Monday, December 15, 2008

Character revival: Jiong

Chinese is an old language, but it is still evolving robustly. Or perhaps devolving is a better word.
Recently I was looking on ChinaSMACK and I saw that the site's motto character is (jiong3). I did some research and found out that this character's original meaning is "bright," as in light coming through a window. The first Chinese characters were pictograms engraved on turtle bones and shells and used in oracles. Jiong's oracle-bone character (see image at right) meant simply "window," says Richard Sears. Weird looking window.

But, according to the website ("shenmeshi" is pinyin for 什么是 meaning "what is," dot com), "jiong" has now become an emoticon, like the ubiqitous ":)". The character 囧 is made up of three parts: 囗, 八, and 口. This from shenmeshi:

"In Web speak, 囗 = the face, 八= two drooping eyes, and 口 (under the eyes)= the mouth. 囧 represents surprise, or something to make your expression change, for example:

"Person A: Yesterday I woke up and discovered my body was covered with 100 cockroaches.
Person B: 囧."

It goes on to say that is related to the online phrase "orz," which I had also never heard of. Turns out orz is an emoticon that originated in Japan. It is an ASCII representation of a stick person on his knees, hands on the floor, with head down also touching the floor. The name of this emoticon is "失意体前屈" (shi1 yi4 ti3 qian2 qu1), or "disappointed body bent forward." You can kind of see that the "o" is the head, and the "rz" is the body, arms hanging down and knees bent on the floor." Originally it was used to express dispair or disappointment, but then changed to also mean "bowing down to you," or submission.

Now sometimes the "o" is replaced with 囧, or other similarly head-like-looking characters.

崮 = King of Jiong (actually gu4, steep-sided mountain)

莔 = Queen of Jiong (meng2, some kind of herb)

商 = Jiong wearing a Chinese hat (shang1, commerce)

The cyclical nature of things is astounding. In 5,000 years, you go from representing pictures of things on shells to tell the future to a complex character-based language system. Then computers are invented, and the characters which took so long to evolve and perfect lose their meaning and become simple emoticons. In conclusion, ;^)


Susan said...

Still can't view characters even with Firefox Unicode! Very interesting...sad? or interesting? How is art of calligraphy doing in the new capitalist-leaning China? And how are you?? I hate emoticons. They have as much to do with emotions as robots do.

Susan said...

From Mary Bargteil:
"Language is an anonymous, collective and unconscious art; the result of the creativity of thousands of generations." -Edward Sapir, anthropologist and linguist (1884-1939)