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Monday, November 05, 2007

It's Funny What Makes You Laugh

I've been listening to some Buena Vista Social Club lately. It's strange to hear Latin jazz in an American's dorm in China.

I was meeting with my tutor today, and I asked her one of those "why haven't I learned how to say this yet?!" questions: what's the word for picture, as in, from your (or my) digital camera? She had already told me that camera was 照相机 ("zhaoxiangji"), with that last character 机 ("ji") being a kind of catch-all word for machine. (Mobile phone, for example, is 手机, "shouji," which is literally "hand machine.") I wanted to know what my camera could do; my camera takes/makes what? She explained that a camera takes 照片("zhaopian"), photographs.

OK, I thought, I'm all set: I've got my vocab for camera, vocab for photographs ... wait, I just need the verb: my camera what photographs?

She looks at me with that "this should be painfully obvious" look: your camera 照相, "zhaoxiang," takes photographs.

Dig it, I thought: 我的照相机照相. "Wo de zhaoxiangji zhaoxiang."

Literally: My photograph-taking machine takes photographs.

I laughed for ten minutes.

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