Tuesday, May 20, 2008

My Kingdom for a Paper Clip

I never realized how complicated a paper clip could be. A while back, I asked a coworker how to say paper clip in Chinese. Rather than tell me, she said she'd go to the copy room to get some for me. They didn't have any, but they'd get them soon, I was told. I forgot about it until today.

I spoke to my coworker on the phone and asked how to say it again. It took a while to get an answer. Wen zhen jia, I was told after the wait. With this knowledge on a scrap of paper, I headed over to the copy room. I memorized the word and asked for it--the woman in the copy room appeared to understand. Then she held up plastic folders to give to me. I said, "No, wen zhen jia." She explained that it was. I was lost.

Fortunately, another professor was in the room. She spoke English and tried to help. I explained what I wanted, but she too looked confused. Finally, I found a binder clip and showed her. I now had my small box of binder clips to help organize my students' assignments.

The professor explained that wen zhen jia is a formal word in Chinese and has many meanings. It can be used for binder clips, binders, folders, staples, and paper clips (there might also be some other things in there). Apparently, you have to use this word AND explain what kind you'd like. This was later confirmed by my coworkers who listened to my story of confusion.

Unfortunately, after all that, I still have no clue how to properly ask for a paper clip.


1 comment:

kdobson said...

Both Google Translate & Wenlin suggest 回形针 hui xing zhen for 'paperclip'.

Hope it works in your part of China.