Tut-tut, a boo-boo
Victor Mair’s posts on the languagelog site are always worth reading. He’s just done a wonderful one on seemingly impenetrable Chinese sentences with the same character repeated numerous times—not unlike our own “Buffalo buffalo…” and “had had had had…” constructions.
This reminds me of a similar anecdote from rural Shaanxi, where the word bu is used to mean “bonk”, along with the duplicated form bubu “bonkety-bonk”. * It remains to be seen if the character 不 (“not”) is correct—the written forms of such dialectal terms are often hard to ascertain—but I’ll give the story in the version transcribed by my Beijing colleague.
This doesn’t quite work in English, but from a rough translation you can appreciate the linguistic beauty of the original (I’ve underlined the pinyin where they’re using bu in the, um, technical sense):
A woman wonders why his brother’s wife still hasn’t got pregnant two years after their marriage. She doesn’t quite know how to ask, so one day while they’re sewing in the courtyard, she asks her sister-in-law:
Sao, ni gen an ge bu ma?
Sister-in-law, do you do it with my bro?
Sure, all the time!
Bubu, za haibu ne?
If you’re at it all the time, how come there’s nothing?
Bubu hai bu ne, bububu bujiu geng bulema?
We’re at it all the time, again and again—bonking away, that means we go at it even more, innit!
I think I’ve got that right—in that last line she bangs on with the form bububu. Hmm, there may be room for alternative interpretations, as in the Confucian classics. Of course, to avoid boo-boos, much is clarified by hearing it aloud, with suitable stresses.
I like the personal reception histories of jokes. Just as I remember Pete McCarthy telling me his jazz bass solo joke on tour in the USA c2001, my Chinese fieldwork companions told me this one in Yanggao (north Shanxi, not Shaanxi!) back in 1991, as we were on the way to Greater Antan village to find the great Li Qing performing the Pardon ritual!
* I choose “bonk” both for its initial consonant and its relative gentility; this quaint UK usage enjoyed a rather brief heyday in my youth, supplanted in popular affection by “shag” and then…
For any “non-nationals” (as Myles had it) unfamiliar with these terms, Barry Humphries helpfully provides a wealth of colourful (if reprehensibly phallocentric—tut tut, one might say) Oz synonyms, also of their time, in the glossaries of his Barry Mackenzie books—such as “dip the wick”, “bury the pork sword”, and “exercise the ferret”.