Thursday, October 8, 2009

Learn Chinese - Planet Names

I was recently given a copy of the Chinese-English Visual Bilingual Dictionary.

Flipping through it, I came to a page on the planets. Obviously, learning the names of the planets would not be high on anyone's list of useful Chinese to learn, but as happens when you're learning Chinese, I noticed several associations with things I've already learnt.

First, here are the names of the planets (and as a special bonus, the sun and the moon as well):

EnglishPinyinChinese Characters

So where to start with the associations?

First, I long ago learnt that Xīng 星 means star. I used to live in a city which had a tourist attraction called the Seven Star Crags (Qixing Yan Gongyuan 七星岩). Most of the planets are named with the pattern <something>xīng - so they are literally named something star.

Mercury seems to be called the water star (Shuǐ 水 meaning water). Why that's the case is anyone's guess! As far as I know there's no water on Mercury. (Edit: Actually it turns out that there is water on Mercury, but it was only discovered last year).

Venus is called the gold star (Jīn 金meaning gold). The picture of Venus in the book does look to be a goldish colour, as do some of the images you find in a Google Image Search.

Mars is the fire star (Huǒ 火 meaning fire). I guess that's no surprise - after all it's known as the red planet in English and red is the colour of fire.

I'm not familiar with Mù 木for Jupiter, but it seems to mean stick. Just why Jupiter would be the stick star is a bit of a puzzle.

Saturn is the earth (or land) star - Tǔ being the start of earth / land Tǔdì 土地 - or perhaps the potato tǔdòu 土豆star :)

Uranis, Neptune and Pluto share the wáng 王 character as the second character, which seems to translate as king.

Uranis is the sky king star (Tiān 天being sky) and Neptune is the sea king star (Hǎi 海meaning sea). I'm not so sure about Pluto - perhaps the dark king star? Anyone out there have a translation for Míng 冥?

Neptune is an interesting one for me. Neptune was the king of the sea in Olympian mythology, so perhaps Hǎiwángxīng (sea king star) is just a direct translation of the English name for the planet.

Also, in my post on the points of the compass, I used the city of Hǎinán海南 to illustrate the use of Nán (south) in place names. Now we can see that Hǎi means sea, so Hǎinán is literally Sea South, appropriate for a city on the sea in the south of China.

For the earth and the moon, qiú 球 means sphere. Dì 地 means land, so the earth is land sphere.

For the moon, the familiar Yuè 月 character is used. This will be familiar to most Chinese learners as it's one of the first characters you learn to recognise, meaning month and appearing in dates etc.

As I said, lots of associations here. I don't think learning the planet names is particularly useful in every day Chinese, but those connections help strengthen what you already do know.

As an aside, the Chinese-English Visual Bilingual Dictionary is great. It won't help you learn grammar or even phrases, but it will expand your vocabulary immensely.

Keywords: Shuixing, Jinxing, Diqiu, Huoxing, Muxing, Tuxing, Tianwangxing, Haiwangxing, Mingwangxing, Taiyang, Yueqiu, Xing, Yue, Shui, Jin, Huo, Mu, Tu, Tian, Hai, Wang.