segments, e.g. lessons, train wagons, biblical verses".

I was seeing this character appearing in so many (very different) words, which is what got me thinking,  including: 节目 (jié​mù) = program;  春节 (Chūn​jié) = Spring Festival (but it also applies to most festivals including Christmas & Valentines Day);  章节 (zhāng​jié) = chapter;  细节 (xì​jié) = details;  空气调节 (kōng​qì​tiáo​jié) = aircon;  etc.

Not sure about you, but I find this confusing!

In an attempt to gain control of this character, with Judy's help, I came up with the following sentence to put in my flashcard pack.

     On Thanksgiving, frugal people might buy energy-saving lightbulbs in order to save money
     zài Gǎn'ēnjié, jiéjiǎn de rén kěnéng mǎi jiénéng de dēngpào lái jiéshěng jīnqián

(And if you remember, it really does help to create 'special' sentences for you flashcard pack, as I've written about here: The clever butcher uses a cleaver)

What about you? Do you have a character in mind that has many meanings? If so, please leave a comment below (anonymous notes are welcome too!).

1 comment:

  1. Nearly 7 months after writing this article, I came across an interesting use for the 节 character: nunchaku!

    I read in this article that it is written 双节棍 or 雙節棍. Double-section stick.