0

Containing a word 差 (bad, lousy, not good, inferior, low, etc), this idiom is often used to mean 差, but nothing can be more wrong. Even native speakers of Chinese language do not get the real meaning of this idiom. 差强人意error 《后汉书·吴汉传》:“吴公差强人意。” 原意是吴汉很能振奋其部下的意志。后用来指尚能使人满意。差:古代义为甚;现代义为大致,比较。

I guess the Weibo post doesn't mean the order in that city is quite satisfactory but very bad, and obviously he made an error in using this idiom. Am I right? There are other examples of the same misuse of the idiom. Is it possible that in the future the official Xinhua dictionary will include this meaning?

4 Answers 4

3

First some general remarks regarding questions of this kind:

  1. Most Chinese dictionaries lean toward prescriptivism rather than descriptivism;
  2. Language is always changing. Words develop new senses, sometimes completely opposite of their previous meaning. Such things should be considered the norm rather than the exception.

Now regarding the word 差强人意:

  1. As you already mentioned, most Chinese dictionaries (prescriptive!) describe 差强人意 as initially "very satisfying" but in later times "barely, minimally" satisfying.
  2. There used to be a word 不强人意 for the opposite of 差强人意, i.e. "unsatisfying". However, this word is rarely used today.

楊愼《詞品》: 宋人如秦少游、辛稼軒,辭極工矣,而詩殊不强人意

李詡《戒庵老人漫筆》: 蘭亭詩敍,定武舊本既不易得,而世俗所傳,類不強人意,模搨者多弱,臨寫者或雜以己意,甚者妄意。

  1. Using 差强人意 to mean "unsatisfying" has entered many high-end media such as 人民日报. Therefore, I would consider this usage to have become "correct", in a descriptive sense.

《政府知错即改远比“一贯正确”更可信》: 以近期新闻为例。一是故宫失窃,一是广州“举牌哥”。同样面对质疑,从“失窃”、“错字”,到“经营会所”,故宫的回应左支右绌、差强人意。而广州地铁公司则一周内三次主动回应,约谈学生“举牌哥”,赢得舆论一致好评。

《美国教育:把思考的过程留给孩子(环球走笔)》: 美国拥有世界一流的高等教育,基础教育却差强人意,这是美国政治家论及本国教育时的口头禅之一。

2
  • What if it is used in the legal context? Isn't it sensible to follow the definition given in a dictionary? Feb 6 at 7:50
  • 1
    In a legal context I can hardly imagine "差强人意" be used to convey a precise meaning. The documents would simply use vocabulary that has less ambiguity. Feb 6 at 12:41
0

《后汉书·吴汉传》:“吴公差强人意。” 原意是吴汉很能振奋其部下的意志。后用来指尚能使人满意。差:古代义为甚;现代义为大致比较

The modern usage of 差强人意 is "barely satisfactory ", not "quite satisfactory"

"尚能"(still can) and "大致"(about) imply "barely" or "minimally"

"quite" implies "very"

0

As a native Chinese, I am glad I can answer your questions.

Containing a word 差 (bad, lousy, not good, inferior, low, etc), this idiom is often used to mean 差, but nothing can be more wrong. Even native speakers of Chinese language do not get the real meaning of this idiom.

Completely correct, but the percentage may not be as high as Weibo shows. The person in your example is one of the least educated people in China. In fact, Chinese actors/singers usually start their purely artistic education from very very young age and are completely divorced from literary and science education, even through these are some laws on compulsory schooling. No offense, but in China there are even many actors/singers/idols who just can not write their name.

For example, a famous actor has the word 王一 in his name. You may have noticed how simple the structure of there 2 characters is, but the owner of this name thinks otherwise.

I guess the Weibo post doesn't mean the order in that city is quite satisfactory but very bad, and obviously he made an error in using this idiom. Am I right? There are other examples of the same misuse of the idiom. Is it possible that in the future the official Xinhua dictionary will include this meaning?

Yes, it's possible. The Xinhua Dictionary has been revised more than ten times so far. In my personal experience, the misuse of this word 差强人意 is practically common in China at the moment. It fits perfectly with the reason you describe, as the modern meaning of the word 差 is almost the opposite of its ancient meaning.

Finally, I would like to mention an interesting fact. Attempts to identify misuse as correct usage often lead to the effective popularization and dissemination of correct usage. For example, the word 给予 is correctly pronounced as jiyu, while many people pronounce it as geiyu, and since people started spreading the news that the Xinhua Dictionary was going to adopt geiyu as the correct pronunciation, almost everyone around me quickly learned the correct pronunciation jiyu. XD

1
  • Interesting. As far as I know, no dialects in China have the sound of 街 as Jie, but more or less sound like Guy, but Xinhua dictionary doesn't make any change for that. Feb 6 at 14:08
0

差强人意(差:稍微地)指还算能振奋人的意志;形容大体上还能使人满意。含褒义.

差强人意

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.