Well, it’s Monday again, and I haven’t posted anything since last Monday because I have been very busy. However, I still have selected an insect to star in this week’s Monday Mandarin Meanings. Observe shèngjiǎchóng:
These characters represent the scarab beetle, a family of sturdy beetles that remind me of little tanks on wings. Beetles in general are poor fliers, partially because their forewings are developed into hard elytra, the insect’s “shell”. For this reason, jiǎchóng means “shelled” or “armored” insect. Therefore, only the hindwings are used for flight, but unlike flies (which also have two wings, the other two formed into halteres), the body shape of the beetle is not conducive for flying. Really, it’s its own fault for being such a chunky piece of exoskeleton. Despite the lumbering way in which these insects fly, or perhaps because of it, they can be pretty scary at night. When I was at the UM Biological Station, I was mildly terrified when out of silence a loud, mechanical noise zoomed past my ear. It may have just been the sound of a scarab’s elytra clicking together as it flapped its hindwings, but regardless, I thought I was being attacked by an aerial tank. But the hunter:
became the hunted:
The first character, shèng, means “sacred”. It is well known that the Egyptians considered scarab beetles sacred, but it is interesting to me that the Chinese give scarabs the name “sacred shelled insect”. I wonder if they were separately named only after contact with Egyptians?