Friday, September 15, 2006

Let Him Have It!

There is a famous case in British Legal History of Derek Bentley where a large part of the case effectively hinged on the phrase "Let him have it!" - a rather confusing phrase in English as it could easily have meant "Give him the gun and surrender" or "Kill him!". The interpretation that it was the latter meaning lead to Derek Bentley being hanged in 1953.

It's not particularly comforting to learn that, despite the dissimilarities, Chinese suffers from just the same sort of ambiguity. Should you ever hear someone say "wǒ yào wěn nǐ " you might want to make a quick judgement call as to their intention...

我要吻你 - I'd like to kiss you
我要刎你 - I'd like to slit your throat

Hmm. Given how few different sounds there are in Chinese, there must be plenty more where that came from.

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