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By Tom Sloper (湯姆)

January 8, 2006
Column #248

Chinese Official Tournament Rules. Our group of players, after their arduous tournament in Beijing, then a restful holiday break, has gotten together for their first game of the New Year. Technically, the Year Of The Dog doesn't begin until January 29, so although this is the first game of 2006, it's one of the last games of the Year Of The Rooster.

The group's members come from different ethnic backgrounds. Earl is from America. Samantha was raised by Mandarin-speaking parents. Waiyee's first language is Cantonese. Noriko hails from Japan. The players converse together in English. Before they began playing together, each player had long been comfortable with the mah-jongg terminology he or she had originally learned. But because they're playing according to the Chinese Tournament Rules, they have agreed to use Chinese terms during play.

Everyone says "pung" when punging, but Noriko is allowed the occasional "pon." They permit the term to be used both as a verb and as a noun. The word "chow" is pronounced in a variety of ways: "chi" (Japanese), "chur" (Mandarin), "sheung" (Cantonese), and "chow" (English) - as a verb and as a noun. The word "kong" is usually pronounced "gang" (Mandarin), with occasional forays into "kan" or even "gong," without anybody caring one whit.

They all say "hu" at the moment of winning (Noriko had to overcome her tendency to say "ron" or "tsumo," and Earl had to overcome his tendency to say "mah-jongg"). But when discussing events, they describe the act of winning a hand in various ways: "making mah-jongg," "going out," "winning."

For the names of the winds they usually use the Chinese pronunciation (dung, nan, si, bei) but when discussing the seats and rounds, they usually use the English (East, South, West, North). The person in the East seat might be referred to as East, banker, dealer, or even the Japanese word, oya. It's all good.

But then, on the mahjong newsgroup and in the official English translation from the Chinese Majiang Organizing Committee, came alternate terminologies - especially for the suits and the dragon tiles. The group had always been OK with using Japanese, Chinese, and monosyllabic English suit names interchangeably. Craks (E) = wan (C) or man (J). Dots (E) = tung (C) or pin (J). Bams (E) = tiao (C) or so (J). But the alternate suggestions, "mats, socks, tanks" and "won kind, being kind, tear kind," were subjected to not a little ridicule.

Some purists tried to tell English-speaking mah-jongg players that the collective term "dragons" was incorrect for the chung, fa, bai (red, green, white) tiles. The suggested alternate collective terms, "youths" and "arrows" were bad enough - but "Joe, Fortune, and Bobby" caused actual hoots of derisive laughter.

Some things just shouldn't be messed with.


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© 2006 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.