十二月, 2013 的封存

Chinese New Year–Part 2

Posted: 2013 年 12 月 31 日 in Chinese New Year
  1. The week before New Year’s Day is a very busy time. Since the gods are no longer ensconced in the house, furniture can be moved around and the house given a meticulous cleaning without fear of disturbing them. Final shopping is done and decorations are added. A favorite decoration for this season is the narcissus flower. It is especially prevalent on family altars, which are also customarily decorated with bowls of oranges (the word for which sounds like “good luck (吉)” in Chinese) and rich embellished with paper flowers.

  1. This is the time also for purchasing woodblock prints and pasting them at suitable places on the walls. Spring couplets, written in black or gold on strips of red (an auspicious color) paper, are procured and pasted above and on both sides of the main entrance to the house. The couplets express auspicious wishes for the coming year, especially good fortune, prosperity, and long life. Square pieces of red paper bearing auspicious single Chinese characters are also pasted around the house. Paper images of fiercely protective deities are pasted on the main entrance as well. These door gods are meant to ward off all sorts of evil influences.

  1. By New Year’s Eve most of the preparations have been completed and the family can relax and enjoy the fellowship and festivities of the occasion—unless, that is, there are bills to be paid. The New Year is one of the three occasions (the other two being the Dragon Boat and Moon Festivals), and the most important one, on which the Chinese are required to settle all their accounts. Woe to anyone who still owes money at this time and can be located by his creditors.

  1. Otherwise, all of the members of the family, which by this time have arrived home form wherever they might have been living or traveling, gather happily on the approach of dusk to pay respects and offer sacrifices to departed ancestors. Traditionally, the doors are sealed with strips of red paper and not opened again until an auspicious hour the following morning. The family is left alone to feast, and to provide a feast as well for its forebears with chicken, meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, rice, and wine placed on the altar. Paper sacrificial money, too, is burned for the use of the ancestors in the underworld.

  1. As the doors are opened again, firecrackers are ignited to celebrate the occasion and welcome the deities who are supposed to come down from Heaven at this time for a short visit. With all of these unseen spirits about, certain precautions must be taken at this time not to injure or offend them. Needles and knives must not be used for fear of pricking or cutting a god. Nothing inauspicious must be said for fear of upsetting one. A polite cough must be made before entering a bathroom so that any spirits inside may have opportunity to depart.

  1. To keep in whatever good luck has entered the house on this New Year’s Day, no sweeping is done and nothing is thrown out. No fires or cooking are allowed. Since the activities of the first can set the pattern for the entire year to follow, no quarreling or sharp words are allowed. Behavior must be at its very best. The morning of New Year’s Day is a time for visiting relatives and friends, and for burning incense to the gods at temples. Since so many people are out doing this; however, few are left at home to greet callers.

  1. The second day of the New Year is when wives take husbands and children to visit the homes of their own parents. This is a favorite day for children, since adults seeing them for the first time of the year must present them with gifts of “red envelopes (紅包).” The third day is a good time to stay home and avoid the God of Anger, who is believed to be abroad at this time, and the night of the fourth day is when food is left on the floor for the rats who are believed to get married at this time. Things generally return to normal on the fifth day, although the New Year’s season is not officially over until the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of the first lunar month.

  1. In Taiwan today, many of these old customs have died out or survive only in weakened form. But the Lunar New Year is still by far the most important holiday of the year, the one time when people make every effort to be together with their families. The government grants a three-day holiday, which is frequently extended by a weekend, and many people take extra days off to lengthen their vacations. The Wei Ya banquet is still de rigueur, the families still get together for dinner on New Year’s Eve, children still expect—and receive—red envelopes filled with money, visits to relatives and friends still occupy many people on New Year’s Day, and married daughters still visit their parents on the second day of the New Year. Ancestors are still worshipped at this time of year, and most doors are still decorated with spring couplets. Firecrackers begin to sound as the night of New Year’s Eve deepens, reaching a steady crescendo at the approach of midnight.

  1. In the old days, practically every kind of commercial enterprise closed down for at least a week at New Year’s time. In Taiwan today, most offices, stores, and restaurants still close for at least three days; Taipei and other major cities are blessed with an unaccustomed quiet, many of their residents having returned to the countryside for the holidays. But there are also establishments that remain open right through the holidays: hotels, convenience stores, and fast-food restaurants, especially. In addition, vendors are concentrated on busy corners, offering fruits and other “New Year’s goods.” The establishments that close down for the festival open again after three days, five days, or more, invariably choosing an auspicious date and time for the event and announcing it with the thunderous roar of exploding firecrackers. After all of the doors are open again, things return to normal until the Chinese New Year, the festival of festivals, rolls around again.



