Because this is after all a business blog, i have given myself the liberty not to post on the weekends. So even though it is 4 March, I count this as day two of my 30-day blog challenge. Now, the suggestions on the list I was taking my inspiration from (found here) for day two and three weren’t very interesting for me personally, or for this blog specifically, so I decided to stray from the list, and pick a topic of my own. It so happens that in one of our New Year’s emails last week, I mentioned the tradition of lantern riddles. During the Lantern Festival (the day that marks the end of the two-week long Chinese New Year celebrations), people light lanterns and set off more fireworks. Another tradition is solving lantern riddles. As the name indicates, these are simply riddles written on lanterns. They usually consist of three parts: the riddle, a hint or suggestion, and the answer. Now, Chinese is a great language to play these riddles in, mainly because of the use of homophones (words that sound the same, but have a different meaning). The Chinese lantern riddle I wrote in that email was this one: 春节第一日。 It means “the first day of the Spring festival.” The hint or suggestion was that this was a “character riddle,” and the answer is only one character long: 夫, which means husband or man.
Let me explain this one (as I understand it). A “character riddle” here means that you have to play with the characters in the riddle. So while you might start to think about “what is the first day of the Spring Festival?” and the content of the riddle, you should actually worry about the form of the characters. In this case, 春 (chun, or spring) is your starting point. In this case, the second character of the riddle, 节 (jiē, festival), is the homophone that holds the key to solving the riddle. Because while this character means festival, jié pronounced in the second tone, means as much as save, to abridge. Reading the riddle in this way will help us solve it as follows:
Take the character 春 and take away the first (top) horizontal line of the character (第一）and the component 日(ri,day).If you strip 春 of those two elements, what you are left with is the character 夫。
While it is almost impossible to translate lantern riddles, you can make similar puzzles in English, for example: “Which building has the most stories?” Answer: “A library.” Here too, we use the homophone character of the word “stories,” meaning both a level of a building and a (non)fictional account.
For more riddles, language tips, proverbs, and vocabulary, visit www.ChinaConnectU.com.
Back tomorrow with day 3 of “write-a-blog-post-every-day-for-a-month”!