, many words that sound the same as obscene
words are avoided by replacing them with a completely different word. Diverse
examples are found in many different dialect
s. For instance, the Cantonese
word for “tongue
(as food)” sounds the same as the word for “to go bankrupt
”, which people do not wish to hear said, and so it is commonly replaced with the word “auspicious
”, which also means “interest
on money”. A special character
is used for this “new” word, but its etymology is clearly what I have described. I have described another example in a posting at Things You Should Never Do With Chopsticks
. Not only in Chinese societies but also in Japan
s are often surprised to find that many buildings lack a fourth floor, just as buildings in the United States
may lack a 13th floor. (This is especially true in hospitals
.) The reason is the “four
” sounds similar to “death
”, and people feel more comfortable not having to visit the “death floor” when they just want to go to the fourth storey of a building.
An example of avoidance of an obscene word is the Mandarin word for “bird”, which is pronounced niao3but should be pronounced diao3. The latter, however, means “penis”, and in some dialects is a full verb whose meaning I think you can guess. The pronunciation niao3for “bird” has emerged as a way of avoiding the offensive noun/verb in question.
A fuller list of examples would easily run into the dozens. Note that the examples I have given involve avoidance of the sound of a taboo word. How the words are written is not usually relevant. But there is a whole separate tradition in China of avoiding the written characters used in the names of one's ancestors or of the Imperial family.