The name "Baidu"

02 Aug 2005

I recently read a Yahoo News article titled “Baidu.com Ready for Stock Market Debut.” I read the story only partly interested until I got to the part about how the name “Baidu” (百度) was chosen. Literally, it means “100 degrees,” so I figured the logic behind the name was akin to the logic behind the name “Yahoo 360.” You know, something about connections… about connecting you to the information you’re looking for. I was quite wrong.

I found an interview with the founder of Baidu, 李彦宏. I’ll give a rough translation of the part that interested me:

> Interviewer: What does the name “Baidu” mean?

> 李彦宏: The name “Baidu” is actually related to searching. Back in the second half of ’99 before the National Day festivities I was thinking about making something — about making a Chinese search engine — and I needed a name for it. I set a few conditions for myself: The first was that the domain name should be short. The second was that it had a definite connection with searching. The third was that it couldn’t be too obvious. It couldn’t have a word like “search” or “seek” in the name; it should be a bit subtler. The fourth was that Chinese people could understand it. It needn’t be an English word that Americans would understand; rather, being a Chinese language search engine, it should be understandable to Chinese people. It was actually taken from a poem by Xin Qiji (辛弃疾): “众里寻她千百度” [something like “searching for her desperately in the crowd” (?)].

I’m not good at translating, and I’m especially unqualified to translate Chinese poetry. But I believe in this usage 度 is simply used to express a degree of intensity. Together with 百, it expresses a high degree of intensity. I, rightly or wrongly, translated it above as “desperately.” I’m not sure how close I am.

For more context, here is the original poem it came from:

> 青玉案

> 东风夜放花千树,更吹落、星如雨。
> 宝马雕车香满路。
> 凤箫声动,玉壶光转,一夜鱼龙舞。

> 蛾儿雪柳黄金缕,笑语盈盈暗香去。
> 众里寻他千百度
> 蓦然回首,那人却在,灯火阑珊处。

I can understand most of the poem without much difficulty, but again, I’m no translator, so I don’t want to touch it. I can confirm what Yahoo says, though. It “refers to a man ardently searching for his lover in a festival crowd.” If someone else wants to offer a translation, that would be nice. (Here’s a spoiler, though: in the last line, he finds her.)

Another interesting part of the article was this line: “Baidu.com’s advertising notes that Chinese has 38 ways to say ‘I.'” Huh? 38?! I wanted to factcheck this, so I did some searches. A lot of searches. Using Baidu as well as Google. I couldn’t find that claim anywhere. All I found was a Peking University BBS thread on the word “I” in various Chinese dialects.

Then I turned to Wenlin, my dictionary program. To my surprise, it listed 35! Not all of them are commonly used (or commonly used to mean “I”), but I guess that’s a start. In case you’re wondering, they are:

> ∾pr. 我 wǒ; 小 xiǎo; 咱们[-們] zánmen; 某 mǒu; 个人[個-] gèrén; 咱 zán; 余[餘] yú; 俺 ǎn; 弟 dì; 孤 gū; 区区[區區] qūqū; 侬[儂] nóng; 窃[竊] qiè; 朕 zhèn ∾n. 人家 rénjia; 兄弟 xiōngdi; 本人 běnrén; 老子 lǎozi; 臣 chén; 鄙人 bǐrén; 不才 bùcái; 不佞 bùnìng; 贱妾[賤-] jiànqiè; 某人 mǒurén; 妾 qiè; 洒家[灑-] sǎjiā; 晚生 wǎnshēng; 下官 xiàguān; 小的 xiǎode; 小可 xiǎokě; 小婿 xiǎoxù; 愚 yú; 愚兄 yúxiōng; 在下 zàixià; 治下 zhìxià

Whew! How many words does the English language have for “I”? Probably more than we might think at first.

I don’t know why I find Baidu so interesting, but I do. I’ve been working on my tags lately, so if you want to see what I’ve written about Baidu in the past, you can check out the Baidu tag.

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John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

Comments

  1. Naturally, Wenlin doesn’t include one of the most common usages online: 偶 ǒu. But what about 寡 and 寡人 guǎrén? And 吾 wú?

    Oh, and there is no secondary form of the pronoun 余; 餘 is the traditional form of the “surplus” meaning only.

  2. 众里寻她千百度 is translated in A Silver Treasury of Chinese Lyrics as “Restlessly I searched among the crowds.” I don’t see any reason why we can’t be more literal and just say, “In the crowds I sought her, a million times.” To 寻 someone 千百度-ly may connote the emotion but it denotes only the number of times. I didn’t look this up, but it doesn’t look like it needs to be.

