Scholarship and education

Top language errors for 2006

The editors of Yaowen Jiaozi (咬文嚼字), the magazine of Mandarin misusage, have announced their picks for the most frequent Chinese language errors during 2006.

Television is the big loser this time round (this is by design; the magazine asked its readers to inspect a different station each month). According to editor-in-chief Hao Mingjian, tens of thousands of complaints were received from readers, out of which the editors determined that 3551 were genuine errors - an average of around 300 per station per month. The stations themselves only bear some of the blame, since many programs are not produced in-house.

Hao points his finger at uncultured TV program hosts who, more interested in entertaining viewers than in the correctness of their language, chatter on about things they know nothing about, misquoting poems, misusing expressions, mispronouncing words, and misidentifying literary characters.

Does this number mean anything? Who knows! But it's still fun to talk about. Here's the categorized list of top errors:

  1. TV title typos: : When it means "resemblance", it should be "像". Prior to 1986, 象 was the simplified version of 像, but the original version was restored when the second round of simplifications was repealed.
  2. Year names: 丙戍年: 2006 was actually 丙戌年 according to the traditional Chinese system of using heavenly stems and earthly branches to number the year (干支纪年). 戍 (shù) is a kind of weapon; 戌 (xū) is the 11th earthly branch.
  3. Popular terms: 神州六号: China's manned spacecraft is named 神舟, or "divine vessel"; the homonym 神州, "sacred land" is a poetic name for China.
  4. Easily confused characters in published works: and : These similar-looking words are close in pronunciation (既 is jì, 即 is jí) but distinct in meaning.
  5. Traditional character signage: 美發: Traditional characters are often used to lend a sense of class to signs; the traditional form of 美发 (hairstyling) is 美髮. Both 發 (fā) and 髮 (fà) simplify to 发.
  6. Easily confused words: 启示 and 启事: Homophones with the pronunciation qǐshì. 启示 means "inspiration"; 启事 means "announcement".
  7. Product names: 哈蜜瓜: The cantaloupe-like Hami Melon is named after 哈密 (hāmì), the Chinese name of the Kumul area in Xinjiang. Though the melons are sweet, their name does not contain honey (蜜).
  8. Punctuation: (收): When addressing a letter, the character 收, "receive", should go directly after the name of the addressee rather than in parentheses.
  9. Frequent misquotations: 食色,性也: Confucius did not say "Appetite for food and sex is human nature." The frequently misattributed quote actually comes out of the mouth of Gaozi in Mencius. The legendary Guoxue Spice Girl made this error, too.
  10. Literary history: 八国联军火烧圆明园: "The Eight-Power Allied Army burnt the Old Summer Palace" - by the time the Eight Power Army arrived in 1900, the Old Summer Palace had been destroyed for 40 years. It was the Anglo-French forces who torched it in 1860.

Also on the subject of errors, we bring this article to the attention of anyone who is planning on buying Wang Xiaobo novels this year. Beware the Yunnan People's Publishing House edition! The reviewer found 17 mistakes in the preface alone (the link has photos). Will things be better in 2007, a year in which GAPP plans to emphasize quality in publishing?

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