If you were going to name your band FUNK SHUI you would have to be making a pun on the ancient art of FENG SHUI. Feng Shui literally means, “wind water” and refers to the method of landscaping one’s estate to allow the proper flow of wind and water through it. Controlling the floodwaters is the first duty of the Emperor and controlling the waters on one’s own empire is the first duty of the lord of the manor. The proper placement of trees and the buildings in relation to trees and earth to control the wind is supposed to bring fortune and health to the family that dwells upon it.

The Chinese language is tonal. Tone makes a meaning difference in a word. In English tone only affects the meaning of a sentence. Example: “You have the cat” vs. “You have the cat?!?!?!” Read them aloud. One is a statement one is a question, in the written form delineated by punctuation, in the spoken by tone. Say the word “cat” in any register and it means “cat”. Not so in Chinese. Saying “feng” in a level tone in Chinese and it can mean, “wind”. Say it sharply with a falling tone and it can mean “phoenix”. There is meaning change.

Homophony is rampant in Chinese. In English we spell “led” and the metal “lead” differently but they are pronounced the same. I am counting some 10 “feng” in the first tone each with a different “spelling” (character) and a completely different meaning. That is not counting “feng” in the other 3 tones.

I asked Dr. Jonathan Pease, head of the Chinese Department at Portland State University in Portland Oregon how one would say “funk” in Chinese. First he informed me that his slang was not current, and that it is probable that there is a word for the American music known as “funk” but that he did not know it. Dr. Pease’s specialty is literature and poetry, and suggested a way to construct what he called a “perfect pun”. He took the word “feng” in the first tone, meaning wind, and drew the “sickness radical” around the character for “wind”. The pronunciation remained the same, but now it means “crazy”. He was visibly pleased with himself for the humble man I knew him to be. Our “feng shui” means “crazy water”, which is descriptive of our sick rockin’ funk.

“But Shag, what about the ‘k’?”

Modern Standard Chinese, widely described as “Mandarin” has no syllable finals p, t, or k. Whenever you see a syllable final p, t or k, you are seeing Cantonese or one of several regional dialects. The standard dialect of the humungous China has undergone radical pronunciation changes over the centuries. Although there are no recordings, and the phonetic elements of Chinese are vague, there are ancient surviving rhyming dictionaries and similar reference materials. The rhyming dictionaries are arranged such that one can track ancient pronunciations by noting what words are grouped together that today have no rhyme. Once upon a time the p, t and k was a standard final in the “ru sheng” category. Those finals disappeared and became absorbed by the other tone categories. Short story long, it is POSSIBLE that “feng” was once pronounced, “funk”.

The name of my band is FUNK SHUI. It is based on a Chinese language pun, and has specific characters with a specific comedic meaning. It also has a possible ancient pronunciation connection to the English language pun. If you know of another band named Funk Shui and they are still together by this time next year, please to ask them what characters they have transliterated to arrive at their name and what meaning it translates to.

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