Thursday, January 20, 2005

"Danger" + "Opportunity" = "Crisis"?

There's a little discussion going on at Languagehat about whether or not the popular saying, "The Chinese word for 'crisis' (危機) is made up of the words 'danger' (危) and 'opportunity' (機)" is accurate or meaningful. I've been guilty (if that's the word to use) in the past of repeating this saying, so I wondered what the problem with it might be. (I knew there might be a problem when my Chinese history professor rolled his eyes after I repeated the saying. On the other hand, one of my professors in the rhetoric program thought it was pretty cool. Guess it depends also on who you repeat the saying to.)

Anyway, it seems that a lot of the problem boils down to two things:
  1. whether or not we should say "ji" (機) should be translated opportunity
  2. whether or not this kind of "etymological" understanding (if it's a real etymology) reflects some sort of deeper Eastern (or at least Chinese) understanding of the notion of crisis.
The discussion grows out of a post to the website by Victor Mair. (Mair also has his own blog, "Pinyin News", for those of us who can't get enough discussion about romanization and East Asian writing systems. I've added it to my blogroll to the right...)

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