Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Nail and a Calendar

Sometimes my Cantonese vocabulary is kind of random.  There are very simple words that I don't know, like "heavy" and "short,"  and then I know some pretty random words like "chicken bouillon" and "lemon Ribena." But that's because a lot of the words I learn, I choose for a specific purpose.  Like today.  I had to go to the hardware store, and I always learn something when I go to the hardware store.

I have one lamp, and its light-bulb burned out at least a month ago.  Also, I bought a calendar, probably also a month ago, and it's been sitting on my floor since I didn't have a way to hang it up.  Yeah, I tend to procrastinate on house things.  So I needed a light-bulb and a nail.

Since I had the burned-out bulb I could show them, I didn't need to know how to say light-bulb, but I didn't know how to communicate that I wanted a nail.  I looked up "nail" on Cantodict, an online Cantonese dictionary.  Now Cantodict is super helpful, but sometimes I'm kind of wary using it.  When you look up "nail", this is what comes up.

Found 13 word entries for "nail"
desc手甲sau2 gaap3  finger nail
desc指甲zi2 gaap3zhi1 jia5  nail (as in fingernail or toenail)
desc指甲鉗zi2 gaap3 kim4*2   nail-clipper
desc釘子deng1 zi2ding1 zi5  a nail; a snag
desc眼中釘ngaan5 zung1 ding1yan3 zhong1 ding1  eyesore; thorn on one's side, person hated (lit., "nail in the eye")
desc釘打機deng1 daa2 gei1  a nail gun (lit., "nail hitting machine")
desc洗甲水sai2 gaap3 seoi2  [n] nail polish remover, nail enamel remover
desc釘子精神deng1 zi2 zing1 san4ding1 zi5 jing1 shen2  the spirit of the nail; grasping every available minute (reference to Lei Feng)
desc釘蓋deng1 goi3  to die; to be dead [Lit.: to nail the lid (of coffin)]
desc三寸釘saam1 cyun3 deng1  small in stature (like a dwarf, lit., "three inch nail")
desc大頭釘daai6 tau4 ding1da4 tou2 ding4  tack, large-headed nail, stud
desc指甲油zi2 gaap3 jau4zhi3 jia3 you2  nail polish; nail varnish
desc衝釘器cung1 deng1 hei3  a nail set

See?  There are quite a lot of entries for nail, so which one is the correct one?  I was thinking it might be the fourth entry, since it says "a nail", but I don't really know what "a snag" is in relation to a nail, so I wasn't sure.  I finally settled on it probably being deng1 since in "nail gun" I know that daa2 is hit and gei1 is machine.  So that problem was solved.  

Then calendar.  Same thing.  Actually, I take that back.  Calendar is even worse.  There are twice as many entries, and almost all of them are specific, like "lunar calendar" or "desk calendar" but the entry for just "calendar" was halfway down the page, so I was wondering if that was really what I wanted.  Finally after combing the page, I found a "wall calendar" and settled on that one.  Gwaa3 lik6.

Off to the hardware store!  Whenever I go to there, I can't tell who actually is working unless they're behind the counter.  There's all sorts of guys hanging around.  I went to the counter and waited patiently while a guy in a black t-shirt measured out screws into a bag for the customer in front of me.  Suddenly, an old man broke from the pack and came up to me.  He saw that I was holding a lightbulb, so he had it out of my hand and darted off to the back.  I could barely get out my "Lei yao mou li go?"  Do you have this one?  But he knew what I needed.  

While he was looking, the other customer left and I could ask the black t-shirt guy "Lei yao mou hou sai deng?"  Do you have a small nail?  I must have chosen the right word because he nodded knowingly and said "Yao."  We have it.  But then he asked me a question I didn't understand.  Oops, I wasn't prepared for that one.  I must have looked confused, because he added "wood-ah" and tapped a nearby wooden shelf.  Oh yes, I did need it for wood.  I looked it up after coming home, and I think wood is muk6.  Next time I'll know.  Hopefully.  

By then the old man came back with two lightbulbs for me.  He was ringing me up when black t-shirt came back with a handful of nails.  He kind of laughed when I said I only wanted yut go deng.  One nail.  But he didn't even charge me for it, so that was nice.  

So I went home and happily screwed in my new lightbulb (which turned out to be yellow not white!) an hung my calendar.  I don't know how often I'll use these words, but it's good know.  Forced learning is always the kind that sticks for me.

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