Supply spiders

Barbara Philips Long writes:

Apple and other autofill writing software have contributed a lot to eggcorns, I suspect. I enjoyed this comment about supply-siders, which called them "supply spiders":

I am now imagining Carl Icahn as a supply spider.

I suspect that Barbara is right to attribute this coinage to someone's autocorrect function, in which case it would be an example of what Ben Zimmer suggested we call a Cupertino ("The Cupertino Effect", 3/9/2006). Of course it might also be a consciously-intended insult.

The fact that there are a few other examples Out There doesn't settle the issue:

[link] What is the supply-spiders argument for lowering tax rates?
[link] This omission of just one of several viable state revenue options exposes the amorality of the supply spiders like the Commissioner and the Sheriff.
[link] As an aside, even during the Reagan era, unemployment remained stubbornly high, not falling permanently below 8% until Q2 or Q3 1986, four years after the supply-spiders passed significant tax reform in 1982 (effective 1983)
[link] In this case, the supply spiders were aided by all three.

Though this one is definitely intentional:

Backstroke of the West

Patrick Shanley, "'Revenge of the Sith' Dubbed With Bootleg Chinese Dialogue Is a Fan-Made Masterpiece", The Hollywood Reporter 1/3/2017:

YouTuber GratefulDeadpool has done the unthinkable: He's made Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith cool.

Using the original Chinese subtitles, which feature multiple lost-in-translation misinterpretations, GratefulDeadpool redubbed the prequel trilogy's final installment — with hilarious results.

Entitled Backstroke of the West Highlights Part 1 (Star War: The Third Gathers), the recut features such memorable lines as "I has been hating you," from the villainous Count Dooku, and "The front is a lemon avenue flying straightly," spoken by Obi-Wan Kenobi while piloting a careening starship.

Dorkly explains the bizarre translations likely "began with a machine translation of the Chinese script to [Revenge of the Sith], which attempted to literally translate from Mandarin to English, despite the multitude of barriers between the two languages." The end result was great quips, such as "Smelly boy" from General Grievous to Kenobi and "Your dead period arrived, teacher" from a rebellious Anakin Skywalker during his fateful lightsaber duel with his master on Mustafar.

I covered the original Chinese DVD subtitles in "Giving first aid the already disheveled hair projection", 7/17/2005, where I quoted favorite lines like

"He big in nothing / important in good elephant"
"I hope that these dreamses really can't become"
"Send these troopseses only"
"I was just made by the Presbyterian Church" (= Jedi Council)
"Ratio tile, the wish power are together with you" (="Obi Wan, may the Force be with you")

I'm skeptical of the machine-translation idea, because I seriously doubt that there has ever been an MT system that rendered "the Jedi Council" as "the Presbyterian Church". There are some things that still require human creativity.

The whole thing:

Zhou Youguang 1906-2017

Zhou xiansheng,

You were my dear friend for decades.  I wish that you had gone on living forever.  You will be sorely missed, but yours was a life well lived.

As the "Father of Pinyin", you have had an enormous impact on education and culture in China.  After you passed the century mark, you spoke out courageously in favor of democracy and reform.

Now, one day after your 111th birthday, you have departed, but you will always be in our hearts, brimming with light, as your name suggests.



"Zhou Youguang, Who Made Writing Chinese as Simple as ABC, Dies at 111" (Margalit Fox, NYT, 1/14/17)

"Zhou Youguang, father of Chinese Romanization, dies at 111" (Associated Press, WP, 1/14/17)

"China's Zhou Youguang, father of Pinyin writing system, dies aged 111" (BBC, 1/14/17)

"Zhou Youguang, Architect Of A Bridge Between Languages, Dies At 111" (Colin Dwyer, NPR, 1/14/17)

2017-01-14 12:29

Google search

"Zhou Youguang, Father of Pinyin" (1/14/14)

"Zhou Youguang, 109 and going strong" (1/13/15)

The perils of literacy

I see this on zdic (online dictionary of Literary Sinitic / Classical Chinese) from time to time:

The inscription says:

Rénshēng shìzì yōuhuàn shǐ 人生識字憂患始
("misery / suffering / worry / hardship begins when one becomes literate").

The man who wrote this enigmatic line, Su Shi (1037-1101), has a towering reputation as a "writer, poet, painter, calligrapher, pharmacologist, gastronome, and a statesman".  He should know, better than anyone, the truth of his statement.  But what did he mean by it?  It seems particularly strange that an online dictionary of Literary Sinitic would choose this of all lines to put on their site.

I asked a colleague, Ronald Egan, who is a specialist on Su Shi, his opinion about the meaning of this line.  Here is his reply:

Yes, I'm familiar with the Su Shi poem and very fond of the opening lines. I think rénshēng 人生 refers to people in general, but of course Su Shi's own experience as a celebrated man of letters who ran into all sorts of trouble because of that celebrity also lies behind those words. As the poem moves on, it becomes one of Su Shi's most important statements about calligraphy (and he has many of them!).