    Some of those first-person appellations need to be qualified. E.g., 妾, as far as I know, is only used in literary Chinese as a self-deprecating way for a woman to refer to herself when addressing her husband, lit. “your concubine.” 賤妾 is just saying “your lowly concubine.” A list of words that mean “I” as a first person pronoun would be shorter. But CHinese uses descriptive appellations more often than English, which tends to use pronouns more (a parallel kind of thing happens in Japanese when we say “John-san wa . . .” rather than “you” or “me”), so if you look at it that way there would be lots.

    寡人 is another appelation not in your list, used by rulers (“I, [the lonely person]”). 吾,予, and 余 are all common in Classical Chinese, and they actually mean “I”; not “your little son-in-law” or anything. In fact 吾 can’t even be used as an object. By the way, 餘 is not the traditional form for 余 as 1st person pronoun, except in some rare exceptions.

    I heard Wen Lin has a lot of words, so I’m surprised it doesn’t seem to have obsolete or formal words. Even my cheap old 汉英词典, a modern dictionary, has my examples. Did you limit your search to words in modern dialects, John? Or does Wen Lin really omit them?
    –Allen

  3. Some of these a genuine first-person pronouns, albeit with varying usage. Many others are ways of referring to oneself which can replace “I” in a sentence (“brother”, “lowly person”, “member of younger generation”, etc). As Allen notes, this type of usage is very uncommon in English (and not very common in modern Chinese either, as a matter of fact). So as for how many ways there are to say “I” in English, I would guess not much more than we might think at first. How many can you think of? “Yours truly”, the royal “we”, anything else?

  4. zhwj,

    Yeah, 吾 is a pretty glaring omission.

  5. Allen,

    I just looked up “I” in Wenlin 3.0, and that was all it had.

  6. Todd,

    Yeah, maybe there aren’t many after all. All I can think of right now is if 本人 counts in Chinese, then we have similar English usages like “this reviewer” and “this reporter.”

  7. 这是在下小婿。Here “小婿” is referred to somebody else instead of the speaker himself. So the use of this words is not limited to ‘I’.

  8. One need not look much further than your own Shanghai Soundboard to learn that “Ngu, A’la” is another form of “I”. I’ve just recently discovered your site, and find it quite a hoot…. peace…

  9. 洒家- originally used by buddhist monks
    小婿-is used by the son-in-law when talking to, well, his in-laws
    朕/孤- is only used by the emperor
    臣- is used by the ministers and officials when talking to the emperor
    下官- is used by officials when addressing someone has a higher rank

    Another one is 俺(An3), is colloquial in most northern regions.

  10. Allen’s quite right, 众里寻她千百[度],度 can be regarded as times (回、次), other e.g. 几[度]夕阳红?/ 物换星移几[度]秋。

  11. Ah… now you see why I try to avoid translating stuff.

    “100 times” sort of doesn’t make sense to me, though. If you’re searching for someone continuously, how is it divided into “times”? It’s not like you gave up and went home 99 times already. (I realize it’s hyperbole, but bear with me. I’m talking about the logic of it.)

    Or is he not searching continuously? Is he just sort of looking around every now and then?

    Dumb poetry.

  12. Whats this Wenlin you talk of and where can I download it?

  13. I like the way that you now set off your responses to comments. The pic in the corner is good too.

  14. Can we set one picture for each of us too? hahahaha…
    well, 众里寻她千百度 is likely to say he does not give up searching. Contrasted to 那人却在,灯火阑珊处, the author wanted to show that continuous hard working will finally lead to the success, but one more thing you need, the key – 蓦然回首, it’s kinda like Enlightenment (悟) in Buddhism.

  15. my understanding of this poem is:
    you sometimes try so hard to find ‘her’ in the obvious place , all of sudden, ‘she’ appears from nowhere, from least expected place.( but it was the result of the hard searching.)

    it is considered ‘人生最高境界’–:)

    “昨夜西风凋碧树,独上高楼,望尽天涯路。” 此第一境也。
    “ 衣带渐宽终不悔,为伊消得人憔悴。” 此第二境也。
    “ 众里寻他千百度,回头蓦见,那人正在,灯火阑珊处。” 此第三境也。

    —王国维

    these 3 lines are very famous.

  16. Actually, you can with Gravatar Kastner, but John would have to implement it on his end. I just have to say I am awed by the level of Chinese language profiency on this blog. Do you all happen to be linguists?

  17. ash,

    Wenlin is not freely available.

