In English, a person says, “It’s all Greek to me,” when they do not understand the words of someone else. In Greek, when a person does not understand, they say it sounds like Chinese. Many languages have an expression that names another language as epitome of unintelligibility. It turns out that in a directed graph, most languages converge on Chinese as the unintelligible language.
This is understandable. Chinese writing, especially Traditional Chinese, is very visually complex. Chinese characters are logograms, which makes learning how to read Chinese difficult.
However, there is a difference between finding Chinese writing confusing and alleging that Chinese people are confused.
According to Wikipedia:
Popular in the United States during the 1960s, a Chinese fire drill is a gag performed by a vehicle’s occupants when stopped at a traffic light, especially when there is a need to change drivers or procure something from the trunk: Before the light changes to green, each occupant gets out, runs around the vehicle, and gets back inside (but not necessarily in his original seat). If one of the participants lags, the others may drive off without him.
Figuratively, a Chinese fire drill is an act—especially, any large, ineffective, and chaotic exercise—by a group of individuals that accomplishes nothing.
Around the time of World War I, British English’s adjective Chinese had a slang meaning of “confused, disorganized, or difficult to understand.” Other examples include:
- “Chinese puzzle,” a puzzle with no or a hard-to-fathom solution
- “Chinese whispers,” also known as “Telephone,” a children’s game in which a straightforward statement is shared through a line of players one player at a time until it reaches the end, often having been comically transformed along the way into a completely different statement.
- “Chinese auction,” a “penny social”
- “Chinese national anthem,” an explosion
- “Chinese landing,” a clumsy landing
- “Chinese cigarette,” a bent, smashed, or slightly torn cigarette.
- “Chinese ace,” an inept pilot, derived from the term One Wing Low (which sounds like a Chinese name), an aeronautical technique
It appears that when you are Othering, associative thinking can lead you to project your own state on to the Other. For example, if you are often confused by Chinese, then you may stereotype Chinese (language, people, culture) as having the typical characteristic of being confused. If you are confused by mixed-raced people, you might stereotype mixed-raced people as being confused.
This would be a reflection of yourself, not a property of the Other.
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