[No, not an invitation to be rude in the comments]
Out of the hot and heavy discussion of whether “catty” is a good translation of 斤 (jīn, which means half a kilogram), from the post a couple of days ago, talk in the Sinoglot lounge took a turn towards defining a whole category of catty words. To paraphrase Sima:
A “catty” word would be an English translation of a term that is in everyday use in China. In order to qualify as “catty”, though, the English word must be one so obscure that virtually no significantly-sized group of native speakers has heard of it.
The lounge consensus is that there has to be a lot of these words. An example that might qualify comes from a discussion long ago on Beijing Sounds: 莴笋 (wōsǔn). This is a common vegetable in China (Google images). It’s English name in the ABC Dictionary is “asparagus lettuce”, but it also appears to have been given a portmanteau of its own: “celtuce” from celery + lettuce.
Now it may be that there’s some large region of English speakers that does eat large quantities of celtuce and calls it such, which I guess would disqualify it as a catty word. But around the lounge, there’s no doubt that vegetables in general will be a productive category for catty words, along with fruits, various food products, and measurements.
Got a candidate for catty word of the year? Put it in the comments. (This is one of those moments it would be cool to have a Quora-like comment rating system…)
Winner of the contest is sure to receive free drinks of choice, served around the Sinoglot lounge pool table…
Honorable mention will go to the individual who can find the catty word for 白酒 that Sima is convinced he once saw but cannot now recollect.
PS: This contest leaves behind the very intense debate (still in progress on the original catty post) over whether catty terms should be used in translations or not. Personally, I lean to the “not” side most of the time but can see arguments for including them in some instances.