I shall be telling this with a Cai…
There’s nothing better than mile three of a glorious late fall trek through Beijing, when the winds have brought a respite from the usual bong backwash that passes for air, and the green grocers have graciously provided a living example of character simplification, especially one as logical as
That is: 大白菜 (dà báicài is what I would call napa cabbage) but with 菜 written as 才+艹. [For the curious, at 0.3 per jin that equates to 4.3 cents per pound for you US measurement chauvinists. A helluva bargain, especially if you turn it into some kind of 泡菜 like I’ve been doing recently]
才+艹, it’s beautiful! Unmistakeable. True to its phonetic + radical roots.
To make an English analogy, 才+艹 seems just as good as the (now fairly accepted) use of “lite” for low-calorie products. Not only is “lite” true to the spelling rules of English, you could even argue it carries some semantic information: less letters => less weighty.
Like lite, 才+艹 is reasonably widespread too, apparently. Not just here in Beijing. Sinoglot’s Sima attests to its existence up in Dongbei.
A couple years ago I would have just considered 才+艹 an example of grass-roots spelling reform, bad pun and all. But now is as good a time as any to recall that back in Feb 2010 Zev Handel sent Sinoglot a copy of the “Second Round Character Simplification Proposal (Draft)”. Go take a look. There, on the very first page, is our 才+艹, simplified in all the right ways, raring to replace 菜 and 蔡 in 1977.
But it never happened. Instead, sadly, it’s relegated to chalk signs in front of second-rate grocers. Ah well. As I said in the character-reform post:
People learn to live with the script they’ve got, with the social agreement they’ve inherited. If the country had switched to Pinyin back in 1953, today you’d have a new army of Script Defenders, ready to react against any newcomers who wanted to switch back to those reactionary, laobaixing-oppressing old characters.
Same for “second round” simplifications as for pinyin. Could’ve gone either way. The mainland went down the simplified-but-not-resimplified path. No better no worse. But I’ll bet if you dig around, you can still find partisans reassessing the choice. Not unlike the narrator of that brutally misinterpreted poem…
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.