Tag Archives: language

Name Game

Be prepared for another rambling post.  It’s a mystery where the post will end up.  Let’s start……

Here is my Chinese name ………

chi leongMy very wise parents chose this name for me and I am often told either that the name suits me or that I have lived up to the name given me.  It is pronounced “ci liang” and means “kind and good”.

Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like to be named “rich and famous” but I  guess that is not a bad thing to have a name like “kind and good”.

One has to be careful with Chinese names because characters with similar sounds can mean something totally different.  For example, my brother’s name actually means “kind dragon” (which I think is really cool to be called a ‘dragon’, don’t cha think?).  However, with just a slightly wrong pronunciation and accent, such as might be said by a Westerner with no experience with the Chinese language , then “kind dragon” will suddenly be transformed into “pig sty”.

It is precisely because of all these mispronunciations of my name when I studied in the United Kingdom that I decided to adopt an Anglicized name.

I chose “Calvin”.  I like “Calvin”. However, in retrospect, it was not the wisest of choices.

If you were to look up the meaning of the name “Calvin”, it has only one unfortunate meaning…………”bald”.


Oh, yea.  Good choice there squirrel.  Can you imagine a bald squirrel?  No bushy tail?  Not a pretty sight, I think.

Many years ago, I went to Geneva, Switzerland and got to see a statue representing a rather famous “Calvin”……………John Calvin – a key historical figure of the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.  The statue is part of a series of Protestant figures in what is called the “Reformation Wall“.

Photo by LGS
Photo by LGS


Calvin is the second from the left.  Now, I am not 100% sure, but don’t they all look bald to you?

Apart from being an important church figure, they also named a beer after him called Calvinus Beer.  I tried it.  It’s okay but not great……certainly won’t put hair on your head.

Strangely, there aren’t a lot of famous ‘Calvin”s.   The 30th President of the United States was a ‘Calvin” but he is mostly known for being a bit strange and being a man of few words. The story is told that a matron, seated next to him at a dinner, said to him, “I made a bet today that I could get more than two words out of you.” He replied, “You lose.”   Another tale relates  that upon learning that Calvin Coolidge had died, Dorothy Parker reportedly remarked, “How can they tell?”

The only other ‘Calvin” that people seem to have in their consciousness is “Calvin and Hobbes”.

A Boy and His Tiger (comics by Bill Watterson)
A Boy and His Tiger (comics by Bill Watterson)


Now I don’t mind that association cause Calvin is kinda cool but it gets a little tiresome when people keep asking me “Where’s Hobbes?’

Anyway, what does your name mean and are you happy with it?

Year of the Horse

This is the Year of the Horse!   Now I am a Tiger (yes – that’s right – a tiger squirrel!  I have a picture of just such a creature HERE on this blog).  My year was in 2010 and I think we can say that us Tigers gave you a good year.  You are welcome.

My wife is actually a Snake.  Her kind gave us last year.  It wasn’t a particularly bad sort of year but let’s face it …..it wasn’t a Tiger year.

Now for those who hold stock in traditional Chinese astrology, they say that a Tiger – Snake romantic pairing is not an auspicious one and the relationship will not work well.  Perhaps for that reason, when we were first dating, my wife told me that she was actually a Rabbit.  Sometimes when someone asks about her Chinese astrological sign, she will still say that she is a Rabbit.  To set the record straight, I tell that person that “this Rabbit speaks with forked tongue!”

So this is the Year of the Horse!  Yes, well, I don’t know much about horses but I will gladly share my general ignorance with all of you dear readers.

First, my sister is a Horse.  Enough said.  I dare not say more.  She can kick like a ……

Second, the word for horse in Chinese is “Ma” and is often one of the first words that they teach how to write when you are trying to learn Chinese.  This is probably because it clearly shows the pictographic nature of many Chinese characters.  The earliest character for “Ma” really resembled a picture representation for a horse and it evolved into the present day character. (see below)

The evolution of the Chinese character for the word horse. Source: Tan Huay Peng, What’s in a Chinese Character.

Third, I  actually had the privilege of seeing the Przewalski’s horse roaming wild in Mongolia (see post).  The Pzewalski’s Horse is considered the only remaining truly wild horse in the world. Woohoo!  Perhaps an ancestor of the horses I saw was the inspiration or model for that very first Chinese character for “Ma”.

Rubbing It's Behind on the Rough Rock
Rubbing It’s Behind on the Rough Rock (photo by LGS)

Fourth, when I was a wee lad, the only horse I knew was the “Hoss” on TV.  For me , he was the “Hoss”.

"Hoss" Cartwright (the one in front) of TV's Bonanza fame.
“Hoss” Cartwright (the one in front) of TV’s Bonanza fame.

Fifth and final point; lovely button mushrooms (yum yum) are grown on horse dung (not so yum yum) and that’s no bullshit!

And that brings to and end all that I know about horses.  Must go now……head feels ….kinda…….empty…..

Asking the Bleeding Obvious

Had a Bad Day?

There is a curious social behaviour that occurs here in Malaysia especially amongst the Chinese.  It is a phenomena that I can best describe as, “asking the bleeding obvious.”

Let me give you a few examples.  Say that you are eating dinner at a local restaurant when a friend happens to come by your table.  He might say, “Eating, eh?”

Or you might be at the department store’s annual sale with your arms full of over-flowing shopping bags when you run into your aunt and she says, “Shopping, ah?”

