[Ads-l] "hard as Chinese arithmetic": HDAS 1977, antedating

Barretts Mail mail.barretts at GMAIL.COM
Sun Jun 18 00:30:09 EDT 2017


> On 17 Jun 2017, at 21:17, W Brewer <brewerwa at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
> 
> JL:  << Is Chinese arithmetic that much harder than the other kind? >>
> WB:  I would guess the abacus is behind the expression. It's impossible for
> the average American brain to follow the inscrutable Chinese
> prestidigitation with an abacus.
>     When I first came to Taiwan thirty year ago, it was common to see
> businesses using the Chinese suànpán 算盤; all transactions were cash, no
> electronics. Nowadays, semi-cash economy, electronic cash registers; no
> abaci in school curricula, but rumors of nostalgic abacus games (in
> hopeless, one-sided competition with electronic devices).
> 

The use of “Chinese” to mean “strange, outlandish” has been discussed on this list before. Items like “Chinese fire drill”, “Chinese water torture” and “Chinese Navy”. See Doug Wilson’s e-mail (http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/ads-l/2000-December/010806.html <http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/ads-l/2000-December/010806.html>) and Joel Berson’s e-mail (http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/ads-l/2012-February/116066.html <http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/ads-l/2012-February/116066.html>). I thought there were more, but that’s all I found doing a search.

Benjamin Barrett
Formerly of Seattle, WA


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The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org


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