This picture was taken from my office building (18th floor):
It’s a crew of delivery guys which have become an extremely common site in big Chinese cities. The yellow uniforms belong to 美团 (Meituan), while the chief competitor, 饿了么 (Ele.me) decks its delivery guys out in light blue.
I’m no expert, but I would assume they do these daily morning meetings as the only time these “co-workers” are even together in the same place. The rest of the day they’re on and off their scooters all over the city, speeding from restaurant, to home, to restaurant, to home….
I was struck by the use of the word 怕 on this package:
Literally, “afraid of being dropped” and “afraid of being crushed.” I’m more used to seeing 易碎 on boxes: literally “easily broken” or “fragile.” This struck me as interesting because neither the box nor its contents actually fears anything. It doesn’t feel like an anthropomorphic usage, so it’s got to be an abstraction of the human “fear” emotion.
When I thought about it some more and talked about it with some AllSet Learning teachers, I realized it’s not just a matter of the two kinds of fear “human fear” and “abstracted fear”; there’s actually a whole range of usage with this 怕:
怕冷 (pà lěng) to be sensitive to the cold (lit. “to be afraid of cold”)
怕热 (pà rè) to be sensitive to heat (lit. “to be afraid of heat”)
怕辣 (pà là) to be sensitive to spiciness (lit. “to fear spicy”)
怕生 (pà shēng) to be afraid of strangers (lit. “fear the unfamiliar”)
怕黑 (pà hēi) to be afraid of the dark
怕死 (pà sǐ) to be afraid of death
怕高 (pà gāo) to be afraid of heights
怕人 (pà rén) to be shy around people (usu. describing a child), to be afraid of people (usu. describing an animal)
怕水 (pà shuǐ) to be afraid of water (usu. because one cannot swim)
Are they just degrees of the same emotion? Or are they totally different usages? It can be difficult to separate shades of meaning, especially for native speakers. This is what the field of semantics deals with.
To me, learning how other languages construct words and phrases in both familiar and utterly unfamiliar ways is one of the major joys of learning a language.
It’s kind of interesting how her English name in the U.S. shows no trace of Chinese heritage, but when she appears on ads in China, her English name is not used at all.
Turns out that “Wang” is her surname by birth (her father is Chinese), and she actually pursued a singing career in mainland China as a teenager, using the name 汪可盈.
According to Wikipedia:
While pursuing an acting career in Hollywood, she changed her name to “Chloe Bennet,” after having trouble booking gigs with her last name. According to Bennet, using her father’s first name, rather than his last name avoids difficulties being cast as an ethnic Asian American while respecting her father.
Furthermore, she has explained Hollywood’s racism this way:
“Oh, the first audition I went on after I changed my name [from Wang to Bennet], I got booked. So that’s a pretty clear little snippet of how Hollywood works.”
The ad, using super simple Chinese, reads:
找工作 [(when) looking for a job] 我要跟 [I want to] 老板谈 [talk with the boss]
This ad is hanging in Shanghai’s “Cloud 9” (龙之梦) shopping mall:
First of all the repeating character is 鹅, which means “goose.” In the circular logo, you can see a little characterplay going on with the goose head.
Above that, you have “鹅，鹅，鹅” which, of course, reads “goose, goose, goose.” This is a famous first line of a classical Chinese poem. It’s famous because it’s so simple, so a lot of kids memorize it as one of their first (if not the first) classical poems committed to memory.
Pleco is a really powerful dictionary app, and it has a lot of features many people don’t even know about, such as the Clipboard Reader. This one is simply a part of dictionary entries that many people have never noticed.
Check out this entry, paying attention to the top and the bottom:
Note the bottom line: it’s an example of the word that was looked up, but in reverse.
I’m not going to give too many (and I’ll explain why below), but here are some relatively common examples of what I’m talking about which intermediate learners may encounter:
适合 / 合适
互相 / 相互
犯罪 / 罪犯
代替 / 替代
(Mouse over the above words for pinyin.)
Why “Words Containing (Reverse)” Is Useful
This feature is really useful because we learners so often find ourselves misremembering new words by reversing the two characters in the new words that we learn (and most words in Mandarin are two characters). Many learners I’ve spoken with think that it’s a unique problem specific to them, but no, I can assure you: this happens to most, if not all, of us. It doesn’t mean you’re dyslexic or weird; it just means you’re normal.
The reason it’s important to identify words that are also another word in reverse is that it can prevent you from going crazy. This is because most often the reverse of a word you’ve learned is just plain wrong, but not always. Yes, I can remember several times when I’ve learned a word–let’s call it “AB”–and then I hear the word “BA” used in the same way. So then I think, “Oh, I misremembered it. It’s not ‘AB.’ It’s actually ‘BA’.” And then I once again hear “AB” used in the same way as “BA,” but there has enough time in between the two that my memory of what happened before is fuzzy. So then I think, “Oh, I misremembered it. It’s actually ‘AB’.” Rinse and repeat. That cycle of confusion can go on for a very long time.
How to Use It Correctly
So to protect your own sanity, it’s good to identify the words that are another word when you reverse the characters. (Sometimes they mean the same thing, and sometimes they totally don’t.)
Note that I’m not saying you should study a list of these words. That would just create more confusion, and a lot of the words won’t even be useful to you. It’s just good to learn that there is a “reverse word” for the words you already know or have just learned (and you can use Pleco to check that). If the “reverse word” is useful or common, that you might want to learn it. It’s it’s not, then it’s enough to just be vaguely aware that it exists (and you can always check Pleco again if your memory gets fuzzy).
The only problem with the Pleco feature is that if you look up a word in the dictionary, the “Dict” tabbed section is selected by default. You need to choose the “Words” section and also scroll to the bottom to find the “Words Containing (Reversed)” list.