Stump the Chinese: Stunt

The other day in my English Corner (yīngyǔ jiǎo 英语角, basically a club for speaking English), we were talking about publicity stunts and someone used a little electronic dictionary to translate “stunt” as:

xuétóu 噱头

If you click on the hanzi above you’ll be taken to MDBG where you see that it’s more like “antics” or “shenanigans” than stunts that a stuntman would do. That’s fine. The definition seemed appropriate enough.

The problem was, no one in the room of about eight Chinese university students knew how to pronounce the first character: . Even one student who got a 98 percent (giving him the highest grade possible) on the Mandarin Test (pǔtōnghuà cèshì 普通话测试, discussed briefly here) didn’t know how to pronounce it.

Finally, someone looked it up in a cell phone or electronic dictionary that had pinyin and announced it was “xue2.” I guess it’s such an obscure character that it doesn’t really belong on David Moser’s list of common yet hard Hanzi. But still, good thing pinyin exists. Otherwise, they would have had méi bànfǎ 没办法 to find out how to say it.

According to MDBG, when it’s by itself, should be pronounced “jue2,” but Nciku lists it as “xue2” in isolation as well as in compounds. Can anyone confirm which is correct?

13 Replies to “Stump the Chinese: Stunt”

  1. Dictionaries before pinyin used homophones to note the pronunciation of a rare character. For example in this case. Of course, it means you have to know , but it is better than nothing.

  2. 博文,
    Thanks for the tip. So, it’s actually never “jue2” as listed in MDBG?

    Very interesting fact indeed! That makes sense. I’m just glad for us laowais we’ve got pinyin now and don’t have to learn everything before we can learn anything 🙂

  3. I checked it out.
    When “” is used as a verb or noun, it should be pronounced “jue2”. But this is not common in modern Chinese.

    When it is used as an adj., it’s pronounced “xue2”. 噱头 seems to be this case.

  4. I think Chinese characters went through thousands of years plus they are used in a huge area. A character could be pronounced differently in different period of time or different area. Here are some other resources for your references:

  5. According to Xinhua Dictionary, both pronunciations are correct. is a 多音字duō​yīn​zì​. “jue2” is used as a verb or noun. But when it’s pronounced xue2, it’s still a noun.

  6. sorry if this is a repeat comment, my last one didn’t seem to post …

    I would say that I’ve heard juetou more than xuetou, though both are correct, but it could also be regional. I’m originally from the south (Jiangsu). even in our dialect, it’s more often jue vs. xue, and jue on its own can also be an adjective meaning 了不起

    It’s also a more colloquial term, which may be why no one recognized the character, since it’s seldom in written form

  7. Well, as for most things of a lexicographical nature 汉典 is useful here. The fanqie for is listed ’其虐‘ in the 说文, which gives us jue; and some more modern dictionaries suggest that xue is a regional variant – with the lexical marker ().

    I would therefore be inclined to suggest that the ‘standard’ pronunication is jue and a modern variant is xue, but both are acceptable.

  8. According to 國語辭典, is pronounced jue2 when it means ‘to laugh’ or ‘a laugh’, and xue1 when it means ‘something that makes you laugh’. (This refers to what is correct according to the ROC Ministry of Education, not how people are supposed to or actually do talk in Guangdong)

    I think it’s interesting that the here isn’t neutral tone.

  9. My Pleco dictionary found it right away, confirming that it is pronounced Xue2 or Jue2 and means to laugh. The term 噱头 Xue2Tou2 is ‘words/acts meant to amuse’ in the ABC dictionary. The large all-Chinese dictionary in Pleco defines this as being used ‘in certain regions’.

    Stunt should be 绝技 JueJi4, I think.

    Pleco is out for iPhone, by the way, and the HWR got even better than the PDA version. It’s my main learning tool for Chinese and I highly recommend it.

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