Saturday, April 18 2009

Big Toy Bridge

25 years ago, I dropped out of a class in Mandarin Chinese. I had no problem with the tones, I just lacked the dedication and discipline to spend ~20 hours a week studying.

Our textbook was a work in progress quick-print, and I threw it away a long time ago. I lost the C-E dictionary in a move some years back. Every once in a while, though, I’ve stumbled across one last piece of evidence: an index card with the Chinese name they assigned to me: 高橋模, with the Pinyin reading Gāo Qiáo-mó, and a note that 橋 means “bridge” and 模 means “the paragon” (高 of course meaning tall/high).

Obviously, I stumbled across the card again today. If you read it as a Japanese name, the first two characters form the common family name Takahashi, and the third is usually Mo, the same sound it has in Chinese. The “paragon” meaning never got to Japan, though; there, it means imitation or copy.

A lot of characters changed meaning going from China to Japan, but this one seemed odd, so I searched through some Chinese web sites, and found a video of a group of engineering students working on a 橋模; sure enough, it was a model bridge. Technically, a paragon is a model or example of something, but it doesn’t match the actual usage.

So my Chinese teacher named me “Big Toy Bridge”. Call me Mo.

(side note: Google indexes the page with 橋, but the character actually used is 桥, the Simplified Chinese replacement)