病句 (bìngjù): sick sentences

PutongWord of the Day

PutongWords Etc. is the next incarnation of #PutongWords, a daily Twitter column I wrote from late 2018 through 2019. Each day I chose a different common Mandarin Chinese word to pick apart and muse about within the constraints of 280 characters, uncovering the likes of wit, violence, tenderness, and wonder embedded within.

This newsletter expands beyond the short format so I can write about Chinese words and culture without worrying about fitting a single thought into less than one Tweet. There will be 3-5 PutongWord of the Day posts per week under a specific theme, and 1 entry per week discussing said theme. In between, I will dispatch pun-filled doodles and the occasional miscellaneous post on things such as Chinese internet slang, newly invented characters, naming conventions etc.

病句 (bìngjù) refers to a sentence that is technically wrong, even if the content doesn’t contain any factual errors. I myself am frequently guilty of writing “sick sentences”, especially on Twitter where there is no edit button to erase my numerous typos and grammatical sloppiness. 

The use of disease as a metaphor for structural mistakes in language is very elegant. As we study the craft of writing and learn to use language as tools of creation, the lives we give our words grow so much more intricate and complex than single-function statements, a kind of evolution if you will. The beauty and charm of our writing very much hinges upon the health of the words, so to speak. 

Occurrences of “sick sentences” could be akin to a head injury, or a breakout of hives. Depending on the severity of the error it could threaten the very integrity of a passage itself, or perhaps simply take away some of its dignity.

So, next time you write, think about maintaining the good health of your words, and proofread!

— f