I think that only someone who is deeply immersed in the life and literature of Su Shi can understand this line.  I know a fair amount about Su Shi, but I do not consider myself qualified to pronounce on the ultimate meaning of these words.  What I can say is that the title of the poem in which it occurs is "Shí Cāngshū zuìmò táng 石蒼舒醉墨堂" ("Shi Cangshu's hall of inebriant ink") and that, as Ron Egan says, the poem is about calligraphy.  Calligraphy — in practice and in appreciation — can bring joy and it can bring sorrow.  Only one who truly identifies with calligraphy (his own or that of others) can experience the emotions that Su Shi describes in this poem.

Note that the first two characters of the line we are studying already pose a problem:  rénshēng 人生 could mean "human life" or "life" in general, "philosophy of life" or "outlook (on life)", "life itself", "span of life", "an individual's life", "activity of a life", "relations with people (in life)", and so forth.

Daan Pan, who is a historian and connoisseur of Chinese calligraphy as well as the author of The Lyrical Resonance Between Chinese Poets and Painters: The Tradition and Poetics of Tihuashi* (Cambria, 2011), observes:

This poem, like some comparable pieces by Su Shi, airs Su's frustrations with his career setback. So this line bears sarcastic overtones. The term you1huan4 忧患 comes from Mengzi's / Mencius's  expression 《 shēng yú yōuhuàn, sǐ yú ānlè 生于忧患,死于安乐 ["to be born in sorrow, to die in joy"]》(《 Mèngzǐ Gàozi xià 孟子  告子  下 [Mencius, "Gao Zi" B]》), which, in Su's line, means a person's awareness / sense of worrying about things happening around him / her, in a way comparable with the notion of angst. This line as a whole means something like: I started to worry about things the moment I acquired literacy. Its subtextual meaning is something like: I don't want to blame other people (i.e., his political enemies and unappreciative superiors) for causing my frustrations. Rather, I blame myself for having (too much) scholarly learning. What he really meant to say is exactly the opposite, which reminds me of Du Fu's poem Lǚ yè shū huái 旅夜书怀 ("Thoughts while travelling at night"), in which he writes:  míng qǐ wénzhāng zhù? guān yīng lǎobìng xiū 名岂文章著,官应老病休 ("Can reputation come from written works?  When old and sick, an official should retire.")

*VHM:  tíhuàshī 題畫詩 ("poetry about painting")

It's interesting that Lu Xun (1881-1936), who is generally considered to be the greatest Chinese writer of the twentieth century, wrote an essay entitled "Rénshēng shìzì hútú shǐ 人生识字糊涂始" ("fatuity begins when one becomes literate").  Lu Xun's most famous story is about an illiterate peasant named Ah Q, and it was Lu Xun who is reported to have said shortly before his death, "Hànzì bùmiè, Zhōngguó bì wáng" 漢字不滅, 中國必亡 ("If Chinese characters are not eradicated, China will perish!").

See "Lu Xun and the Zhao family " (1/5/16) and "New radicals in an old writing system " (8/29/12).

What does "rénshēng shìzì yōuhuàn shǐ 人生識字憂患始" ("misery / suffering / worry / hardship begins when one becomes literate") mean?

Many things to many people, but most of all it means many thing to Su Shi himself.

[Thanks to Bai Qianshen and Xiuyuan Mi]


For those who are curious about what the whole poem says, here is Michael Fuller's translation, from his book about Su Shi titled The Road to East Slope, pp. 122-125.

rénshēng shìzì yōuhuàn shǐ, xìngmíng cū jì kěyǐ xiū.
hé yòng cǎoshū kuā shénsù, kāijuàn tǎnghuǎng lìng rén chóu.
wǒ cháng hào zhī měi zì xiào, jūn yǒu cǐ bìng hé nián chōu!
zì yán qízhōng yǒu zhì lè, shìyì wú yì xiāoyáo yóu.
jìn zhě zuò táng míng zuì mò, rú yǐn měijiǔ xiāo bǎi yōu.
nǎi zhī Liǔ Zǐ yǔ bù wàng, bìng shì tǔ tàn rú zhēnxiū.
jūn yú cǐ yì yì yún zhì, tuī qiáng bàibǐ rúshān qiū.
xìng lái yīhuī bǎi zhǐ jǐn, jùnmǎ shūhū tà jiǔzhōu.
wǒ shū yì zào běn wúfǎ, diǎn huà xìnshǒu fán tuīqiú.
hú wèi yìlùn dú jiàn jiǎ, zhī zì piàn zhǐ jiē cáng shōu.
bù jiǎn Zhōng Zhāng jūn zìzú, xiàfāng Luó Zhào wǒ yì yōu.
bù xū línchí gèng kǔ xué, wán qǔ juàn sù chōng qīn chóu.


