Sunday, April 10, 2016

17 most difficult to recognize Chinese characters

When I check my top 10 blog articles, the biggest surprise is the one about the "hardest Chinese character" climbs to my top 10 list.

Recently I have found that China's People's Daily has compiled a list of "most difficult Chinese characters to recognize".  Have fun with the following!

1.  Yao:  3 "earth" elements or roots; means "high mountain".

2.  Xian: 3 "fish" elements, means the fishes are very fresh.

3.  Xian: 3 "dog" elements, looks like 3 dogs running.  "Speedy", "rising quickly" are the extended meanings.

4.  Cu: 3 "deer" elements, looks like 1 adult deer with two small deers packed together with confusion.  It means "blind or rough force".  Here Cu means non-refined cereals.

5.  Ben: 3 "ox" elements, looks like 3 oxen running forward.  Ben is another way of writing 奔("ben" running, rushing) with the same rushing and running meaning.

6.  Shan: 3 "goat" elements, Shan is another way of writing ("shan" ) with the same meaning odor of goat/ sheep (cooked or raw).

7.  Mei: 2 "dumb"  (呆 dai) elements together-- another way of writing "plum" (梅 mei).  This character is originated from Shantong province and means "inarticulate and dumb".

8.  Bi: 3 "money" (贝 bei) elements, sign of exerting energy (to make money).  Bi is also the name of one of the 9 legendary sons of the dragon king.

9.  Cui: 3 "hair" elements-- means hairBut this hair means refined or tiny hair over the skin that is hard to be seen.

10.  Pa: 3 "hand" elements, first two hands stand for normal hands and the third one is for pickpocket. Pa means "pickpocket".  

11.  Suo/ rui: 3 "heart"  elements; when pronouncing as "suo", it means puzzling or worrying.  When read as "rui", it refers to an ancient worship ritual in autumn.

12.  Mo: 3 "eye" elements; this word means pretty eyes or long range perspective.

13.  Lei: 3 "field" elements, same as thunder (雷 lei) during ancient times.  This word means the farm land. 

14.  Zhuan: 3 "son" elements, original meaning is "alone and pitiful like an orphan", but Chinese netizens use it to mean being enslaved by "house, car and spouse" (symbolizes 3 "sons" or子).

15.  Hua: 3 "tongue" elements; this is another version of "talk" (话, hua).  Hua here means flaming, instigating conflicts and talking bad about other people.

16.  Jiong: this character looks like a brightly lit window.  The original meanings are "bright" and "righteous".  However, this character looks like an emoji with eyebrow lowering down like a sad expression.  So it is used to mean depressed, sad, boring, alienated and helpless in Chinese internet.

17.  Biang: this is probably the most complicated Chinese character with 56 strokes.  This is the name of a regional noodle in Shannxi province-- "biang biang noodle". "Biang" is the sound when raw noodle hits the chopping board.

Most of these "difficult" characters are formed by tripling the same element or root.  One can easily guess its meaning by interpreting the original meaning of a specific single element. 

70% or more are words that are rarely used nowadays or ancient words.  #16 Jiong is the only word gets a new lease in life and becomes very popular in the internet age because it looks like a sad emoji.

One needs to recognize around 2500 Chinese characters to read common Chinese reading materials.  It is no big deal if you cannot recognize these 17 Chinese characters.  Most Chinese cannot recognize 90% of this list anyway.

Ken Lai

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