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Randall Munroe's "Thing Explainer" in Chinese

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I have finally bought this book (they had it at a local Kinokuniya) - 万物解释者 - and am loving it. The original aims to use only 1000 "words in our language that people use the most". It looks like this goal was adhered to in the translation. Thus it is a good reader for people who are around HSK4 or simply know 1000 most common words.

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I like that book too.


It raises several questions, though.  First I wonder to what extent the Chinese used in the book is "natural", not only because it's a translation, but also because of the basic Oulipian (Wikipedia) premise of the book: it implies the use of many periphrases and supposedly simple synonyms. However, the words/concept that are complicated are not necessarily the same in English and in Chinese.


For instance, in English, the majority of scientific/technical words have latin/greek roots and, hence, they may feel opaque. On the other hand, most scientific/technical words in Chinese use Chinese roots. So would they feel opaque to a Chinese speaker? I don't know. For instance, the book avoids words like 细胞, 摄影机, etc. But maybe such words are more self-explanatory in Chinese (to a Chinese speaker) than "cell" or "camera"  are in English to an English speaker.


I would have loved it if Randall Munroe had provided (maybe in the margins, or in an index), the correct terms used in real life to talk about these topics.


On the other hand, the explicit aim of Randall Munroe is not to teach words but to explain how things work. So I do read the book precisely for that (it's fun!) and to get some extensive reading in (hopefully natural) Chinese. But I do look up the dictionary to write down  细胞, 摄影机 and such in the margins.



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1 hour ago, laurenth said:

细胞, 摄影机

攝影機 is quite self-explanatory, but 細胞 is not.

The original meaning of 胞 is 胎衣(胎盤 placenta + 胎膜 foetal membrane). I suspect 細胞 is a borrowing from Japanese where 細 retains the ancient meaning of 微小, hence 'tiny membrane(d)'.

Many medical terms were introduced into Chinese via Japanese. Even a made-in-Japan kanji has taken root in China. You cannot find 腺 in 康熙字典, but it's so widely used today that most people don't even think about its origin.

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" I suspect 細胞 is a borrowing from Japanese where 細 retains the ancient meaning of 微小, hence 'tiny membrane(d)'."


Are you implying Xi does not mean "tiny" in modern Chinese any more? So how do you explain 细节,细小 and the description given by 新华字典:




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