Built on Facts

Saturday Goofing Off

A quick Olympic question: How would a native of China pronounce the j in Beijing? All the commentators pronounce it like the J in the French je suis, but I’ve heard that in China the pronunciation would be closer to the J in jingle. I have no idea if this is true, and I’m not at the university now so I can’t just ask one of my Chinese friends. Anyone know?

Now how about some short items from around the web, which I particularly enjoyed.

Here’s Swans on Tea and our own Chad Orzel on the (lack of) menace of radioactive bananas and granite countertops.

Here’s Cocktail Party Physics on the age-old question “Is it Art?” applied to scientific visualization. I say heck yes it is. Art doesn’t have to be created by some formally qualified artist. This is certainly art, though it wasn’t originally intended as such.

Here’s Carl Brannen on books, chess, and physics. On the short list of skills I’d like to improve in myself, chess ranks pretty highly. People think a physics enthusiast must be good at chess, but I’m very average at best.

Here’s Not Exactly Rocket Science on the biology of hot peppers. Short answer: deterring marauding mammals might be a factor, but much more helpfully the heat does kill off some forms of fungus. Interestingly, a recent Mythbusters showed that hot peppers do not deter sharks. Not that shark deterrence is much of a survival advantage for a land plant…

I apologize for this one in advance. Here’s a link to a celebrity gossip site with photographs of a scantily-clad Alison Caroll, the new face (ahem) of Lara Croft. (Probably slightly NSFW) I didn’t even know they were still making Tomb Raider games, but there you go. I considered including a picture in this post but we’ve got to maintain some standards around here. Anyway, why I’m linking it: I want you to tell me What’s Wrong With This Picture. The same thing is wrong in almost all those pictures. As a hint, the same thing is also wrong with most action movie posters. The first person to figure it out gets a prize, but due to budget restrictions the prize consists of fame and recognition in the comment section of this post.

Have a great weekend!


  1. #1 Greg Laden
    August 16, 2008



    Bei said like “bay” in “sitting on the dock of the bay”

    Jing said like Jack, Jill, Jingoism, NOT french, but plain old English.

    Bay Jing

    But if you actually listen to the guys on the tape, they actually pronounce the “j” a third way….. sort of

    Do note that Chinese is a total language. You must pronounce the first syllable lower and the second syllable higher, though the exact tone levels are beyond me (I can’t do Chinese tones, I’ve been told by bewildered Chinese people).

    So if you get the J right and the tones wrong, you are probably saying something like “Push me off the bridge please” or “your sister is a ….”

    … whatever.

  2. #2 Winter Toad
    August 16, 2008

    While not a native of China, my accent in Mandarin is very standard. The ‘j’ sound in the word “Beijing” is pronounced like that in the word “jingle” as delivered by people with a typical canadian accent, and unlike the ‘j’ initial consonant in French (also as delivered by a speaker in Canada). The French ‘j’ is much closer to the Mandarin sound represented by the pinyin spelling “zh”, for instance in the word “zhong1 guo2”, the name of the country “China” in Mandarin.

  3. #3 Jennifer Ouellette
    August 16, 2008

    Thanks for the link, but nowhere in my post do I say anything about art needing to be created by some formally trained artist. 🙂 Felice Frankel nailed the distinction perfectly, which is why I so carefully quoted her in the post…. Scientific visualization is visualization; it can be artful, particularly when done by someone of Frankel’s caliber. A viewer can find it artistIC. But art reflects the creativity and personality of the artist. It’s a purely subjective thing. That’s the point Frankel (and I) were trying to make. None of which is knocking scientific visualization in the least…. it’s HARD to do what Frankel does so well.

  4. #4 palmer
    August 16, 2008

    She is practicing very poor trigger safety… even though those are most certainly not real. Do I win?

  5. #5 Matt Springer
    August 16, 2008

    Palmer wins the contest! One of the ironclad rules of firearm safety is to keep your finger off the trigger until the sights are on the target. Most negligent discharges are the result of someone breaking this rule.

    But no harm done here, as those guns are just props. I can’t comment either way on whether anything else in those pictures is real.

  6. #6 Paul S
    August 17, 2008

    Winter Toad has it half right. In the standard dialect, “zh” in Zhongguo is approximately like the English “j” in “age” but with the tongue rounded and pointing toward the front of the soft palate. The French “j” sound is very close to the sound transcribed in Pinyin with “r” at the beginning of a syllable. For example the Chinese world for Japan is “Riben”, pronounced “Zhurbun”

    The word “judge” as pronounced by some English speakers has both “j” sounds. Any foreigner saying “Bay Jing” with the usual English sound would be understood. But the people on television just sound like idiots. They remind me of people who say “Tarzhay” instead of “Target.” (as in the store)

    As Greg points out, to a Mandarin speaker (especially outside the capital) those dang tones are more important to correct pronunciation than the consonant sounds. Where I lived (Fujian province) locals often mixed up z, zh, and j, or just produced them all as “dz”.


  7. #7 Taylor
    August 17, 2008

    I was going to say that the problem with the Lara Croft photos was that she has the guns strapped to her legs instead of her hips. How exactly does one run let alone do back flips off of waterfalls to battle ferocious bears with 10 pounds of pistol and holster on each leg?

  8. #8 Notkieran
    August 18, 2008

    I’m Chinese by race (see my blog for proof), so here’s a quick one.

    Bei(3) Jing (1)

    (Numbers indicate tone: 1 is high tone, 2 is rising tone, 3 is low tone, and 4 is falling tone. Technically there’s a 5th tone which is something like “falling sharply”.)

    Bei is like “Bay” but with the third (low tone) intonation. Jing is like tzing, but with the t blurred into almost inadibility, and the z pronounced very short so that there isn’t the distinctive buzzing sound of zzz.

    Here are some tonal options:

    Bei4 Jing3:


    Bei4 Jing4

    Got immersed.

    Bei3 Jing4

    Northern Mirror

    It’s not as easy to get it wrong as, say, physics, which is

    Wu4 Li3

    (The law/rules of reality– physics)

    wu2 li3


    Wu2 li4


    Wu3 li4

    (martial strength)

    Mispronounciations can be hilarious, such as “how much for a bowl of dumplings” becoming “How much for a quickie?”

  9. #9 Carl Brannen
    August 19, 2008

    The funny thing is that the only people I personally know who’ve accidentally shot themselves both shot themselves in the foot, and in both cases it was a defective firearm. On the other hand, I do know of a few cases of accidental firing of a firearm due to finger on trigger syndrome.

    One of the foot shooters was a college educated idiot in 1979 and probably still is. The other was my cousin who was repairing a .25 ACP auto. He diagnosed the problem, fixed it, took it back to the range in the back of the shop, loaded a clip into it, and fired it at the target until it went “click”. It turns out that the last click was on a live round. It went off, into his foot, while he was carrying the weapon back to the front of the store.

    (1) Always verify that the weapon is empty.
    (2) Always assume a weapon is loaded.
    (3) Never let a gun point at a human, even if you know it is empty, (unless you want to shoot them).
    (4) It helps to be lucky. He was able to drive to the hospital and walk into the emergency room.
    (5) A .25 ACP really isn’t strong enough for anything but to wave around when you get pissed off at the guests who’ve stayed too long after dinner, proving you’re not too drunk to hit the cockroaches in your kitchen, and the like.

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