Chinese New Year–Part 1

Posted: 2013 年 12 月 31 日 in Chinese New Year
  1. To the Chinese, the New Year is the festival of festivals, Christmas, New Year, Spring Cleaning, and Independence Day all rolled into one, with a bit of Halloween added for good measure. It is the time of the year when the past is dealt with and all things begin anew, when families gather to feast, pay respects to their forebears, and revel in togetherness as they await the dawning of the new spring with its promise—or at least hope—of better times to come.

  1. The custom of families gathering on New Year’s Eve and “keeping the night (守夜)” is tied in with an ancient legend about the “nien beast (年獸),” who once a year came roaring from the sea to lay waste to the land and devour the people and their animals. To protect themselves, families gathered together in their homes on the night of New Year’s Eve, shut their doors tightly, and ate, drank, and prayed—and generally had a good time, for after all this might be their last night on earth.

  1. The lucky ones who were still alive on the morning of New Year’s Day emerged cautiously from their homes to investigate the damage and see which of their neighbors were still among the living. Whenever they came across someone, they would say “Congratulations (恭喜)” to compliment them on having survived the night and the beast. And to this day, “Congratulations” is still the customary greeting extended to Chinese people during the New Year’s season.

  1. Because of this connection with the New Year, the name of the beast—nien—has come to be the Chinese word for “year.” And since the Chinese year is calculated according to the lunar calendar, the date of the Lunar New Year varies on the Gregorian calendar used in the West, usually falling around the last of January or in the first half of February.

  1. In the old days, the New Year season would last for an entire month or more. Almost a month before the day itself, families would begin making preparations—buying new clothes and furniture, giving the house a thorough cleaning, getting rid of all the old things that would no longer be needed, making ready all of the food and other things—“New Year’s goods (年貨)”—that would be required for the celebrations.

  1. The official beginning of the New Year season was on the eighth day of the 12th lunar month, called “La Pa (臘八),” literally meaning “the eighth day of the last month.” On this day, a sweet gruel made of such ingredients as glutinous rice, walnuts, lotus seeds, red beans, and other delicacies was prepared and consumed. This dish, known unsurprisingly as La Pa gruel (八寶粥), is still eaten today.

  1. The 16th day of the last lunar month is known as “Wei Ya (尾牙)”, or the Festival of the Last Tooth. (Traditionally, the second and sixteenth days of each lunar month are known as “tooth days,” and, in the past, were observed as excuses to dine a little better than usual.) This day is still kept religiously by companies and other organizations that take the occasion to give their employees a year-end banquet, although the date on which the feasting is held now varies widely.

  1. This banquet was once used to give employees notice, in a relatively painless way, that their services were no longer required. The whole chicken that was invariably part of the menu was placed on the table in such a way that its head pointed at the soon-to-be-unemployed person. If no one was to be “let go,” the head of the chicken was pointed at the boss.

  1. The 24th day of the 12th month is the time, in traditional Chinese belief, when all the gods stationed on earth to keep an eye on the doings of mortals returned to Heaven to make their reports. For the household, the most important of these deities was “the God of the Hearth (灶神),” who had the responsibility of reporting to his superiors on all that had transpired in the family during the past year. His report was crucial, for an unfavorable account could bring bad fortune upon the individual involved—even to the extent of shortening his or her life.

  1. The ever-resourceful and ever-pragmatic Chinese had an ingenious way of dealing with this situation. To sweeten the mouth of the Hearth God as he made his report, or perhaps to glue it shut if he had nothing sweet to say, they made glutinous rice sweets and smeared them over the mouth of the deity’s paper image that was pasted on the kitchen wall. Then, after suitable sacrifices were offered and devotional incense lighted, the image was taken down and burned to speed the god’s way to Heaven. This custom has not died out entirely, even today.

23. Word records

Posted: 2013 年 12 月 28 日 in Logology

Some English words are noteworthy not because of their meaings but because of their structure. For example, the word supererogatorily (which means “in a manner that is beyond the call of duty”) contain alternating consonants and vowels. Such words set word records that go beyond expectations.

  1. abhors, almost, begins, biopsy, chimps, chinos, chintz = some of the few six-letter words composed of letters that occur in alphabetical order without repetition

  2. abracadabra = the longest common word with the most repeats of the letter A.