In life, acquaintance with writing is the beginning of calamity and grief.
Once one knows how to roughly record one’s name, one can stop.
Of what use is cursive script, boasting of one’s inspired swiftness,
When on opening a scroll it stupefies men, makes them suffer?
I always laugh at myself that I used to enjoy it.
You have this disease: how can we cure it?
You say that in [calligraphy] is the greatest joy,
That in according with your thoughts, it is no different from “carefree wandering.”
Recently you built a hall called “Drunk Ink.”
Like drinking fine wine, [calligraphy] can dispel a hundred sorrows.
Thus I know that Master Liu’s words were not amiss:
Sick, one eats dirt and charcoal as though they were delicacies.
It can be said that you are at the acme of this art:
Heaps of spent brushes are [high] as hills.
When the inspiration comes, in one sweep you exhaust a hundred sheets of paper:
A spirited horse in an instant treads the Nine Divisions.
My calligraphy I make up as I go, at bottom without any rules.
My dots and strokes follow howsoever my hand moves, and working at it bothers me.
Why in your discussion are you uniquely lenient with me?
Every solitary character and scrap of paper you collect and store away.
Not inferior to Zhong Yao and Zhang Zhi, you are worthy in your own right.
Below, compared to Luo and Zhao, I too am superior.
You need not again earnestly practice by the poolside.
And you can take all the silk for [its proper] use in coverlets and sheets.

"You have foraged relationships with many presidents"

According to the OED, the verb forge originally meant "To make, fashion, frame, or construct (any material thing)", derived via French forger from Latin fabricare. But this sense is "Obs. exc. as coincident with transf. use of 2. to forge together: to frame together, weld". For the last few hundred years, the literal meaning of forge was "To shape by heating in a forge and hammering; to beat into shape".

And a couple of centuries ago, everyone was familiar with the local blacksmith whose work provided the material basis for many metaphors, since

Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought.

Modern forges are mostly industrial-scale enterprises that relatively few people have ever seen or even had occasion to talk about, so that the verb forge has come loose from its material mooring.

The noun forage, originally meaning "Food for horses and cattle", comes to us from French fourrage, which was the French version of Germanic fodder. The verb forage comes from French fourrager, and originally meant "To collect forage from" or "To rove in search of forage". But early in the process, the noun's scope was narrowed to "provender for the horses in an army", and the verb was used transitively to mean "to overrun (a country) for the purpose of obtaining or destroying supplies; to lay under contribution for forage. Also in wider sense, to plunder, pillage, ravage", or intransitively to mean "To rove in search of forage or provisions; spec. of soldiers in the field."

Armies no longer depend on horses, and the verb forage is used mainly in its once-figurative sense "To rove or hunt about as in search of supplies; to make a roving search for; to rummage", or transitively "To obtain by foraging or rummaging".

Due to the normal lenition processes of casual speech in some varieties of English, the unstressed second vowel in "foraged" and "forage" might reduce — or surface only as a lengthening of the [ɹ] — to the point where the result overlaps with pronunciations of "forge". So now, learners of these varieties of English, encountering expressions like "[fɔɹdʒd] relationships" in speech, may be faced with an interpretive choice. Just as it's possible to create relationships by figurative forging, it's also possible to create relationships by figurative foraging. So did they hear "forged relationships" or "foraged relationships"?

I don't think that I can hear Chuck Todd's pronunciation as "foraged" and "forage":

But I'm probably influenced by my belief that what you do to relationships is to forge them, not forage them. If my phrasal lexicon were different, then the phoneme restoration effect (which is more powerful than most people realize) might take my perception in a different direction.

Anyhow, the person who transcribed Todd's forges as forages is not alone. Some web examples:

He set up meetings to forage a relationship with the leaders of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO).
They will forage a relationship simply to get what they need.
EMDR will help forage a relationship between the traumatic memory and new ways of thinking about it.
Longer Term: Develop a 3-year plan to forage a relationship among the ESA, the. Entomological Foundation, and NSTA.
After all this time she didn't forage a relationship with his peeps?
It took two men of modern day times, from two totally different perspectives, backgrounds, and faiths to forage a relationship and grow to mutually respect the narratives of each other.
I foraged a relationship with my own Great Heart.
My favorite blog designs are the ones I get to do for people with whom I've foraged a relationship with ages before I do any work for them.
Who, during that time, foraged a relationship with Paul Newman as well.
I do my best to use local herbs, foraging a relationship with the medicines right outside our homes.
But what's more important is foraging a relationship with my daughter.
Slowing, Sebastian swam up alongside me and meeting his glimmering ebony eyes it occurred to me that through our games and play, we were foraging bonds of friendship.
Solid relationships with parents and students continue to be his forte in foraging bonds within the community we serve.

See their collaborative editorial and read their personal conversation about credibility within the creative sphere and how to forage your own identity through work.
for me, it was the best of times and the worst of times, difficult times whenever one is trying to forage their own identity.
I think they'd be smart to have her attempt to forage her own identity and then kind of just accept her own blandness.
Both Lucy and the speaker in “Exile” attempt to forage an identity by living in the very lands that destroyed their native cultures.
Try to forage an identity for yourself outside of the court which will allow you to be competent should life throw you a curve ball.
Considering herself single again, Margaret must re-examine herself, and forage an identity in her new life.