  18. Jing,

    I’ve toyed with the idea of implementing gravatars, but I haven’t yet. I doubt most commenters would go to the trouble of uploading one.

  19. ash,
    try using eMule to search for wenlin, xixi. The latest version is 3.22
    well, I won’t take the blame ;P blablabla~~~

    edel,
    I don’t think that 王国维 thought it’s “人生最高境界”, these poems only refer to learning or something. 王 was always working with 意境/情境, which is our traditional way of analyzing the literature.

  20. ash,
    try using eMule to search for “wenlin”, xixi. The latest version is 3.22
    well, I won’t take the blame ;P blablabla~~~

    edel,
    I don’t think that 王国维 thought it’s “人生最高境界”, these poems only refer to learning or something. 王 was always working with 意境/情境, which is our traditional way of analyzing the literature.

  21. John,

    Late comment but, if 寻他千百度 can be read as search by 1000/100 glances or glancing at 100 different faces (to be disappointed), that can count as “searching 100 times,” at least poetically.

    The monks also call themselves 贫僧(pin2seng1), 贫道(pin2dao4), 贫衲(pin2na4) or 老衲(lao3na4).

    Older folks would be a 老朽(lao3xiu3), 老身(lao3shen1).

    Young relatives could also be a 小辈(xiao3bei4), 小侄(xiao3zhi2), 晚生(wan3sheng1) or 晚辈(wan3bei4).

    In addition, there are 自己(zi4ji3), 咱家(za2jia1), 敝人(bi4ren2, =鄙人?), and 此生(ci3sheng1).

    Equivalent to “this reporter” a writer/journalist used to say 笔者(bi3zhe3, meaning this writer), but in today’s multimedia journalism he/she has become 记者(ji4zhe3 – this reporter).

  22. In today’s colloquial Chinese, the phrase 哥们儿(ge1men2er) has a first-person use among friends.

  23. Ayyy caramba Says: August 5, 2005 at 12:13 pm

    check out this lol post for various ways of saying “I” (but it’s entirely in chinese:)

    http://www2.tianyaclub.com/new/Publicforum/Content.asp?idWriter=0&Key=0&strItem=free&idArticle=321575&flag=1

  24. I think the poem is very good but I wouldn’t appreciate it to be used as a name of a search engine. what is more, the Baidu search engine is kind of crap! The connection is so weak and using it on a search engine, which kind of ruin the ‘feeling’ of this poem.

  25. What a fantastically timed post. I trust you bought tons of stock and now no longer need to be a slave to cash?

  26. Embarassing attempt at translating the poem:

    Night, the east wind blows a thousand trees, the stars like rain.
    The precious horse leads the cart, fragrance fills the street.
    A phoenix flute sounds, a jadeite lantern flickers, nocturnal fish dance like dragons.

    Moth in a golden-pavillion willow, a laugh rises like dark incense.
    Restlessly, I sought her a million times in the crowd.
    Suddenly I turned. She was there, in the receding light.

  27. scott zheng Says: February 25, 2006 at 1:54 pm

    wonderful! I like your blog very much! Thanks for your attention to chinese culture!
    BTW I am a chinese. It’s lucky for me to google your blog out from thousands of webs. ^^

  28. Here is a translation of the poem, translated by Irving Y. Lo, in the anthology “Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry,” edited by Wu-chi Liu and Irving Yucheng Lo.

    Tune: “Green Jade Cup”
    Lantern Festival

    One night’s east wind made a thousand trees burst into flower;
    And breathe down still more
    Showers of fallen stars.*
    Splendid horses, carved carriages, fragrance filled the road.
    Music resounds from paired flutes,
    Light swirled on water-clock towers.
    All night long, the fabled fish-dragons danced. **
    Gold-threaded jacket, moth- or willow-shaped hair ornaments
    Melted into the throng, giggling, a trail of scent.
    In the crowd, I looked for her a thousand and one times;
    And all at once, when I turned my head,
    I was startled to find her
    Among the lanterns where candles were growing dim.

    • “…it is recorded that from the numerous stages erected along the street, lanterns were hung from bamboo poles and ‘far and near, high and low, they appeared like flying stars.'”

    ** “[The fish-dragon dance] is identified as a dance imported from Central Asia… . ‘Yu-lung'[The fish-dragon] was said to be an exotic animal from She-li, which first played in the courtyard, then jumped into water to become a paired-eye fish, and finally emerged as a yellow dragon eighty feet long.”

  29. Actually, my guess is that Bai Du is a takeoff from Google, which is derived from a name for a number with 100 zeros after it. Baidu simply substitutes those zeros with degrees.

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