  3. abstemious, facetious = the two most common words containing the five regular vowels in alphabetical order

  4. adieu, aerie, audio, eerie, queue = the longest common words with only one consonant

  5. aftereffects, desegregated, desegregates, reverberated, stewardesses = some of the longest words that can be typed using only those letters normally typed with the left hand

  6. ambidextrously = the longest common word that doesn’t repeat any letters (isogram)

  7. antiskepticism = the longest uncommon word with typewriter letters from alternating hands

  8. bookkeeper = the best-known word with the most consecutive letter pairs

  9. CHECKBOOK = the longest word composed entirely of letters with horizontal symmetry in uppercase

  10. encourage = the longest common word in which changing one letter radically changes its pronunciation (encourage→entourage)

  11. four = the only number word whose quantity of letters matches the number it denotes

  12. HOMOTAXIA = possibly the longest word composed entirely of letters with vertical symmetry in uppercase

  13. honorificabilitudinitatibus = the longest word consisting of alternating consonants and vowels. Others are aluminosilicates, parasitological, verisimilitudes, supererogatorily

  14. hydroxyzine = the only word containing the letters XYZ

  15. jinni = the word, another spelling of genie, becomes plural not by adding any letter but by removing the last letter: jinn

  16. johnny-jump-up, niminy-piminy = the longest words that would normally be typed with only the right hand using standard keyboarding

  17. kine = the archaic plural of cow shares none of its letters

  18. meet-her-in-the-entry-kiss-her-in-the-buttery = besides being the longest nontechnical plant name, the entry is one of the few English words with nine hyphens

  19. ough-, -ough, -ough- = the combinatino ough can be pronounced in nine different ways: A rough-coated, dough-faced, thoughtful plough-man strode through the streets of Scarborough; after falling into a slough, he coughed and hiccoughed.

  20. strengths = the longest word with exactly one nonrepeated vowel

  21. ushers = the only English word with five personal pronouns in succession–namely, us, she, he, her, and hers

  22. widow = the only female form in English that is shorter than the corresponding male term, widower

A retronym is a new term created from an existing word in order to distinguish the original referent of the existing word from a later one that is the product of progress or technological development. For example, what used to be called books (which always had hard covers) are now called hardcover books to distinguish them from paperback books.

  1. acoustic guitar: created because of the invention of electric guitars

  2. AM radio: created when FM radio was introduced

  3. analog watch: created when digital watches were introduced

  4. bar soap: created to distinguish it from liquid or gel soap

  5. black-and-white TV: created to distinguish it from color TV

  6. cloth diaper: created after the invention of disposable diapers

  7. corn on the cob: created after the introduction of canned corn

  8. disposable battery: created after rechargeable batteries became popular

  9. film camera: created after the invention of digital cameras

  10. regular coffee: created after the invention of decaffeinated coffee


Eponyms are words from a person whom a discovery, invention, place, etc., is named or thought to be named.

  1. biro

  2. boycott

  3. cardigan

  4. draconian

  5. macadamia nuts

  6. maverick

  7. nicotine

  8. pasterized

  9. sandwich

  10. saxophone

  11. teddy bear


Many words gain their descriptive power from their association with place names. For example, Broadway is often used to describe musical theater; Fleet Street has been used to describe the British press because it is a London street that used to house many newspapers. Words from place names are easier to understand if students are familiar with their backgrounds.

  1. bedlam (pandemonium): after a popular name and pronunciation of St. Mary of Bethlehem, London’s first psychiatric hospital

  2. bikini (skimpy two-piece bathing suit): after Bikini Atoll in the Marshal Islands, where atomic bombs were tested in 1946–supposedly analogous to the explosive effect on the male libido

  3. bohemian (describing individuals who wish to live an unconventional lifestyle): after Bohemia, where gypsies were erroneously thought to have originated

  4. Chinese wall (an insurmountable barrier, especially to the passage of information): after the Great Wall of China

  5. denim (a coarse cotton fabric): after French serge de Nimes, where the cloth originated

21. Literordinyms & Word chains

Posted: 2013 年 12 月 28 日 in Logology

Literordinyms refer to words with three or sometimes four consecutive alphabetical letters. Some three-letter alphabetical sequences are common (such as DEF), but some are almost unheard of (such as XYZ).

