Aug 082017
 

Today, August 8th, can be written 8/8 in both day/month and month/day systems, and in certain languages the words for eight-eight can have punning meaning. In Mandarin Chinese, for example, eight-eight  –  八八 (bābā) – sounds like 爸爸 (bàba – daddy), and so at one time August 8th was father’s day in China. It’s still father’s day in Taiwan and Mongolia, but not in the People’s Republic.

In Swahili, the national language of Tanzania, eight-eight is Nane Nane, which is also the name of an Agricultural Exhibition that takes place every year around this date [8/8] in varying locations of Tanzania. At the Nane Nane Agricultural Exhibition, farmers and other agricultural stakeholders (e.g., universities and research institutes, input suppliers or fertilizer producing industries) showcase new technologies, ideas, discoveries and alternative solutions concerning the agricultural sector.

In English, puns are generally treated as rather low-grade humor, but in many, many cultures and languages puns hold a special place. In Biblical Hebrew, for example, proper nouns, especially personal names, involve complex, often tortured puns. The first man is commonly called Adam in English, but in Genesis, Adam is not his name so much as what he is: a man (referred to in the text simply as ha-adam – the man), which sounds like ha-adamah, “earth” (making a pun out of the fact that “the man” was originally fashioned from “the earth”). Likewise Jacob, founder of the lineages of the 12 tribes of Israel, begins life with a name that sounds like “heel grabber” reflecting that he was the second born of twins who, by grabbing his elder brother’s (Esau’s) heel coming from the womb will ultimately usurp him as leader of a nation. His name is changed to Israel after he wrestles with an angel where is-ra-el puns with ish-ra-el – a man who fights with God. Absolutely every personal name in Genesis has a punning meaning which is lost in translation, but is the core of rabbinical and Talmudic analysis and reflection. Nobody minds that these meanings are puns rather than genuine etymological relationships. Puns have sacred power.

Chinese puns are immensely important in a number of different ways. Chinese puns and homophones work only in spoken language because words that sound identical or similar are easily distinguished by Chinese characters in writing. Nonetheless the Chinese take puns and homophones very seriously. The number 4 is an unlucky number in Chinese culture because the word for 4 () sounds like the word for death (sǐ) – and, by coincidence, a similar pun and superstition holds true in Japanese (even though the Chinese and Japanese words are etymologically unrelated). Consequently, many Chinese high-rise buildings have no floors that have numbers with 4 in them. My first apartment in Yunnan was apartment #4 on the 13th floor, so I felt it had a kind of East meets West misfortune about it. Nothing bad happened there, I’m glad to say.

It is common in China for a bride and groom to exchange gifts of chopsticks because the word for chopsticks, 筷子 (kuàizi) puns with 快子 (kuàizǐ) which means “to have a son quickly.” Conversely, it is very bad luck for couples to give gifts of shoes because “shoes” (鞋 xié) in northern Mandarin is a homophone of “evil” (邪 xié). Similarly, it is bad luck to share a pear with your lover because “to share a pear” (分梨) is a homophone of “separate” (分离), both pronounced “fēnlí” in Mandarin.

The image of a carp swimming around lotuses is a common depiction of good fortune in China because “carp” (鲤, lǐ), “fish” (鱼, yú), and lotus (莲, lián) are near homophones with “profit” (利, lì), “surplus” (余, yú), and “successive” (连, lián) respectively.

Instead of a recipe today here are a few food puns. Sorry !!!

The wedding was so beautiful, even the cake was in tiers.

Lettuce not panic. Romaine calm.