Passing notes

I caught two sixth grade girls passing notes in class today (which I think is far better than just chatting and disrupting the class), and they unexpectedly didn’t try to hide the note when I approached them when the class was over.

I was quite surprised at what I saw.  I recognized the script, and had long thought it would be perfect for this sort of thing because I haven’t found many people in China who can identify it, let alone read or write it.


Ryakuji in Mandarin

In Japanese they’re called ryakuji りゃくじ. In Korean, yakja 약자. The corresponding characters are 略字, pronounced lüè zì in Mandarin. They are the unorthodox simplifications that are seen in handwritten texts from time to time. They are not in any official list of approved kanji/hanja/hanzi, and you won’t really learn them in school. But they are used.

Think 仃 for 停 but lacking the authority once (briefly) held by 仃. Or, think of all those times you wrote 旦 in place of 单 蛋 or 弹 in your notes in class, because you couldn’t be bothered by all those strokes at the time. I know I’m not the only one to do this.


On the Limitations of Characters and Dictionaries

I have a few friends who are in the very early stages of character acquisition. As a result a few questions have come up, such as “how many characters are there?” which inevitably leads to the question of whether or not someone could just go and make up their own character.

So to illustrate, I bring your attention to a character allegedly created by Du Dingyou 杜定友 in 1914. Leading up to the May Fourth Movement, it was a good time for characters, seeing the invention of 她 tā (she) by Liu Bannong 劉半農 a few years later and subsequently popularised by our old friend YR Chao 趙元任 (Zhāo Yuánrèn).


Loosey-goosey characters

Whilst on an informative jolly around Shaoxing’s lántíng 兰亭 (orchid pavilion) in the sweltering heat, I came across the following  stele:

goose pond

It reads 鵞池 é chí, ‘goose pond’ (it probably loses something in translation). The guide told me that the é is a painstaking reconstruction of a character written by Wang Xizhi 王羲之 (303–361), whilst the chí was written by one of his descendants. And aparently Wang loved geese because he felt that, in profile,  they resembled the shape of the character 之 in his name. Continue…