more Chinese-to-English translation fail(ure)

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sun Aug 16 05:26:28 UTC 2009

Randy Alexander wrote:
> .... On Sun, Aug 16, 2009 at 7:51 AM, James Harbeck<jharbeck at> wrote:
>>> The photo at
>>> part of what seems to be a switch panel mounted on a wall, possibly in
>>> a hospital. There are two switches, each with an engraved label in English
>>> and Chinese, and what seem to be cable or hose connections underneath.
> I think those are dimmer switches.  These kinds of control panels are
> very common in hotels in China.  Built into the nightstand between the
> beds.
>>> I don't read Chinese and I don't know what the hanzi mean, and I won't try
>>> to put them in this message. But the English labels are SMALLPOX and NIGHT
>>> LIGHT.
>> tianhuadeng = ceiling light
>> tian = sky, hua = surface (or flower), deng = light
>> But tianhua, the exact same characters (so skyflower or whatever),
>> also means smallpox!
>> Ceiling is tianhuaban -- the ban (board) is dropped in this compound. ....

No doubt that's why the error.

But can someone satisfy my idle curiosity ....

(1) Why is smallpox called "sky-flower" or so?

(2) Why is the ceiling called "sky-flower" or so?

Are these virtually-opaque compounds like, say, "under" + "stand" =
"understand" in English?

Are there interesting and true/plausible Chinese-etymology-stories?

I guess maybe I can imagine why the "flower" in "smallpox" and why the
"sky" in "ceiling" but ....

(Apologies for being a little OT)

-- Doug Wilson

The American Dialect Society -

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