No, new mothers carry their children within themselves for 9 months, they have 9 months to forage a bond before they actually meet their child.
These animals need time to forage a bond with you to be able to trust you.
It is rather narcissistic, but really helps forage a bond between avatar and gamer.
John is being honest about what it takes to forage a bond with parrots.
As days become weeks and lust turns into love Winston and Ainsley forage a bond that only few couples attain.
I was able to relate to them, forage a bond, even if in my heart, I knew that my struggle did not equal what they experienced.
One kiss foraged a bond between them that would undoubtedly last forever.
To have foraged a bond that strong means the child got everything they needed during that transition time and more.

He had taught her to ride, helped her forage a friendship with Owaine, carried her from Sago—and she missed him dearly.
We've had a bumpy road, but I hope Robyn and I can forage a friendship in the future.
But they see beyond his dwarfism, and try to forage a friendship with Fin.
At that time it was very strange to forage a friendship via a computer screen
Once you forage a friendship with a sales lead you are more likely to want to make sure you're getting the best ride for your dollar.

In turn I was able to forage a link with an amazing vet who was able to help him.
We have foraged a link with an organization, the Southeast Iowa Organic Association (SEIOA) that should ensure the long term sustainability of our program.

IBM's "THINK" motto

Photograph taken by Hervé Guérin in the main lobby of IBM France:

First we have to determine what IBM means by its famous slogan.  Here are some of the many meanings of "think":  "ponder; reflect (on); believe; consider; cogitate; feel; deem; hold; suppose; imagine; remember; recall; conceive; deliberate; recollect; evoke", etc.  Thomas J. Watson, who led IBM from 1914 to 1956, first used this motto in December, 1911 at a sales meeting of a predecessor company, and he explained it as meaning "take everything into consideration".

Grammatically, the French "pensons" means "let's think", but I'll leave it to the Francophones who are listening in to tell us what special nuances that may convey.  I personally do not believe that this is the Cartesian existential "je pense, donc je suis" ("cogito ergo sum"; "I think, therefore I am").

Now, the crux of this post is that the Chinese rènwéi 认为 ("consider; deem; hold; take to be", etc.) is wrong.  It seems strange to see rènwéi 认为 ("consider; deem; hold; take to be", etc.) being used as the Chinese translation of the IBM motto "THINK".

When I was in high school, I was in awe of IBM as being at the vanguard of science.  I subscribed to their magazine called THINK and devoured its every word, thinking / believing that it put me in touch with the most profound minds of the day.

Used as the IBM motto, "THINK" is a verb in the imperative mood.  It bespeaks Thomas J. Watson enjoining his colleagues and employees to use their brains to improve the quality of their work and the productivity of the corporation.

Rènwéi 认为 ("consider; deem; hold; take to be", etc.) is a verb all right, but it's the wrong verb.  It doesn't convey Watson's injunction to take everything into consideration. Rènwéi 认为 is usually used in sentences like this: "Wǒ rènwéi tā hěn liǎobùqǐ 我认为他很了不起" ("I think he's great; I consider him to be great").  In other words, SUBJ V OBJ PHRASE / CLAUSE, where the V is rènwéi 认为 ("consider; deem; hold; take to be") and the OBJ PHRASE / CLAUSE possesses verbal properties:

tā huì dāyìng 他会答应 ("he will agree")
tā huì jùjué 她会拒绝 ("she will refuse")
tā huì dǎyíng 他会打赢 ("he will win")
tā huì shībài 她会失败 ("she will lose")
tā hěn piàoliang 她很漂亮 ("she is beautiful")
tā hěn nánkàn 他很难看 ("he's ugly")

The IBM slogan, "THINK", on the other hand, does not take an object.  It is just a simple command to someone to use their brain to perform a mental act.

Now, it's very interesting that the IBM motto "THINK" is regularly translated as sīwéi 思维 ("thinking; thought; cogitation; ratiocination") in Chinese, but I don't consider this to be a good translation either.  Why?  IBM's THINK is a verb in the imperative mood, whereas sīwéi 思维 ("thinking; thought; cogitation; ratiocination") is a noun (those who maintain that Chinese has neither lexical words nor grammatical parts of speech should take note).

I have also seen the IBM motto "THINK" rendered in Chinese simply as xiǎng 想 ("think; think of; suppose; miss [someone / something]; wish; believe; feel [like doing]; would like").  This is a verb, all right, but I don't think that it captures the spirit of Thomas J. Watson very well.

REFERENCES:  photographs #3 and #8 here, and here.

So what should the IBM motto be in Chinese?  I honestly do not know for sure, but here are some possibilities (suggested by Hervé):

sīkǎo 思考 ("think [deeply]; ponder [over / on]; reflect [on]; cogitate; deliberate")
sīliang 思量 ("consider; turn something over in one's mind; ponder; weigh and consider")
kǎolǜ 考虑 ("consider; think [over / out]; size up; take into account; think about")

These are mostly used as verbs, but can also sometimes function as nouns.

