Who put the 松 in 马拉松?

Chinese is a pretty ancient language, with some characters* still resembling the original drawings that people made thousands of years ago. But often, new inventions or words are invented, that weren’t in any previous Chinese dictionaries. Some of these words are Anglicisms – words that sound like the English words, but have been spelt out in Chinese characters. Here are a few to get you warmed up, let’s see if you can guess them (answers at the bottom)

  • 沙发 shafa
  • 可口可乐 kekoukele
  • 比萨 bisa
  • 伦敦 lundun

Another one is 马拉松, the Chinese word for marathon. As you can see, there are three characters, and each one has it’s own meaning:

  1. 马 ma
  2. 拉 la  and
  3. 松 song

So when you put them together, they sound like marathon – malasong. Do you hear it? So let’s look closer at the characters and their meanings:

  1. 马 means horse, which I think is fair, considering the distance in a marathon
  2. 拉 means pull, tug, transport, moving, play (string instruments) etc, which is also ok, considering you have to move yourself a long way to the finish line and it involves energy
  3. 松 however, is different. it means pine tree (which is fair if there are pine trees on the route), but it also means loose, relaxed, slack, untied which are not words I would associate with a marathon.

I just completed my first half marathon yesterday, it was in China, so I thought about this during the race. Who put the 松 in 马拉松? because there were points (especially after my dreaded 17km stage) were my muscles were definitely not loose and relaxed, I wasn’t relaxed, and I didn’t want my shoelaces to be untied either!

Do you have any idea where this came from? Do you think it’s funny?

Here’s a video to the Running Man tv show, the lyrics to the chorus are: brothers, let’s run together GO GO GO GO, run, run, run. People played it aloud on their phones during the race, it definitely got in my head and is kinda catchy.

*by characters, I mean the Chinese symbols they use as letters

Answers to the test: 沙发 shafa (sofa),可口可乐 kekoukele (coke), 比萨 bisa (pizza), 伦敦 lundun (London)

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