Found Characters — take 2

When I was about to hit Post on the first “found characters” piece the other day, I could still hear that nagging voice: “Dude, you never write things clearly the first time. Just wait. Post it tomorrow.”

From the email, it appears I shoulda listened. I got some interesting photos, but only one example of what I had in mind. So now, belatedly, here’s my attempt at a definition:

Found Character: Something that can be recognized as a Chinese character but is accidentally such. That is, it is either made by nature or made by a person who had no intent of communicating with hanzi.

For what it’s worth, Found Character is a play on Found Art — not that I’m trying to compare hanzi to urinals

Anyway, thanks, Karan, for the following Found Character candidate sent in from San Francisco, where he says he found it “not near Chinatown”.


Now before you protest: I know, it looks so much like 囧 (jiǒng) that it might be hard, if you’re well-versed in hanzi, to believe that it qualifies as Found. Isn’t it more likely just graffiti from a fenqing transplant? I’m going to side with Karan and agree that this is probably accidental, mostly given the place that he found it, but also because it’s hard for me to imagine the outside 口 getting drawn like this one is.

Cool, and good fun. So again, send in your found characters (syz 《at》 sinoglot 《dot》 com) and i’ll attach them to this post so you can enjoy the eternal limelight.

In closing, though, how about one more twist? What if Mao and his revolutionaries had taken up the banner of Pinyin back in the 50s. Could we then also have “Found Pinyin”?

I promise I’m not making up this story… Many years ago, a Chinese fellow I worked with in beautiful Monrovia, California told me what he’d thought a few months earlier when he’d first arrived in the States and saw this sign:

“Wow, how considerate that they’ve put the Chinese under the sign for foreigners like me!” [xíng = 行 = “walk” or, maybe, short for “pedestrian” 行人]

7 responses to “Found Characters — take 2”

  1. Carl says:

    I’m an American, but I’ve never liked XING signs. If you’re supposed to read it as “cross” why is it using an X instead of a †?

  2. pc says:

    @Carl – Simplest reason, maybe? Because Highway Gothic doesn’t contain the † character. Other reasons, perhaps, is that it’s actually called a dagger or that to some they may think of it as a plus sign (depending on their religious or cultural background), whereas I believe crosses like X are universal (though, of course, don’t quote me on it).

    Though that brings up an interesting question: are there any common Chinese words, phrases, signage, or something of that ilk that use a character for how it would be described, rather than its meaning or pronunciation? The only thing I can call to mind in is my neighbor’s dad once described a girl as “A Chinese Number 8,” which drew parallels to how her legs commonly were.

  3. Tim says:

    Off topic, but that accidental 囧 seems to me to be an oddly-drawn Mario-style mushroom.

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