My own tentative favorite is xiǎngyīxiǎng 想一想 ("think about it; think it over; give it due consideration; give it a / some thought"), but that's not very elegant.

Monumental laughing face

From an anonymous reader, who spotted this photograph on Instagram, where it was posted by nanorie, who has given her permission to repost it:

The LL reader says:

[I] was amused by the peculiar blend of communication modes in the comment "笑🗿ってwww".

The meaning is clear enough, but despite its colloquial tone I fail to parse this into any coherent spoken expression, in Japanese or otherwise.

In online parlance, "w" means "warau 笑う ("laugh"), so "www" means something like LOL.

Nathan Hopson gives a more detailed account of "笑🗿ってwww" as a whole:

My best guess at parsing this would be to divide it into three parts:


So you have a comment that looks like:

That's funny
"A moyai"
Ha ha ha

The commenter is referring to the previous comment, just a single moyai emoji. That is what's funny.

The use of www and its companions of various length as something like "ha ha ha" is an abbreviation of 笑. "Waratta" is a lot to type, I guess? It also resonates with the following smile/laugh kaomoji 顔文字 "face character" (essentially a subspecies of emoji):


Here, the w is the smile itself.

This usage began with online gamers and has spread to the internet and SMS, etc more generally.

Since I was not familiar with 🗿 and didn't know what "moyai" meant, I looked them up on Emojipedia, and this is what I found:

🗿 Moai
A Moyai (also spelled Moai) is a type of human rock carving from Easter Island.

Moyai is also a statue located near Shibuya Station in Tokyo, Japan, which is the likely inspiration for why this is included in the emoji character set. This joins other local landmarks such as the Tokyo Tower and previously Shibuya 109.

Moai was approved as part of Unicode 6.0 in 2010 under the name “Moyai” and added to Emoji 1.0 in 2015.

A parallel to Japanese "www" as an equivalent to "lol" in Chinese is "233".  That refers to the 233rd emoticon on a blog named Māopū 猫扑 ("Mop"), which used to be a popular website in China.  Here's another website that has both the 233 emoticon and a more detailed explanation for it.  Not everybody knows the precise origin of "233", but lots of people know that "233" means hāhāha 哈哈哈 ("hahaha").

As with so many other fields of endeavor, internet language requires considerable xuéwèn 学问 ("learning; erudition; scholarship") to be a true expert.  For most people, it's not necessary to possess in-depth knowledge.  What's required is sufficient familiarity to be able to use the words one commands in suitable contexts.

[Thanks to Fangdan Li, Tianran Hang, and Jolyon Thomas]

Trump tea

A friend of mine who does research on the history of tea in China recently shared the following photo in a WeChat group that focuses on Chinese food culture:

Here is a complete translation of all the writing on the wrapper:

[red seal at the top]

Pǔ'ěr gǔshù
Pu'er ancient tree

Note:  Pu'er / Pu-erh is a type of fermented tea produced in Yunnan province.  During the first decade of this century, it became very fashionable and in some cases extremely expensive.  Most domesticated, commercially marketed tea grows on waist-high bushes (convenient for harvesting!), but the tea plant (Camellia thea / Camellia sinensis) in the wild in its original homeland (roughly northeast Assam, northeast Burma, southernmost Yunnan, and northwest Laos) takes the form of a tree that may grow up to several tens of feet in height.  Some tea trees are hundreds of years old, and leaves from such old trees are especially prized.  I have some in my cupboard right now, and I parcel it out like gold, drinking one cup every two months or so.


Note:  Language Log discussions of Chinese transcriptions for Trump's surname may be found here and here.

tèzhì Bùlǎng Pǔ'ěr

special Bulang Pu'er

Note:  Bùlǎng 布朗 is the Chinese transcription of "Blang", which is the name of an ethnic group in southern Yunnan and the language they speak (related to Wa).  The Blang and the Wa are Mon-Khmer speakers who have the deepest and most intimate relationship to the tea plant, its name, and its usage (See Victor Mair and Erling Hoh, The True History of Tea, Appendix C).  The first character of the first word, the second character of the second word, and the first character of the third word form the Chinese transcription of the name "Trump".

jīngzhì shúchá
fine fermented tea

shōucáng pǐn
collector's item

Note:  This product was packaged in November, 2016 or later, so the stocks of pu'er tea they used must have begun the fermentation process long before that (ten years, to be more precise [see the article cited below]).

jìngzhòng 357 kè
净重 357 克
net weight 357 grams

Within this article (in Chinese) there is a brief description of the tea and how the tea merchants have been promoting it.  Incidentally, it sells for 750 yuan (US$108).

