Archive for July, 2009

Evolution of a word: Does “general” mean common or superior?

Thursday, July 30th, 2009 by xgz

The word “general” originally is derived from Latin “generalis” which in turn is derived from “genus”. Genus means birth, descent, or origin. It also means kind or sort. It is this second meaning that generalis is derived from. Generalis means applicable to all, as opposed to specialis (which is derived from “species” and means “particular”). So in English “general” has the meaning of common, overall, and not specialized. For example, “general psychology” would be an overview of the basic concepts in psychology, and would not teach specialized topics. It could might as well be called “common psychology”. In Chinese translations, the underlying meaning of “common” is also often retained. “General psychology” is 普通心理学, which is indeed “common psychology”. “General Motors” is translated as 通用汽车, which really means “commonly-used cars”. (more…)

“How are you” and “have you eaten yet?”

Saturday, July 18th, 2009 by xgz

One of the standard Chinese greetings is 吃了吗 or “have you eaten yet.” It has been such a natural part of the culture, that when I was in China and was greeted this way, the reply was always an automatic 吃了 (yes) or 没呢 (no). It never crossed my mind how strange such a greeting would seem, since the person asking almost definitely is not interested in the information whether I have eaten or not. Westerners have written about this greeting and interpreted this as evidence that food is of primary concern in the Chinese culture. (more…)