Confucius 'Say' or 'Said'? Which is Correct?
Copyright ©2023 - November 11, 2023
Some scholars say that the word 曰 ought to be translated as 'said', and the scholars also say that using the word 'say' is racist.
From my own personal experiences, some people use 'Confucius say' or 'Zi say' while writing draft word-per-word translations, and the individuals might then follow by using 'said' (or another synonym) when writing the finished translation. The purpose of using 'say' is to merely establish to the reader that the sentence's original word 曰 infers an act of speaking, and from there the reader can finish translating the sentence. If the reader does not have enough interest to finish the translation themselves, then the draft words become accepted as final to the reader.
If there is a question of why a person uses the 'say' word, then there is always the choice to ask the person why they say 'say'. Without first asking, would not the conclusion be based upon imagined assumptions? Scholars never ask questions. Scholars' claims are imaginary.
The scholars also speak of the old Charlie Chan movies having been an early example of people saying "Confucius say". The scholars' mention may be correct, but the Charlie Chan movies also used terms like "noble son", of which to some of us was interpreted as a kind and endearing (but not intended as literal) phrase. (A person can say 'hi honey' to a lady, but it does not infer that the speaker believes the lady is bee honey.) I surmise that how a person interprets a phrase may depend on the person's own personal history. If a person has never experienced racism, then they might not know that specific words are interpreted as racist by other people. Korean dramas sometimes poke fun at people's accents from where I live (Texas), but I laugh because the humor is true (our accents can be terrible to everyone except ourselves!). Too, my genetics tends to have specifically shaped eyes, and though we speak of ourselves as having slanted eyes, we know to not use the word 'slanted' for other people because a lot of people interpret the word as being negatively racist.
If saying 'say' is racist, then saying 'howdy', or 'darlin'' (the word 'darling' is pronounced so terribly eeky-wrong to many of us!), or any other English word must also be racist against Texans. In the past, some local schools were in the top .1 percentile for achievement tests. We children spoke many English, Spanish, and Tex-Mex words. We knew the difference between 'say' and 'said'. We also knew that different languages have different mental patterns. To at least one of the two boys with the highest IQs in school, 'Zi say' is more in harmony with the written ancient Chinese mental patterns; saying 'Zi said' is more in harmony with modern English patterns. To some of us, the mental patterns are more important than schoolroom English grammar.
The sense of beauty within another person is relative to one's own body shape (some people call it 'genetics'). Cows are not beautiful (at least not to me!) because they are not shaped relative to my own body shape. Specific eye shapes are appealing to me because I also have similar eye shapes. Ottowa and Cherokee eyes can be appealing to me, but it is the Tibetan eyes that make my heart feel pressure. For me, I may use the word 'slanted' while attempting to communicate great admiration for a person's shape of eyes, but some people are angry with the world, and they insist that my admiration is racist. All people are different, and you cannot please everyone.
My friends and school mates all had different shaped eyes: round, lean to the left, lean to the right, small openings, large openings, English, Irish, German, Japanese, Filipino, Chinese, Cherokee, Ottowa, etc. etc.. Everyone also had different attributes; some were bright, some were dull, some were polite, some were rude, some were honest, some lied, some were fat, some were skinny, etc. etc.. To me, everyone was unique because everyone was de facto unique. I myself have not yet met an individual who is pure anything; all cultures have influences from many other cultures, and no one physical feature is a discerning factor of a person's ancestry. To me, everyone was indeed different, so I did not know what 'racism' is until I was an adult. To me, skin color and nationality mean nothing; the things that do have meaning are whether the individual is intelligent enough to be polite, caring, gentle, honest, and mature (well, body odor means a lot too!). Simply stated, words are words, and words do not infer a racist content, except, perhaps, to people of whom themselves are racist.
In my business, I had over 10,000 customers, many of whom were repeat customers. My five favorite customers, each had different skin colors. Skin color means nothing.
All languages have different mental patterns, and so, for myself, I care that an English translation conveys a mental pattern that is understandable by individuals of whom themselves know what the ideas represent within their own lives. The firsthand experience and memory of having uttered words is the real item of importance, while the words 'say' and 'speak' merely point at what was real.
An example is 'Zi say junzi bosom virtue'. Read 'Zi', pause, picture in one's mind an ancient man named Kong Fu Zi. Read 'say', pause, remember the acts of speaking words, remember the physical sensation of speaking words, and then apply the firsthand understanding to what the word points at. Read 'junzi', pause, remember one's own highest inner qualities, remember meeting a man of splendid behaviors, and then apply the firsthand understanding to what the word points at. Read 'bosom', pause, remember one's own feelings when holding a thing that is dear to one's own heart, and then apply the firsthand understanding to what the word points at. Read 'virtue', pause, remember one's own highest heart-felt inner qualities, remember meeting a person who expresses similar inner qualities, and then apply the firsthand understanding to what the word points at.
You can name an apple a 'banana' or an 'airplane' or a 子, but the fruit will always remain what it is. Words mean nothing. No word of any language has meaning. The only meaning is what you yourself know to be true from firsthand experiences. 曰 only means what it means to you. You can say 曰, you can speak 曰, you can utter 曰, and you can mumble 曰, but 曰 still only means what you yourself have experienced in your own life.
For myself, when reading the ancient Chinese texts, I do not care what the Chinese and English words might be defined as within dictionaries. I read each word as what it implies within the real world of real firsthand experiences. 'Kong Zi exhale-vocal-cords-vibrate-cause-sound-of-words inwardly-beautiful person hold-tight-to-warm-heart soft-caring-for-others'. The act of heart-felt valuing of virtue, cannot be described with words of any language.
Zi say: junzi bosom virtue, scholars bosom English dictionaries. (a play on Li Ren 11)
Is it not racist for scholars to demand that ancient Chinese language translations must use the modern English grammar-accurate 'said' word? Why are scholars racially prejudiced against Cherokee, Ottowa, Texans, and people with higher intelligence than their own? If 'say' is racist, then so are 'said' and all other English words racist. Too, if English grammar were so important, then why has no known English-speaking scholar ever been able to form a coherent English sentence when translating ancient Chinese text?
For me, I interpret no racism nor disrespect when a person uses 'say' (unless the person is speaking it with a hateful tone), but that is just my own personal interpretation.