[Thanks to Matt Anderson, Daan Pan, and Jichang Lulu]

Chinese lung cancer poeticizes in English

For several days I've been aware of a strange poem that has gone viral in China:

"Read The Smog-Inspired Poem That China Can't Stop Talking About" (NPR, 1/12/17)

The strangeness of the poem is due to its being written from the perspective of lung cancer and addressed to the patient.  You judge for yourself — here's the complete poem:

I Long To Be King

I am ground glass opacity (GGO)* in the lung,
A vague figure shrouded in mystery and strangeness,
Like looking at the moon through clouds,
Like seeing beautiful flowers in the fog.

I long to be king,
With my fellows swimming in every vessel.
My people crawl in your organs and body,
Holding the rights for life or death, I tremble with excitement.

When young you called me "atypical adenomatous hyperplasia",
Then when I had matured, you declared me "adenocarcinoma in situ",
When fully developed, your fearful denomination: "invasive adenocarcinoma".
You forgot my strenuous journey to become the king.

From tiny to strong,
From humble to arrogant.
None cared when I was young,
But all fear me we when full grown.

I've been nourished on the delicious mist and haze,
That sweetly warmed my heart,
Always loving when you were heavy drunk and smoking,
Creating me a cozy home.

When I was less than eight millimeters, I was so fragile,
Waiting for a chance to grow up.
Now, more than eight millimeters,** I am more mature,
And considered worthy of notice.

My continuous growth gives me a chance to be king,
As I break through layers of obstacles,
Spanning the mountains and waters.
My fellows march to every corner and occupy every region.

My quest to become king was full of obstacles,
I was cut until almost dead in childhood,
Burned once I'd matured,
And poisoned when older.

Happiness after sorrow, rainbow after rain.
I faced surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy,
But continued to chase my dream,
Some would have given up, but I will be the king.

I long to be king, with fellows and subordinates,
I long to be king, to have people's fear and respect
I long to be king, to dominate my domain,
I long to be king, to direct your fate.

*CT scan image showing fluid in the lungs, an early indicator of lung cancer.
**8 mm nodules seem to be the cutoff point for lung cancer diagnosis.

Because the poem is so bizarre, I didn't pay too much attention to it, other than to observe that it had, so to speak, taken China by storm.  But then a correspondent in Shenzhen, Alex Wang, began to ask questions about the composition of the poem, and that led to a consideration of some fundamental issues about the language of the poem and, beyond that, the nature of language in China today.

Since Alex had first encountered the poem in English, as had I, he wondered what the "original" Chinese was like and whether the English "translation" was accurate.

It didn't take long for us to find out that the poem had actually been written in English by a Chinese doctor, Zhao Xiaogang, deputy chief of thoracic surgery at the Shanghai Pulmonary Hospital of Tongji University.  That really troubled Alex.  Why would a Chinese cancer specialist write a highly imaginative poem in the voice of lung cancer in English instead of in Chinese?

This article in Quartz provides a partial explanation, "A doctor’s poem is going viral in China and raising awareness that smog (surprise!) is a cause of cancer" (Joanna Chiu, 1/8/17)

The poem originally ran in English in the American medical journal Chest in October. Zhao then allowed the publication of a Chinese translation of the poem in The Paper (link in Chinese), a Chinese state-funded news website, last week. He said he has long enjoyed writing poetry and finds it is a way to express his emotions.

VHM:  emphasis added

On Tongji University School of Medicine's website, it says that Dr. Zhao received his M.D. degree from Shanghai Jiaotong University.  There is no indication that he studied abroad.  All the more, one wonders why he chose to compose and publish his poem in English, especially since he is fond of writing poetry.  Does he prefer English over Chinese?  Was he afraid that the Chinese censors would give him trouble for writing a poem that hinted broadly at the role of smog in carcinogenesis?

Alex's quandary over Dr. Zhao's preference for English over Chinese (a topic we have discussed in several recent post [see here and here]) caused him to muse upon the state of Chinese writing now and in the near future:

I have been doing a lot more man on the street field research and I would have to say sooner or later a tipping point will arise for the use of Chinese characters.  I believe it will arrive sooner than later due to technology.  Often technology is the catalyst for exponential collapse of things such as film industry for personal use cameras.  I talk with around 80% of the taxi drivers I use.  I would have to say, judging from their answers to my questions, that the increasing written illiteracy is accelerating, and even on an elementary school level the ability to write characters is falling due to lack of time devoted to memorizing them.  20 years ago children didn’t have as many art or music lessons or English lessons to participate in.  They didn’t have videos and TV shows to watch, so they read or wrote and studied more.  Voice messaging via WeChat is also growing, so the use of text messages is falling.

Time will tell.  I wish the government could understand that moving to pinyin would actually protect the culture rather than destroy it.  Kids could have more time to study history, and learn traditional dance or art.  My suggestion would be to not take away points for using pinyin, but to give bonus points for use of Chinese characters on exams.  This way those who value the characters could choose to devote more time to them, while those who wish to devote more time to beneficial activities other than memorizing characters would not be penalized for doing so.  Teachers don’t actually spend too much on telling the students how to write characters. They leave it to brute muscle memory at home.

