Esoteric Activities and the Secrets of Mi

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything because I’ve been busy creating my artificial world (and writing my thesis of course), which I really ought to write about some time. But since that seems to big a topic to write about now, I’ll write about something different.

I had an idea for a photography for a while back, which was based on the Flickr 365 Days project, where one takes  a self portrait every day for a year. The idea is it forces you to take more photos and to experiment with different styles and techniques. Someone else has had an idea to make something (something cool no less) everyday, which is much harder ( My idea was to take a photo every day for a year (not of yourself unless you really wanted a challenge) based on the word of the day at For example, today’s word was ‘esoteric’, so I should have taken a photo of something esoteric (or taken a photo that was itself esoteric or conjured up the idea of esoterier). I took a photo of some Morris dancers who could be argued to be esoteric (I certainly don’t understand what it’s all about), though I think I should have tried harder.

The Secrets of Mi

I thought today that maybe I could shift the idea to another of my interests: Chinese. The idea now would be to learn the Word of the Day (or a related word if it was a completely useless word, like yesterday’s ‘inanition’) in Chinese. So today it would be 秘传的, mìchuánde – something that is transmitted in secret. ‘Mi’ seems to be a scretive sound in Chinese. The word for secret is 秘密 - mìmì, two ‘mi’s in a row. Interestingly, 秘书 means a secretary - I hadn't realised until now that the word 'secretary' starts with the word 'secret'. Intriguing. And if that weren’t enough, there are the second tone ‘mi’s:  迷 meaning to confuse, bewilder, or be lost; and 谜 meaning a riddle.

The second tone ‘mi’s clearly get their pronunciation from the rice character 米. The forth tone ‘mi’s seem to get their pronunciation from 必, bì, meaning certainly or must. When 必 is under a roof, as in 密, then it becomes mì, meaning still or silent. Incidently, I first came across 密 in the word 茂密, màomì (not be confused with 猫咪, māomī, meaning kitty), which means dense, lush or verdant for describing greenery, in a story about a lake monsters that lives in a 茂密的森林. It seems that 密 can mean secret and confidential, but drifts in to close, thick and dense.

So there’s some hanzi for me to learn. I’ve been inspired by reading about the biochemist and sinophile Joseph Needham in Simon Wincester’s excellent book, Bomb, Book and Compass.


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