Wikipedia:Reference desk/Archives/Language/2011 May 26

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May 26[edit]

Chinese wall[edit]

Is the term "Chinese wall" in the sense of an information barrier a reference to the Great Wall of China? Or is it more like a reference to Japanese paper screen walls or similarly flimsy walls in other Asian countries? Or even decorative screen dividers? I ask because, while the Great Wall seems the most obvious candidate linguistically, a heavily defended, well nigh impregnable stone-and-brick barrier stretching across thousands of miles doesn't seem as apt a metaphor for an internal information barrier as, say, a flimsy paper screen. Does anyone have any insight on this? Has there been any academic study of the term? --PalaceGuard008 (Talk) 02:52, 26 May 2011 (UTC)

This has a little bit of information in the last paragraph, although I'm not sure how reliable it is (and it even cites an older version of our own article). rʨanaɢ (talk) 03:23, 26 May 2011 (UTC)
Oh, that reminded me to check the talk page. Quite a lot of conjectures there too... The one about Mandarins pretending not to see each other seems especially fanciful. Mandarins travelled by sedan chairs so wouldn't "see" each other on the street anyway. --PalaceGuard008 (Talk) 04:25, 26 May 2011 (UTC)
The way I understand it, the metaphor is the Great Wall and the point is that you have to build an information barrier that's impregnable, etc., in order to prevent any possible breach of ethics. (talk) 06:02, 26 May 2011 (UTC)
The OED derives it from "the defensive wall built between China and Mongolia in the 3rd cent. b.c." without further comment, and gives its meaning as "an insurmountable barrier (to understanding, etc.)" from 1907, and "Stock Exchange a prohibition against the passing of confidential information from one department of a financial institution to another." exemplified only from 1979. I hadn't met the phrase before, and immediately thought of the Chinese Room, but that dates only from 1980. --ColinFine (talk) 23:12, 26 May 2011 (UTC)
Thanks for the responses all. I guess reading "Chinese wall" as "paper screen" is a bit too cynical for the original authors of the phrase. --PalaceGuard008 (Talk) 00:49, 30 May 2011 (UTC)
I had never heard use of "Chinese wall" before. However, I work with many Chinese who refer to China's firewall as "The Great Firewall" - a purposeful reference to "The Great Wall." It is not easy to penetrate. I work with programmers (who are very good hackers) and they have extreme difficulty getting through it. -- kainaw 18:03, 31 May 2011 (UTC)

Word for "proper or well-spoken" speech.[edit]

There is a word/term in the English language for "poor or improper" speech, but I would like to know if there is a word/term in the English language for speech that is "proper or well-spoken."

16:42, 26 May 2011 (UTC)~~JAK — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk)

See Standard English and Received Pronunciation. AndrewWTaylor (talk) 17:02, 26 May 2011 (UTC)
Fluent ? "Surprisingly, Bush is fluent in Spanish (I suppose he had to be fluent in some language)". StuRat (talk) 23:35, 27 May 2011 (UTC)
U and non-U English might also be helpful. "Are the requisites all in the toilet?/The frills round the cutlets can wait/'Til the girl has replenished the cruets/and switched on the logs in the grate." (Betjeman) Tevildo (talk) 10:07, 28 May 2011 (UTC)

bumble bee[edit]

This has also been known as the humble-bee - see the article in the OED. I think it occurs (inter alia) in Thomas Hardy's 'Mayor of Casterbridge' — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 17:28, 26 May 2011 (UTC)

And your question is?..... Richard Avery (talk) 18:14, 26 May 2011 (UTC)


Finnish has two different words for "or": tai and vai. Tai means pretty much the logical disjunction operator. "Haluatko syödä lihaa tai kalaa?" means "Do you wish to eat something that is either meat or fish?". Vai means a choice. "Haluatko syödä lihaa vai kalaa?" means "Which do you wish to eat? Meat, or fish?". Are there any other languages with this distinction? JIP | Talk 20:09, 26 May 2011 (UTC)

