Thursday, March 31, 2022


A reader on FB expressed curiosity about an idiom that I had recently used: 天經地義 ('tin king dei yi'); "heaven's woof (and) earth's righteousness", in the Cantonese (as is recogizable by the word 唔 'm') sentence 唔天經地義, which last is a chance-met turn of phrase from the classic commentary on the Spring And Autumn Annals by Master Zuo (Master Zuo ( 左氏,左丘明 'jo si', 'jo jau ming').
唔天經地義 is a literary outburst by which I basically meant that something was NOT how it was supposed to be. 唔 is the negative, 天經地義 means "justified". Altogether a great substitute for all the wonderful swear words that Cantonese is rich in.

The best translation would probably be "this should never have been taken for granted".

As the author of the 左傳 ('jo chuen') might have said: 非禮也 ('fei lai ye'; "this is NOT according to propriety")


非禮也 in modern usage, however, would have suggested something else entirely: an indecent assault.

I had used 唔天經地義 very mundanely to comment on an elderly woman snagging the last three pieces of cake (蛋糕 'daan gou'), one of which I wanted. Please imagine great (extreme) disappointment here, as "cake" is a happy word in any language.

Do not from this assume that I have any great familiarity with literary Chinese. I have a great familiarity with Wikipedia and several other encyclopaedic aids, which is almost as good.
Also, I speak Cantonese, and I like cake (蛋糕).
I really like cake.

Zuo Qiuming was a contemporary of Confucius from the State of Lu (魯國 'lou gwok') during the Spring and Autumn (春秋 'chwun chau'; 770-476 BC) period. He is mentioned in the Analects (論語 'luen yü') as an examplar of moral behaviour.

The Zuo Zhuan (左傳 'jo chuen'; "The Zuo Commentary") is a narrative excursus of thirty chapters covering the period from 722 to 468 BC, delving primarily into state affairs.

The Records of the Grand Historian (史記,太史公書 'si gei', 'taai si gong syü') by Sima Tan (司馬談 'si maa taam'), completed by his son Sima Qian (司馬遷 'si maa chin') refers to the Zuo Zhuan as "Master Zuo's Spring and Autumn Annals" (左氏春秋 'jo si chwun chau').

By the way: 經 ('king') is normally translated as "classic", as in 四書五經 ('sei syü ng king'; the four books and five classics) which are the canon of traditional learning and the basis of further literacy. These are: 大學 ('taai hok'; great learning), 中庸 ('chung yung'; central commonalities, "The Doctrine Of The Mean"), 論語 ('luen yü'; discourse talk, "Analects"), 孟子 ('maang ji'; Mencius), 詩經 ('si king'; poetry classic, "The Book Of Songs"), 書經 ('syü king'; writings classic, "The Book Of History"), 禮記 ('lai king'; ritual records, "The Book Of Rites"), 易經 ('yi king'; easy classic, "The Book Of Changes"), and 春秋 ('chwun chau'; Spring, Autumn).

I chose to render 經 as woof, fabric, because that's more or less it's original usage (the cross threads holding weaving or bamboo slats together), from which other meanings are derived.

Further BTW: I'm still peeved about that cake. I saw it first!

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