Idioms bring laughter to a courtroom

August 11, 2009



Many people learning a new language feel compelled to sound like a native speaker. Besides trying to pronounce and sound like a native speaker, the use of informal language during speech is also very important. Informal language includes the use of idioms, sayings which have a figurative meaning and cannot be understood by knowing the literal meaning of the individual words. Learning idioms requires a great deal of exposure to the language.

This entry stems from an incident in a Hong Kong courtroom where a witness used several common Chinese idioms during his testimony. This caused a great deal of confusion, for those who do not speak Chinese, and bursts of laughter, for those who do.

The case concerns probably one of the biggest and most discussed probate cases ever in Hong Kong, as it involves at least $4.2 billion US dollars. Before her passing in 2007, Nina Wang was one of the richest women in the world. Her family members are fighting in court with her feng shui consultant, Tony Chan, on the legitimacy of the will that he presented in court trying to claim that she changed her will and named him the sole beneficiary of her estate.

This past week, a witness and former client of Chan used Chinese idioms to describe the fortune teller which went over the heads of many in the courtroom, including the interpreter who was in a fix and troubled by how to translate them to the English-speaking audience. Supposedly, he had once paid through the nose for Chan’s service, coughing up $50,000HKD every month to hire him. Apparently, Chan has a way with words as his clients include the rich and famous and whose own fortune is estimated to be in the millions. One thing is for sure, as this case has attracted worldwide attention, those involved will be living in a fishbowl for awhile with no privacy.

Roses are red…

July 29, 2009


(This was originally posted during Valentine’s Day in February.)

Since it is Valentine’s Day, here is a classic English couplet for the occasion. 

Roses are red,

Violets are blue,

Sugar is sweet;

And so are you.


The original author of this poem is unknown, but according to Wikipedia, it could have stemmed from the poetry of various authors.  Nonetheless, it has become one of the most famous poems for Valentine’s Day due to its use of simple words, rhythm, and rhyme.  The rhyme occurs on the vowel sounds of the words ‘blue’ and ‘you’.  Furthermore, each line has the same rhythm to it.  English is a stress-timed language (unlike Spanish, Chinese, Japanese) meaning that the length of a sentence or line of words depends on the number of stresses within it and not the syllables!  Typically, stress is placed on the content words (i.e. the nouns, verbs [but not ‘be’ verbs], adjectives, adverbs), rather than function words (i.e. prepositions, conjunctions, etc.)  In the above poem, it takes the same amount of time to utter each line as the stress is placed in the same locations in each line.  Utterance of the conjunction (i.e. and) and the ‘be’ verbs (i.e. is, are) is minimized as there is no stress placed on them.  Thus, although this is a poem, it still exemplifies the typical stress pattern of English, like conversation. 

Poetry is a creative expression of mundane happenings or things.  Yet, with some creativity, it could be humorous or very romantic and a fun activity.  Giving the above couplet to your significant other will definitely melt his/her heart! 

And while we’re at it, here is my creation-

A garden has many flowers,

Each with its own special powers,

Bees are attracted by their hues,

We love their scents which are not too few.