  1. abcoulomb

  2. define

  3. coughing

  4. hijack

  5. somnolent

  6. gymnophobia

  7. first

  8. stupid

  9. hydroxyzine

Note that some words contain three-letter sequences that are in reverse alphabetical order.

  1. federal

  2. jihad

  3. coupon

  4. peanuts


Word chains refer to a wordplay that people change one word into a contrary or even an opposite word by changing one letter at a time. Such verbal transformations require a good deal of ingenuity or trial and error.

  1. We can change black to white.


  1. We can change lead into gold.


  1. We can change hate to love.


Exercise 1: Please change give to take.

Exercise 2: Please change poor to rich.

Misnomers refer to a wrong or inaccurate name or designation. For example, the expression black box to describe a recording device on airplanes is related to death and destruction but doesn’t relate to the color of the device, which is orange, to make it conspicuous among wreckage.

  1. Blackboards can be blue or green.

  2. Black boxes on large airplanes are orange.

  3. Peanuts aren’t peas or nuts; they are legumes.

  4. English muffins weren’t invented in England but in America.

  5. French fries weren’t invented in France but in Belgium.

  6. The second hand on a watch is the third hand.

  7. Mobile homes got the name from the name of the place where they were first mass produced: Mobile, Alabama.

  8. A jackrabbit is a hare; a Belgian hare is a rabbit; Welsh rabbit is a cheese dish.

  9. Bloodhounds are so named not because of their special ability to smell blood but because they were the first breed of dog whose blood or breeding records were maintained.

  10. Arabic numerals are from India.

  11. Brown bears aren’t always brown but can be white, cream, brown, cinnamon, and blue.

  12. Fireflies aren’t flies but beetles; a guinea pig is not a pig or from Guinea but a South American rodent; a titmouse isn’t a mouse but a bird.

  13. Quicksand works slowly.

  14. Boxing rings are square.

  15. When people say that they could care less, they mean they couldn’t care less.

  16. When people say that someone wants to have his cake and eat it too (an everyday occurence), they mean that someone wants to eat his cake and have it too (an impossibility).

  17. A near miss is a near hit.

  18. Things don’t really fall between the cracks but through the cracks.

  19. People don’t cross bridges but whatever is under the bridges and perpendicular to the bridges.

  20. Doughnut holes aren’t holes but what fills them.

  21. Announcements aren’t made by nameless officials but by unnamed officials.

  22. People can’t put their best foot forward, only the better one.

  23. When people do things behind your back, they have no choice because they can’t do things in front of your back.

  24. The Canary Islands weren’t named after canary birds but after dogs, the extinct race of large dogs (Latin Canis) that once roamed there. The bird is named after the Canary Islands.

  25. Technically, there is no such thing as the Congressional Medal of Honor. It is the Medal of Honor, though it is presented “in the name of the Congress of the United States.”


Words are alive. They are born; they often change, and they sometimes die. Sometimes the meanings of words have changed so much that they can now be used to describe the opposite of what they originally described. These are all meaning-changed words.

  1. awful: The word once meant “full of awe, awe-inspiring” and could describe very good things. Now it usually means “terrible.”

  2. bully: In the sixteenth century, the word meant “a sweetheart” or “fine fellow.” Accordingly, Shakespeare has a character in Henry V say: “I love the lovely bully.” The term came to have its current sense by association with swashbucklers and hired ruffians.

  3. girl: In the thirteenth century, a girl could denote a “youth,” whether a boy or a maiden. To prevent possible ambiguity, people would usually refer to a boy as a knave girl. The word girls usually meant “children.” The current use of girl dates from the sixteenth century.

  4. idiot: Although many of us today believe that idiots are disproportionately represented in public office, ancient Greeks would use the term–from the root idios (private)–to designate those who didn’t hold public office. Because such people were regarded as having no special skill or status, the word gradually fell into disrepute.

  5. passenger: In the fourteenth century, the word, which literally means “one who is passing,” was used to refer to any traveler, often one on foot. Although the current sense arose in the sixteenth century, the word was used in its “pedestrain” sense as late as the nineteenth century.

  6. restive: Although the word now means “not wanting to rest” and “uneasy,” in the seventeenth century it meant “wanting to rest,” “not wishing to move,” and “inactive.”

  7. with: The word once meant–you may not believe this–“against.” In Old English, with denoted opposition, producing the following paradoxical-sounding idioms: compete with, contend with, fight with, quarrel with, and struggle with. The Old English word for the current meaning of with was mid (comparable to modern German mit). In the twelfth or thirteenth century with lost its “against” meaning and acquired the meaning of the Old English mid. Because of its older meaning, alive in expressions such as fight with, the word with is a contronym, carrying contrary or opposite meanings.

