When I first learned the word 指南针 (south pointing needle) I thought “That’s weird, why isn’t it 指北针 (north pointing needle)?” and didn’t give it much extra thought.
I looked it up the other night though, and discovered that people do say 指北针! I tried to find out if there are any usage differences between the two, but there don’t seem to be any obvious ones. I did read somewhere that the reason the needle points south is due to the ocean being generally to the South in ancient China, does anyone know if this is true or not?
Baidu gives me 29,300,000 hits for 指南针, and 2,720,000 for 指北针, so I guess the latter isn’t used that often.
Literally, “the sparrow may be small, but it still has all five major organs”, this phrase can be used when discussing something that still has all the essentials despite lacking in size or importance.
You could, for example, use it to describe a small city which doesn’t have many major attractions, but which still has everything you need to live comfortably - supermarkets, banks, restaurants, cinemas, KTV, etc.
The five internal organs, 五脏 in Chinese (also 五内 and 五中）, are the heart, the lungs, the liver, the spleen and the kidneys.
Apparently the character 赟 (yūn) is quite popular in given names, especially in recent years. Why? It’s a fairly obscure character, and on its own it means means good appearance or splendid, but it’s also made up of the components 文, 武, and 贝, which mean (roughly), literature, military, and shell, respectively.
文 and 武 are part of the chengyu 文武双全, which describes someone skilled in both literature and military matters - a master of the pen and the sword. I heard that the combination with 贝 makes it attractive to parents because of the association with the word 宝贝, a term of endearment similar to “treasure” or “darling”, but 贝 also represents money, as shells used to be a form of currency, and the Baidu Baike page on 赟 says that the character is used in people’s names because it has the aforementioned soldier/scholar connotation along with that of money/wealth.
Just when I thought this language couldn’t get any harder, it turns out that two characters/character components that I had always assumed were the same shape, turn out to be written in subtly different ways.
This one is 口 kǒu, which means mouth on its own, and is also a component in characters such as 吃 (to eat). This one is 囗 wéi (or guó), and stands for enclosure, but is more often used as a component in characters like the obvious example 囚 qiú, prisoner - a man 人 inside a cell (enclosure).
Until recently I’d always written 口 like 囗, which was wrong. The difference is in the type of strokes, which I won’t go into too much detail about, and can be seen most clearly by comparing the bottom right-hand corners of the pictures below.
Another movie with a Chinese title totally different from the English one is House of Flying Daggers, which is called 十面埋伏 in Chinese, which refers to the Battle of Gaixia, and literally means ten sides ambush.
I suppose House of Flying Daggers sounds much better in English than Ambush from Ten Sides.
My girlfriend is reading The Hobbit at the moment, and the other night I saw this symbol on the back of the book.
After looking it up I now know that it is a rune-like symbol that Tolkien made for a signature, and is composed of his initials, J, R, R and T, but when I saw it for the first time it looked to me just like the character 束(shù), seen in regular script below.
Suffice to say, this observation was met by a less-than-enthusiastic groan from my girlfriend, trained to hate hanzi by Korea’s fabulous education system,
After seeing it mentioned in the latest issue of The World of Chinese, a magazine which I highly recommend, I downloaded the iPhone app Argue in Chinese. It’s not the slickest app ever, and I can’t vouch for how authentic or useful the fighting words in it are, but I love that each phrase is recorded in Beijing, Dongbei, Sichuan, and Tianjin accents.