the language dragons speak

“Many a mage of great power has spent his whole life to find out the name of one single thing — one single lost or hidden name. And still the lists are not finished. Nor will they be, till world’s end. Listen, and you will see why. In the world under the sun, and in the other world that has no sun, there is much that has nothing to do with men and men’s speech, and there are powers beyond our power. But magic, true magic, is worked only by those beings who speak the Hardic tongue of Earthsea, or the Old Speech from which it grew. That is the language dragons speak…”

Although the use of the Old Speech binds a man to truth, this is not so with dragons. It is their own language, and they can lie in it, twisting the true words to false ends, catching the unwary hearer in a maze of mirror-words each of which reflects the truth and none of which leads anywhere.

Yet dragons have their own wisdom; and they are an older race than man. Few men can guess what a dragon knows and how he knows it, and those few are the Dragonlords.

Ursula Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea

Map of Earthsea

“It is not easy — talking to dragons.”

“The dragons! The dragons are avaricious, insatiable, treacherous; without pity, without remorse. But are they evil? Who am I, to judge the acts of dragons?… They are wiser than men are. It is with them as with dreams… We men dream dreams, we work magic, we do good, we do evil. The dragons do not dream. They are dreams. They do not work magic: it is their substance, their being. They do not do; they are.”

“Their blood is cold and venomous. You must not look into their eyes. They are older than
mankind… And though I came to forget or regret all I have ever done, yet would I remember that once I saw the dragons aloft on the wind at sunset above the western isles; and I would be content.”

Ursula Le Guin, The Farthest Shore

chinese ceremonies for beginners

The Russian expression без китайских церемоний (literally, without Chinese ceremonies) can be translated as “without formalities”, “simply”, “casually”, or even “bluntly”. Chinese ceremonies in question can be expanded as “tedious and unnecessary conventions; excessive display of politeness; meaningless etiquette”. In his short story Китайская церемония (1924), Mikhail Zoshchenko humorously refers to the habit of shaking hands as a Chinese ceremony, even though Chinese have nothing to do with it.

Chinese, however, see nothing wrong in being excessively polite. The more excuse mes, can I asks and pleases, the better. Instead of rather blunt 你好吗 “How are you?” (literally “You good?”), you are more likely to hear 你吃饭了没, “Have you eaten rice yet?” — because if you did, things cannot be too bad. Interestingly, the polite response to 谢谢 “thank you” is 不客气 , literally “don’t be polite”. If you are at all interested in learning Chinese, you could do worse than start with a few polite expressions.

Han characters Pinyin Meaning Etymology
trad. qǐng Please
trad. 請問 qǐngwèn Excuse me 請 / 请 “please” + 問 / 问 “ask”
simpl. 请问
trad. 抱歉 bàoqiàn (I’m) sorry 抱 “to carry” + 歉 “apology”
trad. 謝謝 xièxie Thank you; thanks
simpl. 谢谢
trad. 不客氣 bù kèqi You’re welcome 不 “not” + 客氣 / 客气 “polite”; literally “don’t be (so) polite”
simpl. 不客气
trad. 您好 nín hǎo Hello (formal, said to a single person) 您 “you” (formal) + 好 “good”
trad. 你好 nǐ hǎo Hello (informal, said to a single person) 你 “you” (informal) + 好 “good”
trad. 你們好 nǐmen hǎo Hello (said to a group of people) 你們 / 你们 “you” (plural) + 好 “good”
simpl. 你们好
trad. 你好嗎? nǐ hǎo ma? How are you? 你 “you” (informal) + 好 “good” + 嗎 / 吗 (question tag); literally “you good?”
simpl. 你好吗?
trad. 你吃飯了沒? nǐ chīfàn le méi? How are you? 你 “you” (informal) + 吃 “to eat” + 飯 / 饭 “cooked rice” + 了 (perfective aspect tag) + 沒 / 沒 “have not”; literally “have you eaten cooked rice?”
simpl. 你吃饭了没?
trad. 早安 zǎo ān Good morning 早 “early” + 安 “peace”
trad. 晚安 wǎn ān Good evening; good night 晚 “late” + 安 “peace”
trad. 再見 zàijiàn Goodbye; see you later 再 “again” + 見 / 见 “to see / to meet”
simpl. 再见