That said, I think perhaps only 10% of modern parents would opt to make their children write the characters if they would not be penalized for using pinyin when they forget the characters.

And that leads me right back to the point we were pondering about Dr. Zhao:  why did an outstanding cancer specialist trained in China and holding an important position at a major hospital in the metropolis of Shanghai choose to write his notable poem in English rather than in Chinese?

"Just let some joy smoke sift into your system"

In "The Road to Wazoo", I mentioned a striking 1919 advertisement for Prince Albert Tobacco . What was striking was partly the drawing and partly the text:


the national joy smoke

Say, you'll have a streak of smokeluck that'll put pep-in-your-smokemotor, all right, if you'll ring-in with a jimmy pipe or cigarette papers and nail some Prince Albert for packing!

Just between ourselves, you never will wise-up to high-spot-smoke-joy until you can call a pipe or a home made cigarette by its first name, then, to hit the peak-of-pleasure you land square on that two-fisted-man-tobacco, Prince Albert!

Well, sir, you'll be so all-fired happy you'll want to get a photograph of yourself breezing up the pike with your smokethrottle wide open! Quality make Prince Albert so different, so appealing. And, P A. can't bite or parch. Both are cut out by our exclusive patented process!

Right now while the going's good you get out your old jimmy pipe or the "papers" and land on some P. A. for what ails your particular smokeappetite.

AG commented that

That ad is incredible. "Mad Men" is an understatement. That's like something you'd get if a roomful of Wodehouses threw typewriters at each others' heads during a gas leak

The ad's language range some kind of bell for me, and this comment from Catherine Arnott Smith nailed the source:

That ad is purest Babbittry, except that the poet Chum Frink, in Babbitt, had to wait until 1922.

Exactly. From chapter VIII of Babbitt (emphasis added):

The guests were Howard Littlefield, the doctor of philosophy who furnished publicity and comforting economics to the Street Traction Company; Vergil Gunch, the coal-dealer, equally powerful in the Elks and in the Boosters’ Club; Eddie Swanson the agent for the Javelin Motor Car, who lived across the street; and Orville Jones, owner of the Lily White Laundry, which justly announced itself “the biggest, busiest, bulliest cleanerie shoppe in Zenith.” But, naturally, the most distinguished of all was T. Cholmondeley Frink, who was not only the author of “Poemulations,” which, syndicated daily in sixty-seven leading newspapers, gave him one of the largest audiences of any poet in the world, but also an optimistic lecturer and the creator of “Ads that Add.” Despite the searching philosophy and high morality of his verses, they were humorous and easily understood by any child of twelve; and it added a neat air of pleasantry to them that they were set not as verse but as prose. Mr. Frink was known from Coast to Coast as “Chum.”

However intimate they might be with T. Cholmondeley Frink as a neighbor, as a borrower of lawn-mowers and monkey-wrenches, they knew that he was also a Famous Poet and a distinguished advertising-agent; that behind his easiness were sultry literary mysteries which they could not penetrate. But to-night, in the gin-evolved confidence, he admitted them to the arcanum:

“I’ve got a literary problem that’s worrying me to death. I’m doing a series of ads for the Zeeco Car and I want to make each of ‘em a real little gem—reg’lar stylistic stuff. I’m all for this theory that perfection is the stunt, or nothing at all, and these are as tough things as I ever tackled. You might think it’d be harder to do my poems—all these Heart Topics: home and fireside and happiness—but they’re cinches. You can’t go wrong on ‘em; you know what sentiments any decent go-ahead fellow must have if he plays the game, and you stick right to ‘em. But the poetry of industrialism, now there’s a literary line where you got to open up new territory. Do you know the fellow who’s really THE American genius? The fellow who you don’t know his name and I don’t either, but his work ought to be preserved so’s future generations can judge our American thought and originality to-day? Why, the fellow that writes the Prince Albert Tobacco ads! Just listen to this:

It’s P.A. that jams such joy in jimmy pipes. Say—bet you’ve often bent-an-ear to that spill-of-speech about hopping from five to f-i-f-t-y p-e-r by “stepping on her a bit!” Guess that’s going some, all right—BUT just among ourselves, you better start a rapid whiz system to keep tabs as to how fast you’ll buzz from low smoke spirits to TIP-TOP-HIGH—once you line up behind a jimmy pipe that’s all aglow with that peach-of-a-pal, Prince Albert.

Prince Albert is john-on-the-job—always joy’usly more-ISH in flavor; always delightfully cool and fragrant! For a fact, you never hooked such double-decked, copper-riveted, two-fisted smoke enjoyment!

Go to a pipe—speed-o-quick like you light on a good thing! Why—packed with Prince Albert you can play a joy’us jimmy straight across the boards! AND YOU KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS!”

