And it started with the phrase “å…šè€?爷们” in The Shop of the Lin Family/林家å°?铺å­?. I was reading the bilingual edition (from the ç»?典的回声-Echo of Classics collection, 外文出版社/Foreign Languages Press) last night, with the translation by Sidney Shapiro. Anyways, Sidney Shapiro translated “å…šè€?爷们” as “Kuomintang chieftains”. I asked lzh about this, and she seemed confused. Then she told me I was a “è€?爷们”. If I remember rightly, her reasoning was that being married and over thirty (but only just! Alright, thirty one years and a month counts as over thirty….) makes me a è€?爷们.

And then the fun started. She made the mistake of telling me the female equivalent of è€?爷们: è€?娘们,which she pronounced with a noticeable Beijing rrrrrr, making it sound like lao niangr merrr. She speaks perfect putonghua when she wants to, Beijing-inflected putonghua most of the time, and Yanqinghua when she’s with family…. but that’s all beside the point.

Anyway, my dictionary has this charming little listing:

�娘们儿: dial. 1. a married woman. 2. derog. woman. 3. wife.

Compare with this:

�爷们儿: dial. 1. man. 2. husband.

Hmmm….. Do I detect a little sexism here?

So the fun: I started calling lzh è€?娘们, and she got really annoyed. She protested that she couldn’t possibly be è€?娘们, even though she’s married, because a è€?娘们 is over thirty, already has children [ONE child, you counter revolutionary] and is fat. She insisted that 少妇 was the appropriate term for her.

And then, my brain ticking over in its usual odd way, I asked about the terms 少爷 and 少奶, which feature so prominently in the opening scenes of To Live/æ´»ç?€ and other films set in a similar time and place. Actually, my dictionary doesn’t list 少奶, but it does have 少奶奶, and the same goes for this pinyin input thingy I use. Anyway, the meanings of 少爷 and 少奶 are pretty obvious to anyone who has seen To Live/æ´»ç?€ or similar films. 少爷 obviously refers to the son of the head of the household, and 少奶 to 少爷’s wife.

Anyway, �娘们 gets a pretty interesting reaction from lzh. 少妇 calms her down. Although it seems she prefers �婆.

But here’s something I hadn’t realised: å°‘ comes in two tones: third, in which it means few, little, less, and all those other related meanings, and fourth in which it means young or the son of a rich family; young master. It’s (obviously) in the fourth tone that it is used in all those honorifics and in words like å°‘å¹´ or 少女. I’d always thought it only had the third tone, and that’s how I’d been saying it all along, but now I realise that’s really wrong. Fourth tone å°‘ is really quite different from third tone å°‘.

Anyway, it is all Mao Dun’s fault. Well, no, me actually using one of these bilingual books for the purpose I bought them all- to help boost my Chinese reading by comparing the English translation with the original- led to quite a fun round of Chinese learning.

Now, I really need to get back into reading 《活ç?€ã€‹, especially now that I’ve got free time coming out my ears.

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