When my brother was about six years old, I watched him play battleship against my father (play free here–WARNING: turn down sound first). There was a break in the action when my dad had to answer the phone, during which I left the room as well. When I came back in, they were playing again and my brother had miraculously begun annihilating my dad’s fleet with remarkable precision bombing. It was clear that he had simply looked at my dad’s game board while he was on the phone (as any child in his position would have) and memorized the position of all the ships (as I’m not sure any child could).
My father, of course, figured this out too. So then, much to my brother’s surprise, instead of hearing “Hit, and you’ve sunk my battle ship” after each shot, he was hearing my father say, “Miss!”
I stayed (uncharacteristically) quiet just to watch the action unfold naturally. At one point I actually heard my brother mutter to himself, “Hmm…I can’t remember where that one is.”
My father heard it too and replied, “That’s because I just moved all my ships.”
My brother, incensed, shouted, “Hey, that’s cheating!”
What’s That Got to Do with Chinese?
I would like to submit that one possible Chinese translation for my brother’s final shout could be:
I’ve been trying to figure out how to translate a special use of hǎo bù hǎo 好不好. I propose that it could be translated as:
…hǎo bù hǎo! …好不好!
It’s strange because hǎo bù hǎo 好不好 is usually a question meaning “ok?” or “Would that be ok?” But I recently heard it used in two situations that lead me believe it’s more of a “Hey!” sort of exclamation.
My students were all preparing for an oral English exam in another class in which they would have to answer the question: “Are women and men equal?” or something like that. Most of the students had already taken the test, but one student was ill or something and was going to take it right after my class. She asked me if I could tell her my opinion. When another student heard her ask me, she obviously thought it wasn’t fair for the foreign teacher to help only one student when all the others had taken it on their own. She shouted:
Now, I’m sure she didn’t mean:
How about you cheat, ok?
Even though that’s what it sounded like at first.
During a little “Chinese corner” practice group, an American colleague of mine asked the Chinese native speaker in the group how to say something in Chinese (I can’t remember what). She told him but he kept proposing an alternative word, insisting that it was right. She’d never heard it. Finally, he said, “Well, when I was in Sichuan they always said that.”
She slapped a hand on the table and said:
We then discussed this little hǎo bù hǎo 好不好 for quite a while and I think it really meant:
Hey, that’s Sichuanese!
The underlying message being: “(So why are you asking me about that? You know full well that I’m not from Sichuan!)”
Anyone else heard this anywhere? Any alternative translations that I should consider?