The word “semiconductor” changed my life, but it has nothing to do with computer chips, the Internet, or cat videos. It’s just me. This blog is a little long and very navel gazey. Forewarned.
I got a real kick outta learning languages back in the day. I’m feeling like I lost that a bit, which is why I am waxing nostalgic. Learning Chinese really helped me to learn Japanese. It’s kind of like knowing Latin when studying English. You get to see where the words come from.But learning Chinese also made connections for me in my native English.
The first time I made this connection- I wish I could say that it was earlier in life- was when I was in my early twenties. A lot of people I know who are smarter and more talented than I am had these revelations earlier in life. I respect them immensely. But as I have mentioned before, I was amazingly unconscious as a human being until well well into adulthood (some would argue that I still am).
At the time I was in Taiwan (where, surprisingly, many of my revelations took place). Now that I really look at the lint in my belly button, I am certain that the year I spent in Taiwan as the most stimulating fourteen months of my life. I was 23, already a couple of years older than most of my classmates- I had taken 3 years off from school, much to my parents dismay, distress, and something else that starts with dis… For the longest time I’d been unable to find anything to catch my interest, so when I latched onto Chinese, they were ecstatic, and agreed to pay for study abroad during the worst recession of the 80’s.
During that time, I spent days, weeks, months in cafes reading dictionaries. There I learned the word for semiconductor. Oh wow, a story about silicon wafers. I’ve really got you sitting on the edge of your seat now! Interestingly, surprisingly, fascinatingly, I really was sitting on the edge of my seat. This was when big fabs were getting built all over the small island semi-nation.
The word for it is 半導体, bandaoti in Mandarin or handoutai in Japanese. So what, big deal, right? Until you know that ban means half, dao means to guide, lead, or conduct, and ti means body. Honestly, at the time, I had no clue what the word semiconductor meant, except that it referred to a computer chip. But being forced to look at parts of words had birthed an epiphany. Suddenly, I got it. Semi – half – conduct (as in electricity) – body. OK, maybe it’s not a dialogue with archangel Gabriel or seeing a burning bush. But to me, oh to me, it was a lightning bolt.
Chinese is like that, each character is its own distinct word, and can be used as a prefix or suffix or whatever the word is for the clot of letters that gets clumped in between them. A quick Google search suggests “stem” is correct. To the aforementioned smarter-than-me people, please do be kind if corrections are required.
Anyway, it makes you think, it makes you curious, it pulls you in and gets your synapses firing. For me it was semiconductor. Go figure.