[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

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

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