Just as some ponies in a circus may be used for only one trick (one-trick ponies), so a word may be always or nearly always used in only one phrase. These words are called one-trick words.

  1. arms akimbo

  2. make amends

  3. run amok

  4. anecdotal evidence

  5. look askance

  6. be-all and end-all

  7. betwixt and between

  8. condign punishment

  9. dribs and drabs

  10. a fine-tooth comb

  11. to and fro

  12. time immemorial

  13. indomitable will

  14. the jig is up

  15. kith and kin

  16. death knell

  17. in lieu of

  18. at loggerheads

  19. filthy lucre

  20. far from the madding crowd

  21. on the QT

  22. whole shebang

  23. slake one’s thirst

  24. tit for tat

  25. vantage point

  26. vested interest

  27. vim and vigor

  28. wishful thinking


In any event, there is no easy answer to the question, “What is the longest word in English?” In fact, it is possible to create words that are tediously long and that no one would use except to mention examples of words that are tediously long. For example, people can stretch out the term “great-great-great-great-great grandfather/grandmother” 100,000 or more times.

  1. Oxford English Dictionary (OED): floccinaucinihilipilification = estimating something as worthless; pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis = silicosis = a lung disease contracted from inhaling fine silica particles from a volcano; antidisestablishmentarianism = opposition to the disestablishment of the Church of the England = a political philosophy opposed to the separation of religion and government

  2. Gould’s Medical Dictionary: hepaticocholangiocholecystenterostomies = a surgery in which surgeons create a connection between the gallbladder and a hepatic bile duct and between the intestine and the gallbladder

  3. Walt Disney’s movie Mary Poppins: supercalifragilisticexpialidocious = atoning for extreme and delicate beauty while being highly educable (In the movie, people use the word when they don’t know what to say.)

  4. Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost (act V, scene 1): honorificabilitudinitatibus = the state of being able to achieve honor (It is also one of the longest English words with alternating consonants and vowels.)

  5. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (10th edition): electroencephalographically and ethylenediaminetetraacetate

  6. Guinness Book of World Records (1992): disproportionableness and incomprehensibilities

  7. James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake: bababadalgharagh takammina rronnkonnbronn tonnerronn tuonnthunntro varrhounawns kawntoohoohoor denenthurnuk = a sumbolic thunderclap that represents the fall of Adam and Eve; klikkaklakkaklaskaklopatzklatschabattacreppycrottygraddaghsemmihsammihnouithappluddyappladdypkonpkot = the sound of crashing glass (There are eight more 100-letter words created by James Joyce in Finnegans Wake)

  8. American Chemical Society’s Chemical Abstracts: C785H1220N212O248S2= tobacco mosaic virus = acetylseryltyrosylserylisoleucylthreonylserylprolylserylglutaminylphenylalanylvalylphenylalanylleucylserylserylvalyltryptophylalanylaspartylprolylisoleucylglutamylleucylleucylasparaginylvalylcysteinylthreonylserylserylleucylglycylasparaginylglutaminylphenylalanylglutaminylthreonylglutaminylglutaminylalanylarginylthreonylthreonylglutaminylvalylglutaminylglutaminylphenylalanylserylglutaminylvalyltryptophyllysylprolylphenylalanylprolylglutaminylserylthreonylvalylarginylphenylalanylprolylglycylaspartylvalyltyrosyllysylvalyltyrosylarginyltyrosylasparaginylalanylvalylleucylaspartylprolylleucylisoleucylthreonylalanylleucylleucylglycylthreonylphenylalanylaspartylthreonylarginylasparaginylarginylisoleucylisoleucylglutamylvalylglutamylasparaginylglutaminylglutaminylserylprolylthreonylthreonylalanylglutamylthreonylleucylaspartylalanylthreonylarginylarginylvalylaspartylaspartylalanylthreonylvalylalanylisoleucylarginylserylalanylasparaginylisoleucylas paraginylleucylvalylasparaginylglutamylleucylvalylarginylglycylthreonylglycylleucyltyrosylasparaginylglutaminylasparaginylthreonylphenylalanylglutamylserylmethionylserylglycylleucylvalyltryptophylthreonyl serylalanylprolylalanylserine (1,185 letters)