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Faery and Fantasy

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Gan, Gan, and Gan

I have had trouble with the trio of traditional characters which simplify to 干. It turns out (as usual) that all three have curious and twisted etymologies. Here are some mnemonics for keeping the traditional characters 幹干and 乾 straight in your head:


This is the most straight-forward of the trio.

It means "dry":


dried fruit



In its qian2 pronunciation, it is also one of the Eight Trigrams, and a surname, but those are much lower frequency uses.

Mnemonic: When there is a drought you beg for even a little mist.

Etymological note:

Wieger clarifies that "dry" was originally written using 旱 on the left (with 十 above it?). The character 乾 originally was read qian2 and represented the sun shining into the jungle, dislodging vapors which then rise up into the sky.


This character can mean "to do" or "tree trunk".

It can be used alone:


You have committed ("done") a folly.

Or in the common idiom gan4ma5:

你幹嘛/ 你幹甚麼?

What are you doing?

A canonical example of the "tree trunk" meaning is:



tree trunk


A tree (which originally was made of wood but is now a post-modern clothes hanger pole) is topped with an umbrella of leaves. But, through the mist, you can only see the trunk.

Etymonlogical note:

Wieger says the 干 component in 幹 is supposed to be 木, the former being an "absurd phonetic redundancy" This would make more sense.


This is the odd-ball in the group. It has several meanings. Its most prolific meaning is "to offend":



to offend or to violate



to meddle

But this gan can also mean "stem" in:


the Ten Heavenly Stems

An archaic meaning is "shield":



weapons of war, literally "shield and spear"


In Toronto, up until a couple of years ago, it was illegal to hang clothes outside, i.e. one of the biggest offenses and ways to offend the sensibilities of people was to hang your clothes outdoors. Silly, but unfortunately true. (credit: koohii user vorpal)

Etymological note:

Wieger tells us that 干 represents a pestle. By extension it means to grind or destroy. Destruction in the moral sense gives offense. Destruction in the martial sense gives the warlike association in 干戈.


Stocks and Stumps

I'm working through Heisig's RTK. I sometimes get worried that learning Japanese-oriented keywords will throw off my Chinese learning. But I know that I will need to learn both anyways. And sometimes, I learn something unexpected about English etymology.


Heisig binds the kanji '株' to the keyword 'stock'. His story clarifies that he means 'stock' as in 'stock exchange'.

Now, looking in a Japanese dictionary, we see that ‘株’ can also mean 'stump' as in 'tree stump'.

Looking in a Chinese dict I find that ‘株’ only has the 'tree stump' meaning.

So how are stocks and stumps connected? When we look up 'stock' in Webster, the first sense (albeit an archaic one) is "stump". Well I'll be darned!

Now what happened here? Did the Japanese choose 株 to represent 'stock' as in 'stock exchange' because of the English etymology? Or was this an independent but parallel innovation?


綠野仙蹤: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

I picked up an illustrated translation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in Chinatown last week. This is my first attempt at extensive reading, and it's going well. Some highlights are:

1) Traditional Characters: I had been working with only Simplified materials before. I'm now falling in love with the Traditional aesthetic. There are numerous words that I had to look up which I would have recognized if they had been in Simplified, but, it is a small cost for learning the other script. I think I will prefer Traditional in the future for reading/typing, but stick to Simplified for handwriting, when necessary.

2) Extensive Reading works like an SRS: I have been using Anki for 4 months now, adding every character that I encounter in my textbooks. However, I think now that perhaps just reading extensively (that is, reading large volumes at an easy level) is better for learning/retention once you have internalized a few hundred core characters. Maybe doing some re-reading 朗讀 with a native-speaker's help could be beneficial...


My only worry with reading this book is that I often get the impression that the translation is a bit off. I don't want to 坏學。Could someone tell me what they think of the following translation?

Original: "The Lion was a very good comrade for one so cowardly."


Certainly the Chinese translation conveys that the Lion was a good comrade and that he was cowardly, but I'm not sure that the nuance of the English is correctly translated. In the English version the speaker is lamenting the loss of the Lion, saying he was a good comrade despite being cowardly, or at least that he was good considering his cowardice. However, at least to my novice eye, the Chinese is saying more like "The lion was a good companion, but he was indeed too cowardly."

Maybe this is just a case of "translator's license".


Indeed, I now look more closely at the original (which I never 看過) and I lament the sloppiness of the translation. I might have to find another fantasy story for my extensive reading. Suggestions?


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