Friday, January 06, 2012

My liver has been badly destroyed [War on Chinglish - 22]

I pluck an example there from my own experience, of course.

Among Chinese English speakers, it's more common to encounter something like 

My car was badly destroyed in the accident 


My coat was badly destroyed at the dry cleaners.

It's an astonishingly common slip, and it always gives me a good laugh. It arises from a failure to appreciate the strength of the verb/participle destroyed.

In most cases, it would be more appropriate to use damaged instead:

My car was badly damaged in the accident.  

You see, destroyed means 100% damaged: it is AS BAD AS IT CAN BE. So, it is incongruous – ridiculous – to use intensifying adverbs like badly or severely with it.

I'm not quite sure how this one comes about. I suspect it might be down to a faulty definition in a Chinese textbook or teaching dictionary. 

There are several ways of expressing this sort of idea in Chinese, but I'm not sure what their nuances are, or if they all ignore the distinction between partial and total damage. One of the most common seems to be 受害, shouhai, which does have a very general range of meaning: to be a casualty, to suffer an injury of some kind; it appears to be used both of physical harm to the person and of loss of property, and can sometimes even imply a fatality. So, maybe there's our culprit...


The Weeble said...

Wait a minute -- "destroyed" can take some intensifying adverbs in English ("the second-grade class's bunny fort was utterly destroyed in the conflagration").

I suspect it's just a dictionary problem. The word to use in Chinese there would be 损害 ("to damage") or something of the sort, or possibly the more general 破坏 (anything from "to damage" to "to ruin"). It's a relatively subtle distinction, after all, and school-based second-language education is lousy at teaching those pretty much anywhere you go.

Froog said...

I knew I could rely on you, Weebs.

Are you back in the Jing, or checking in from Philly?

Froog said...

Interesting point about 'utterly'. I suppose that (and 'completely' and 'totally') are somewhat exceptional, more emphasising than intensifying adverbs.

I didn't want to over-elaborate the post by getting into those instances where we say that something has been partly destroyed (the part that was destroyed was utterly destroyed, 100% damaged!!).

JES said...

From your other posts in this series, I'm sure they don't mean anything quite so subtle, but the phrase "badly destroyed" could be a comment on the quality of the destruction. A car destroyed by an 800-mile non-stop chase across the sands of the Gobi might be considered to have been well destroyed, while one totaled by a circus clown dropped from an airplane would be, well, you know.

Froog said...

I'm sure they don't mean anything as subtle as that!

Dropping clowns from airplanes?! You're wasted as an IT consultant. You should be a supervillain.

Froog said...

A fair point, though, JES. I wonder if this guy felt his car had been well destroyed?