“Now that,” caroled the motor agent, Eddie Swanson, “that’s what I call he-literature! That Prince Albert fellow—though, gosh, there can’t be just one fellow that writes ‘em; must be a big board of classy ink-slingers in conference, but anyway: now, him, he doesn’t write for long-haired pikers, he writes for Regular Guys, he writes for ME, and I tip my benny to him! The only thing is: I wonder if it sells the goods? Course, like all these poets, this Prince Albert fellow lets his idea run away with him. It makes elegant reading, but it don’t say nothing. I’d never go out and buy Prince Albert Tobacco after reading it, because it doesn’t tell me anything about the stuff. It’s just a bunch of fluff.”

In the comments on that earlier post, I cited another Prince Albert ad in the same general style, from the 1921 Saturday Evening Post, with the text:

Yes sir, you'll say a pipe packed with P.A. has 'em all backed clear off the map!

Take it as it's handed out right here, sincere and friendly like: Don't slip another minute on knowing exactly what a jimmy pipe can do for your smoke spirit! Go get one! Pick the pipe that hits your fancy, then stock-up with flock of Prince Albert! And, say — you'll get action that'll just make your little old tank-of-joy bubble over with the longest-geared-smoke-happiness that ever was — Prince Albert's wonderful quality – and, its really and truly fascinating flavor, fragrance and coolness!

And, then you'll know what content P. A. slips into a pipe! And, how P. A. rings true against your taste and makes you wish you could eat the smoke (and the pipe, too) – and, gee — oh, well — go on and get some Prince Albert and a jimmy pipe yourself and find out first-hand that P. A. can't bite your tongue or parch your throat because both are cut out by our exclusive patented process!

And, tell you for a fact, maybe it isn't some job to spread you this joystuff with a friendly old jimmy and a tin of Prince Albert resting out of action close by! You can't do it! You can't keep your mitts off it! Why — it make a fellow's mouth water just to spill this P. A. news! you get so all-fired-pal-pipe-hungry that you must lay-to for a spell — and jam in a load — and go to it! Talk about that inner-urge! Man, man — leave it to P. A.! And say —

Well, anyhow, you go and get a jimmy pipe and some P. A.! And, between us all, when you're smoke-wise-o, what a kick you'll spill about the pipe-and-P.A.-times you've passed up in gone-by days!

You'll bet your hat you won't slip on P. A. the second time — not by a jug-full!

There's plenty more where those came from — here's another:

Prince Albert presents the cheerfullest bundle of pipe and cigarette joy you can figure out — tobacco happiness that means going-to-it-to-beat-the-cards without a comeback! For, Prince Albert is not only delightful in its coolness, flavor and fragrance, but it can't bite your tongue or parch your throat! Bite and parch are cut out by the exclusive patented process by which it is made!

When you open up a package of Prince Albert and fire-a-load you realize that your good money has purchased quality. The dividends of delight P.A. hands out north, east, south and west knock clipping coupons off the Christmas tree.

the national joy smoke

Prince Albert is a revelation in tobacco contentment as well as a revelation in tobacco quality! Why just to think about P.A. makes your mouth water — it pans out such prime-pleasure all-around-the-clock! And you smoke free and easy, and to your heart's content!

Put yourself on the cheery side of some Prince Albert. Puff its pacifying, tasty, fragrant smoke into your mouth and know for a fact you've uncorked tobacco-treasure! Tip your sporting section to buy a package of Prince Albert — tobacco that has simply-slammed-satisfaction into wise smokers in every civilized country on the globe! P.A. will meet your desires at every point of the smoke compass!

And another:

Bang-open your system to some real smoke joy!

It's yours right off the bat, quick as you unlimber that old jimmy pipe or some cigarette makin's papers and nail a few matches and put your faith in a tidy red tin or a toppy red bag of Prince Albert tobacco. Now, you've uncorked the sunshine tank; just let some joy smoke sift into your system!

Get that P. A. flavor? Get that P. A. aroma? Go to it mighty cheerful, because P. A. can't bite! puff away like you hit perpetual motion in the first round! And keep fired-up till the cows come home. For it's surefacts Prince Albert never grouched any other man's tongue and won't grouch yours!

Get jimmypipejoy'us and cigarette makin's happy, then you'll personally understand that no other pipe and cigarette tobacco ever was or ever can be like Prince Albert, because it's made by a patented process that cuts out the bite and the parch. That's why pipe peaceful and cigarette peaceful men call PRINCE ALBERT the national joy smoke.

Certainly does beat the band how much fun can be gotten out of P. A. if you'll stop cutting capers about "I can't smoke a pipe" or "I can't roll a cigarette," and sport-a-bit and take a chance. You've no idea of the bully goodness, of the joy'us satisfaction and that sort of thing that hits every man who get chummy with P. A.

Hammer this home for what ails your smokeappetite, because you've no time to lose getting introduced to this real and true man-tobacco that's ace-high and a yard wide no matter how you swing on it, jimmy pipe or makin's cigarette!

I wonder whether R.J. Reynolds still owns the "national joy smoke" slogan, and whether they're planning to resurrect it for their future recreational marijuana business.