Or yet another scenario where you are at the supermarket with a shopping cart in tow and you are testing the firmness of the apples on display when an acquaintance might pass by and say, “Grocery shopping?”

That’s what I mean by “asking the bleeding obvious” and sometimes when I encounter such a query, I feel this dark primal urge boiling up from within me to say something sarcastic.  I am too polite to actually say it but boy, do I think it!

“No, no.  I ‘m not eating.  I am just curious to see how much food I can cram into my mouth.”

“Shopping? Oh,no.  Just shoplifting as usual.”

“Oh, I’m not buying anything.  I just like polishing apples while pushing a fully loaded grocery cart.  It’s better than joining a gym.”

Anyway, I had a real strange conversation with my local car mechanic just recently and it went something like this…..

Mechanic:  “Are you here to see me?”

Me: “Yes” (my sarcastic thought: “Yeah, especially since there is no one else here or do you have an invisible friend?”)

Mechanic: “Something wrong with your car?”

Me: “Yes” (my sarcastic thought: “Why would you think that? Actually I would like your help to pull out all my rotten teeth.”)

Me: “One of the license plate numbers has fallen off.”

Mechanic: “So you want that I replace that missing number?”

Me: “Yes.” (my sarcastic thought: “No, I would like to put up a Missing Poster for the return of that number.”)

Mechanic: “So where did you lose the number?” (well, I was stumped but at least it wasn’t asking the bleeding obvious.)

Smashing Thoughts

It is clear from her blog, DutchCorner, that Marja is a brave and passionate woman, especially in her concern for children welfare in general and for those with learning difficulties specifically. She is also a very good promoter of the blogging community, so do go visit and learn about what is happening in her corner. Just to confuse matters, her corner of the world is actually New Zealand. Intrigued? Confused? Drop in on her blog and all will be clear.

Recently, Marja celebrated her 10,000th visitor and she was also given the “Brilliant Weblog Premio 2008” Award. All the denizens of this Realm send their congratulations to Marja on her twin achievements.

On that special occasion, in typically generous fashion, she celebrated by giving out some awards of her own, which is how the Lone Grey Squirrel came to get his grubby paws on the “Smashing Blog” Award. Many thanks, Marja.

This squirrel was mesmerised by the pretty award for most of the day. You might be familiar with this look…….it is the same when a squirrel’s eyes are caught in a car’s headlights. When I was finally able to stop staring at the bright light, I did what comes naturally to inquisitive squirrels; I asked, “What does ‘Smashing’ mean?”

According to the Merriam-Webster On-line Dictionary, smashing can either mean 1. crushing (as in, smashing defeat) or 2. extraordinarily impressive (as in, smashing performance). Squirrels are more familiar with the first meaning as in the case of “smashing nuts” to get to the goodies inside but I am hoping that the award refers to the second meaning. Here it is again, this schizophrenic nature of the English language where either the same word can mean completely different things or different and opposite words can mean the same thing.

So we find that when something is good, it is “cool” but it could also be “hot”. It is cool to be driving a hot car but the hot chick can still give you the cold shoulder which just isn’t cool, dude.

I heard this recently and I thought it also illustrates this point well; “How can you tell that you have grown old? You tell you best friend that you are having an affair and he asks who is the caterer.”

Then there is the use of the same or similar word twice to reverse the meaning. Actually this is apparently true of many languages, where a double negative gives a positive. For example, “He would not disagree.” means “He agreed”. A professor of English is said to have given a class on this very topic recently and he said that many languages have this “double negative equals positive rule” but though some languages also have the reverse which is that “double positive equals negative”, that is not the case in the English language. There was silence initially as his students scribbled down their notes but then a voice from the back of the lecture hall said, “Yeah, right!”

Ah, English…….she is always evolving. Isn’t it simply smashing? (and I mean both meanings of the word).

We Da Men

“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing” so goes that famous saying. I often warn my wife to beware of taking advice from some obscure website with regards to health issues as often these websites take a little kernel of knowledge and turn it into a big bag of pop-corn emptiness.

My mother-in-law once had a severe headache but the only medication she could find was a time-release medicine capsule. She understood that the capsule consists of tiny little spheres which dissolve at different rates so that the medication is released gradually over 24 hours. However she wanted quick relief and so she rather “cleverly” crushed the capsule into fine powder and then mixed it in water to drink. Of course, she virtually over-dosed but luckily she woke up 12 hours later groggy but fine. “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Or it might be darn embarrassing.

Before I continue, I must introduce you to my partner in shame. His name is Magdy and we were both bright, smart, whipper-snappers at University together. Our combined “little knowledge” would get us into some pretty dumb situations.

Well, perhaps one of the most memorable caper was when we were traveling in Germany and we needed to go to find a latrine at a train station. Our problem was that we did not speak much German at the time. The latrines were labeled “Herren” and “Damen” but which was for males and which for females?

I wonder, dear readers, which would you have chosen for men and which for women and why. As for Magdy and I, we put on our thinking caps and came up with this folly;

1. Assumption: most European languages were derived from and based on ancient Latin.
2. Assumption: we should be able to recognise the root word in either English or German. Just as “rat” is “ratte” and cat is “katze” and “Monday” is “Montag”.
3. Therefore,we applied this logic and came up with Herren is for females as it has the root word “Her
4. While “Damen” was obviously for men as it is clearly derived from “Da Men“.

Hence this embarrassing story in which my intellectual dignity was only rescued by the presence of mind to ask Magdy to test out our theory first!

My apologies to mago and any German reader for the mess we made with your language. Who are we? We da men.