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Taxi Driver Dictionary

Let me introduce Shanghai Da Zhong Taxi Driver Number 178824. He’s a chap with a nervous smile and a slightly anxious disposition, and he passes the time at traffic lights and between fares by studying a bit of English. Like many taxi drivers, he figures that learning English could potentially make his life easier with all those foreign passengers and even bring about unexpected opportunities. English is seen as a kind of passport to better work and higher pay, perhaps as a private driver.
But driver 178824 isn’t interested in any old basic ‘hello, goodbye, turn left, turn right’ English. He has decided to concentrate only on words that he finds intensely interesting. Written on flash cards, in alphabetic order, the English word is followed by the Chinese equivalent, and the phonetic pronunciation. Not quite what I was expecting when he handed them over for me to see. 
His lists run to the medical (haemuresis, myocarditis, hepatitis), the political (Hague, hakenkreuz – the German word meaning swastika, American consulate) and the esoteric (hanky-panky, mercurial).
Other than the listed words, which he read phonetically and slowly, he spoke not a single word of English. I was both intrigued and enormously impressed. Unlike most language students, he had decided to just jump right in at the deep end, and see where it led him.
I gave him a short list of H words of my own – hocus pocus, hoi polloi, hurricane and hegemony. And another of M words – mysterious, mythical, mercenary and machiavellian. Wonder what he’ll make of those?
  • Louise

    Wonderful post. So interesting. I hope you get to catch his taxi again sometime.

  • MaryAnne

    That is awesome. I've never been in his taxi before, though I did go out to Ikea once with a woman who had been studying English on her own for the past few years because she liked talking to the foreign passengers. I wished I could have had a student as keen as her. She was so excited to be trying out her phrases on me (a real, live foreign teacher! in her taxi! bonus!). I've been in taxis where the driver had a little phrase book that had been prepared by their company, full of all sorts of remarkably non-useful phrases. I really like Shanghai taxi drivers- I've been all over China (and the world, really) and they have been the kindest, most honest and genuinely curious I've dealt with ever.

  • Fiona

    I agree totally maryanne: I love, love LOVE Shanghai taxi drivers- they do have something special, and it's not the ability to spit out the window while doing 110k on the Yan'an elevated highway…although they can do that too…

  • bjr

    Apart from haemuresis which doesn't exist according to Google and you can't have a higher authority than that, are you sure he wasn't trying to proposition you?

  • Fiona

    haemuresis (hemuresis) = Dutch for haematuria. And no, I don't think so…..