Vocab: 采风

While watching a couple of Chinese dramas recently, I noticed a recurring word that I couldn’t fully grasp…

采风 | cǎi fēng

It literally means: Collecting wind
à la collecting flowers or mushrooms or some such.

But when it shows up in TV shows, it’s used to describe when a character—usually the creative type—who intentionally goes to visit rural Chinese villages. Based on the plot lines, I gathered 采风 is some sort of trip meant for collecting inspiration. But why the countryside?

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5 Intriguing Words

Don't know how long this lil' guy's 양다리 game will last, but adorable moment! (Photo: Furman S. Baldwin's "The Kiss")
Don’t know how long this lil’ guy’s 양다리 game will last, but adorable moment! (Photo: Furman S. Baldwin’s “The Kiss“)

…from the last several weeks. (So these vocabulary installments may contain more and more English words, since my real job involves writing…in English…which really means thesaurus.com all day and new tab > “define: xx” — youknowwhatimean?) Anyway:

  • frowzy | EN | scruffy and neglected in appearance; unkempt, messy, disheveled, etc. — Forgot where I saw this, but I love it because it’s one of those words that sound/feel exactly like what they mean. 
  • funambulism | EN | the art of tightrope walking (walking along a thin wire or rope, usually at a great height); see Nik Wallenda’s recent record-setting stunts in Chicago—who knew there was a dedicated word for this!? 
  • pied-à-terre | EN via FR | a temporary or second home; literally foot to the ground in French—got familiarized with this term after reading a bunch of articles on rich people scooping up (a lot of) (prime) NYC real estate. 
  • 山寨, shān zhài | CN | a term (Wikipedia entry here) that essentially means imitation, and particularly refers to the pervasive knock-off industry in China, i.e. “that’s a 山寨/shānzhài cell phone”; literally “mountain fortress” (something to do with the sense that fake goods are getting built/stockpiled in factories in villages far away from official control)—my dad mentioned this word in a conversation recently…he defined it as “Made in China”, which sounds pretty sad. But I’ve also read  quite a few arguments for how shān zhài is highly efficient and also innovative (!). 
  • 양다리, yang dari | KR | literally “both legs”, typically used to mean two-timing/dating two people at the same time; 양다리를 걸치다 means “to try to have it both ways”.

5 Intriguing Words


…from the last several weeks.

  • réalisateur | FR | film director—I just love it. Conveys so much more than “director”. The réalisateur turns a vision into reality! 
  • milquetoast | EN | a timid, meek, or unassertive person—Do not remember where I saw this. Just knew I didn’t know it. Apparently origin is “Caspar Milquetoast, a diffident character in H. T. Webster’s comic strip The Timid Soul.”
  • sacrebleu | FR | an ancient, stereotypical French curse used to express anger or surprise—apparently no one in France uses this anymore; more common are Oh la vache! (holy cow!), merde! (sh*t!), and putain! (f*ck!)…not to be confused with Putin 😉 Much more on this here.
  • bête noire | EN via FR | a person or thing that someone really dislikes; pet peeve—it literally means “black beast.” 
  • 麻辣鸡, málà jī | CN | NICKI. FREAKIN’. MINAJ.—ok, what I think is happening is…the Chinese media dubbed Nicki Minaj 麻辣鸡 (málà jī) which literally means numb/spicy chicken…Maybe they couldn’t help it because Minaj is kiiiiiinda like málà jī and Nicki is just a “spicy hot badass chick”!? I don’t know…but I am very fascinated…Google search results for 辣鸡

Native Species

The tomato is a star in my family’s diet year-round — pork + tomato noodles, cherry tomatoes in salads…tomato egg soup to accompany every other summertime dinner.

via mr_t_in_dc/Flickr

Being a native Chinese speaker, I’ve long known tomatoes as 番茄 (fānqié) or 西红柿 (xīhóngshì). Some nights ago, for no particular reason (other than the fact that we’ve definitely been overdosing on this yummy fruitveggie), I asked my parents what those words actually mean.

So here we go:

CN | 番茄 | fānqié | foreign + Solanum

Solanum is a large and diverse genus of flowering plants, including two food crops of the highest economic importance, the potato and the tomato.” (via Wikipedia)

There’s actually a third major food crop under Solanum …can you guess it…eggplant! Which is just 茄子 (qiézi), with “zi” being sort of a noun suffix.

CN | 西红柿 | xīhóngshì | Western + red + persimmon

A Google search tells me there’s even another name for tomato 洋柿子(yáng shìzi). I’ve never heard tomatoes being called this, but basically 洋柿子 = yáng shìzi = foreign + persimmon + noun suffix.

See a trend? It appears China decided to brand the tomato by its defining characteristic of being a non-native species. And indeed, the broad consensus seems to be that tomatoes originated in Central/South America.

On the other hand, the most widely cultivated species of persimmon, is native to China.

After this revelation, I quickly thought of another example. 西瓜 (xīguā), which means watermelon, or more literally, “Western + melon”. Watermelons are thought to have come from Southern Africa, which is not exactly the Western world…but nonetheless foreign to China.

I always find myself thinking about how different countries introduce their people to things/ideas from foreign places, particularly through language. To me, the concept of identifying things based on their origin (and how they compare to something people are already familiar with) makes total sense–I just don’t know how pervasive this “system” is…I’ll keep my eyes peeled for more examples. It just seems like one of several rational ways of naming imported goods —  the others include more phonetic adaptations or just literal translations.

In terms of tomato and watermelon at least, Korea used the other two options.

KR |토마토 | to ma to

KR |수박 | su bak | water + melon

Vocab: Iced Coffee

I picked up an iced coffee on the way home today and immediately fell in love with the beverage’s intermingling colors and textures. Obviously, the rational next step is Instagramming a close-up. But now it’s a quick vocab study, too! CN | 冰咖啡 | bīng kāfēi KR | 아이스 커피 | aiseu keopi FR | café glacé When I […]

Vocab: Tandoori

I’ve been listening to a lot of Korean indie lately — which to me just means acoustic, spring-timey songs that sound like Instagram’s Walden filter in music form.

In any case, I keep hearing a song (or songs) with something like “Tandoori” in the lyrics. The word/phrase? has been stuck in my head for weeks. I knew the word came from a K-indie song, but the back of my mind points out: Tandoori is most definitely Indian food.

Behold, tandoori chicken

 …a popular Indian dish and Pakistani dish consisting of roasted chicken prepared with yogurt and spices. The name comes from the type of cylindrical clay oven, a tandoor, in which the dish is traditionally prepared.

via Flickr

As it turns out, however, I’m not crazy. “Tandoori” indeed also means something in Korean.

단둘이 | dandul-i | “two in private”, a private meeting

“Two in private”? Now that sounds like the start of a great love song.