Latin has three words for or: vel, aut, and sive. Aut means the options are exhaustive and vel means they aren't. (I'm not sure about sive.) So Vin carnem aut piscem edere? means you have to eat either meat or fish; there are no other options, and you can't even say "neither". Vin carnem vel piscem edere? means there are other options besides meat or fish, including eating nothing at all. I don't know if this really matches the Finnish contrast, though. —Angr (talk) 20:27, 26 May 2011 (UTC)
My Latin is a bit rusty, but shouldn't that say vis rather than vin? Anyway, the Finnish vai means that the options are exhaustive, but depending on context, you can generally answer "neither"/"none". How would the Finnish tai translate to Latin, how would one ask "Do you wish to eat something that is either meat or fish?" with an expected answer of "Yes, I wish to eat either of them" or "No, I don't wish to eat either of them", but not "Meat, please" or "Fish, please"? JIP | Talk 21:11, 26 May 2011 (UTC)
Vin is a contraction of visne, i.e. vis "you want" plus the interrogative enclitic -ne. —Angr (talk) 21:28, 26 May 2011 (UTC)
Mandarin has the same thing; 还是 háishì is the exclusive "or" and 或者 huòzhě is the inclusive "or". rʨanaɢ (talk) 20:37, 26 May 2011 (UTC)
Uyghur, and I assume other related Turkic languages, also has a distinction between exclusive يا (ya) and inclusive ياكى (yaki), although I think the distinction is less clear-cut in certain contexts. rʨanaɢ (talk) 20:40, 26 May 2011 (UTC)
Latvian "vai" and "jeb" might fit a similar bill, although their use depending on phrasing or compound words can imply in either fashion (choose one or the other definitely versus chose one or the other or none). PЄTЄRS J VTALK 20:41, 26 May 2011 (UTC)
Romanian has the distinction for this particular example. In the first sentence you would use ori and in the second sau: Vrei să mănânci ceva ce este ori carne, ori peşte?; Ce vrei să mănânci? Carne sau peşte? I don't know if the distinction would be equivalent to the Finnish one in other examples, though. (talk) 20:54, 26 May 2011 (UTC)
I don't understand Romanian, but by the way you phrased the questions, I guess they match the Finnish examples. JIP | Talk 21:14, 26 May 2011 (UTC)
No, I'm not sure that Romanian has the same distinction.
Romanian has only one word for "or" alone, that is the word sau. Romanian ori ... ori means "either ... or".
Notice that the distinction in the meanings of the two original sentences is expressed in no way other than the two different Finnish words for "or".

Haluatko syödä lihaa tai kalaa?
Haluatko syödä lihaa vai kalaa?

As shown in their explanatory English translations by JIP, the first of them could be answered "Yes, I do" or "No, I don't", whereas the second one could be answered "I want meat" or "I want fish".
In my native Bulgarian, where there is again only one word for "or", this distinction is perfectly expressed by word order:

Искаш ли да ядеш месо или риба? (yes/no)
Месо или риба искаш да ядеш? (meat/fish)

I am not confident enough about my Romanian to give a competent answer about it, but I still think it would rely on word order and prosody to express the difference. --Theurgist (talk) 07:43, 27 May 2011 (UTC)
I'm revising the second Bulgarian sentence. --Theurgist (talk) 22:16, 26 March 2012 (UTC)
Well, you have a point in that ori... ori means either... or. However, that's how it was phrased in English and I translated it to Romanian. I don't speak Finnish, so I couldn't translate directly from Finnish. Also, in questions, ori and sau mean the exact same thing. Te duci ori ba?; Te duci sau nu? (Ori usually takes ba instead of nu, for some reason, just like in da ori ba? but da sau nu/ba?) I have tooltipped my answer now, for non-Romanian speakers :) (talk) 13:52, 27 May 2011 (UTC)
In Polish it's lub for an alternative, and albo for a disjunction, although some native speakers tend to mix them up. The Polish equivalent of "either X or Y" is albo X, albo Y. — Kpalion(talk) 11:26, 30 May 2011 (UTC)