Friday, August 27, 2010

Covers, Books not judging by

A Dictionary of Cantonese Slang: The Language of Hong Kong Movies, Street Gangs and City Life may be a terrific book. It looks like the kind of reference book in which you open to find a definition then wind up browsing for half an hour. I bought it online a few years ago without being able to look beyond its cover and when I first opened it my reactions were: "What the....", "Drat", and "At least it has a cool cover".

The introduction is straightforward and interesting, essentially describing how the authors decided what to include from their sources and what they did when there were conflicts between the sources--for example when an "authentic" triad member (quotes in original) says that the comics are using triad expressions incorrectly or just making up terms. They address question of how definitive a slang dictionary can be and what would make a word authentic slang or even if the concept of authentic slang can even exist. Fun stuff.

But the guts of the dictionary, the terms defined, are in Romanized Cantonese--which makes perfect sense but pretty much eliminates is usefulness for someone (me). Occasionally flipping through the Dictionary can be fun, though. An example are the various definitions of the verb "to chop", which is just the type of term for fans of Hong Kong urban crime dramas. Here is part of that entry:

So, what is missing is the initial reason for opening the book--getting the definition for a specific word--but browsing it is a good way to waste a few minutes.

1 comment:

  1. Ed, I actually picked this up too several years ago and haven't cracked it open since I first browsed through it. For me (as someone who's interested in Cantonese but hasn't learned it yet), there are just way too many words. I think I would be inclined to actually read the book, if it were more selective and organized into sections like "triad slang", "school slang", "dirty words", etc. And I'd like to have seen word by word literal translations of the phrases to give a better sense of how the slang is created from regular words.

    As you say, it's a good way to waste a few minutes, but alas not a few hours.