Studying Chinese every hour of every day leads to some words getting stuck and constantly repeating themselves in my head – especially since some word really sound funny to say, or since some words have extremely cool characters or origins.

The word of the day, that has been repeating in my head for the past few days (even though I first learned it several months ago):


yuán zhū bǐ

”ball point pen”

”圆珠笔” translates to ”ball point pen”, and a word by word translation gives ”round pearl pen” or something along those lines. Similarly, just a pen is called ”笔” (bǐ) and a pencil is called ”铅笔” (qiān bǐ). The character for pen (笔) is a combination of the character for hair, ”毛” (máo), and the radical form of the character for bamboo, ”竹” (zhú). I don’t know the reason for the combination, but I don’t think it’s entirely out there to assume that old Chinese pens where constructed from bamboo and animal hair.

Incidentally, 毛 (máo) is also the surname of the old Chinese dictator (and founder of the current republic) Mao Zedong (毛泽东). His full name would literally translate ”the hair east of the pond”.

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