August 25, 2008

Jocund Hut

Filed under: China,language,teaching — Kim @ 3:54 pm

My neighbourhood in downtown Dalian has a new little teashop that has jauntily named itself “Jocund Hut”. That’s a pretty funky name and I guess the owner got that obscure and odd adjective from an electronic dictionary, and I also wonder how many native speakers – even – know what it means.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone actually utter the word, but I know it well coz Wordsworth used it in “Daffodils”, one of the most famous poems in the English language. When speaking of the gleeful dancing daffydillies he emoted

A poet could not but be gay, / In such a jocund company

which couples, so to speak, an archaic usage of “gay” with our equally archaic “word for today.”

And I also half-remembered Conrad using it in “Heart of Darkness” for a grimly humoured description of some skulls on poles, but when I checked the quote I found

a head that seemed to sleep at the top of that pole, and, with the shrunken dry lips showing a narrow white line of the teeth, was smiling, too, smiling continuously at some endless and jocose dream of that eternal slumber.

so it was jocose, not jocund. And who the hell uses “jocose” these days? it must be even more obscure than “jocund.” I guess that’s why it’s not a “Jocose Hut” round the corner from where I live.

And then I also remembered that English was Conrad’s third language and that he was wont to use it somewhat eccentrically from time to time; a habit that led to literary critic FR Leavis’ catty comment that “Conrad’s sea smells of Roget’s Thesaurus”.

Anyways, maybe Chinese and Japanese electronic dictionaries are going to resurrect a few long dormant and/or incredibly obscure words and blazon them on the shopfronts and T-shirts of the Pacific rim. And then we English teachers over here will have to find out what they mean.

Have a jocund day!


August 17, 2008

Slitty Eyes

Filed under: culture,east-west — Kim @ 11:46 am

The Spanish men’s basketball team recently provoked a storm in a teapot over an advertising photo showing them pulling the sides of their eyes…because they were off to China! Geddit? Hilarious!

And someone recently dredged up another photo from the Spanish women tennis team’s website showing some of the same high jinks.

spanish eyes

In the fuss that has followed some interesting issues arose. The US media pondered aloud as to what the Spanish team thought they were up to by publicly insulting their hosts. And NBA superstar Jason Kidd opined that had the US team done the same they would have been thrown out of the Olympics and not been allowed back in the NBA. The Spanish retorted by calling it “an affectionate gesture” and pointing out that the Chinese themselves hadn’t seemed to have taken offence at all, insofar as to date there have been no comments by the Chinese media on the incident. Fair point!
But then the US and UK (evil Anglo-Saxons) insisted on placing the “affectionate gesture” in a context of other “Spanish gestures”, including “the monkey chants that greeted England’s black footballers in a friendly game in Spain and the blacking up of some local fans when Lewis Hamilton was competing in the Spanish grand prix.”

My take on it all is that who cares if a bunch of greasy spics take the piss out of the chinks? I’m like so totally, yeah…whatever.

Not really! Just my little joke. Geddit?

Actually, I have a fond memory from about 15 years ago when I was living in Hungary. I was studying in a rather sleepy provincial town called Debrecen and one afternoon I witnessed a visiting schoolboy choir from Korea getting off their bus in front of the concert hall. The local lads had probably never seen real live asians before and so the Koreans created quite a crowd of little gawkers. Then one of the wee rascals thought it would be funny to pull his eyes into slitty position and this soon spread until you had a crowd of laughing Magyar boys pulling slanty eyes and pointing at their Korean guests. Hilarious!

But what made it memorable for me was the Koreans’ response. After about a minute of being taunted like that, they responded by making big round goggly eyes with their fingers and pointing back at the local kids and laughing. I loved them for that. It made me proud to have a Korean name.

Wouldn’t it be cool if the Chinese national basketball had a photo done pulling big goggly eyes next time they go off to play Spain? Not particularly, it would be childish. But that’s kind of what the Spanish athletes are guilty of, being childish…but surely not malicious or racist.