Tuesday, January 30, 2007

103 meanings of qi

Out of a combination of pretension and nerdiness, I generally get pretty anal when I use foreign words in my writing. Greek words are put in Greek font. In working on my Theragāthā paper I became really anal about accents for Sanskrit words. I couldn't just write "nirvana" I had to write "nirvāņa."

So now I'm writing a little about Chinese nature attitudes, so I have to (have to!) use the little accents to marks to indicate tone, even though most people use the Pinyin system without the marks. Since I have to (have to!) use the accent marks, but don't actually know any Chinese, I've been looking everything up on Mandarin Tools. I learn a lot of interesting things this way, although most of it is not relevant to anything. For instance, I wanted to know which tone you use on the word "qi" when you want to refer to the cosmic energy. Well it turns out that Mandarin Tools lists 103 meanings for the word qi, including: foot with six toes, water chestnut, to marry off (a daughter), hill without trees, bow to the ground, odd, weird, and wonderful. Separate characters were listed for "seven" and "seven (fraud-proof)." One meaning of qi (using the rising tone, qí) is tholepin. Another character pronounced qì can mean to whisper, to blame, or to slander, which I think is a splendid combination of meanings.

I still can't figure out which qi is cosmic energy, though. [update: use the fourth tone to mean cosmic energy.]

On a related note, here is a 93 word poem in Mandarin where every word is rendered as "shi" in unaccented pinyin. The words themselves differ only in tone, which makes the accompanying sound file interesting to listen to.

1 comment:

Phinnea said...

seven (fraud-proof) is an excellent title. if only i could think of something to write after it