Hen Kerlien
October 14, 2009 9:49 AM   Subscribe

Hen Kerlien (or, hěn​ kě​ lián​). For when an anglophone needs a phrase that suggests a child walking alone in the world.
posted by Greg Nog (25 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Pure awesome.
posted by carmen at 9:59 AM on October 14, 2009


Hmm, it's usually the Germans who have the perfect expression for things like this.
posted by mylaudanumhabit at 10:00 AM on October 14, 2009


Aww!
posted by leotrotsky at 10:05 AM on October 14, 2009


Not sure I get this. It suggests "a child walking alone in the world" to zarinov, but certainly not to most Mandarin speakers I know, for which it just means literally "sad/pathetic/pitiable." I'd even drop off the "very" since "hen"(meaning "very") is used so much in Mandarin that you basically never hear expressions like that without it prefixed.
posted by pravit at 10:07 AM on October 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


(and for what it's worth, "hen kelian" usually conjures up imagery of helpless puppydogs for me)
posted by pravit at 10:15 AM on October 14, 2009


Forlorn.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:21 AM on October 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


During a large group therapy exercise with a hundred or so 9th graders and a few adults last week, participants were asked to cross a line if "they were ever belittled because they were perceived as fat" or "if they or any friend or family member was gay." (You get the idea, and the purpose. It was pretty emotional for a lot of kids.)

Anyway, one of the line-crossing prompts was "if you ever felt alone or abandoned?"

Everyone but two people crossed the line. I knew one of the two: he was autistic.

More than making a point about autism, I am saying that most of us have experienced this feeling and it is interesting to hear it as a succinct expression in another language.
posted by kozad at 10:22 AM on October 14, 2009


Is this just a LJ entry about one guy's personal interpretation of a Chinese expression? I'm with pravit here. I don't really get it.
posted by specialagentwebb at 10:24 AM on October 14, 2009


"A child walking alone in the world" is a great image, but it doesn't necessarily connote "pathetic" to me. Although perhaps that's because I'm the stereotypical "older, more independent" child.

Fantastic post. Reading it has now made me wonder - how on earth did I survive childhood without ever having a bowl haircut? My mother certainly took enough nicks out of my ears with her sewing shears, but somehow managed to avoid ever giving me a bowl haircut. I must remember to thank her for that.
posted by EvaDestruction at 10:25 AM on October 14, 2009


Is Hector Malot's 19th century bestseller Sans famille that unfamiliar in the rest of the world?
posted by ijsbrand at 10:25 AM on October 14, 2009


Love this, thanks!
posted by everichon at 10:29 AM on October 14, 2009


Also cf. the English usage of "poor" to express sympathy, e.g. "poor you."

For what it's worth I've also heard "kelian" used in the same sense as we'd use "it's a pity" in English - e.g. to express regret at unfortunate events.

I wouldn't even go so far as to call it an expression; it's really just a word meaning "pitiable" in general. It certainly doesn't come anywhere close to some German words in exactness of describing a certain feeling.
posted by pravit at 10:32 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Even when she was with people, in some ways, Helen Keller always walked alone in the world.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:56 AM on October 14, 2009


I've always wished there was an English version of this phrase; for me it's pathetic, in a really adorable way.
posted by danny the boy at 11:29 AM on October 14, 2009


Touching. Poignant.

Hen motherfucking kerlien!
This is poorly done. You don't use motherfucking in a poignant context.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:59 AM on October 14, 2009


Seems reminiscent of Pobrecito.
posted by Scoo at 12:06 PM on October 14, 2009


Uh, backing up pravit. This isn't really a category, so to speak, and doesn't usually denote lonely children; the author (of the one LJ link that is this FPP!) is just riffing off of it, the way Dave Barry might on the equivalent in America.

Also: The phrase for me usually conjures up pitying aunties (no relation by blood) using the phrase sarcastically in reaction to some imagined site by the cheek-pinched child.

Also, pt. II: Fans of this may enjoy "Si le," which means "to death"--i.e., "It's hot to death today" or, less literally, "This heat is killing me."
posted by johnasdf at 12:42 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Lie Bot, what is the saddest thing ?
posted by kcds at 12:59 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


> Is this just a LJ entry about one guy's personal interpretation of a Chinese expression? I'm with pravit here. I don't really get it.

Yeah, not to harsh anyone's language mellow here, but this is just one guy's association of meaning to a fairly common phrase. The association he makes brings up a nice image, but unless you're talking with somebody who connects that specific image to that phrase, there's not... really a point? You'd just be communicating that something is sort of sad and pitiable, perhaps in an "aw, that's a bummer" kind of way.

More interesting, I think, would be something along the lines of the four-character idiomatic phrases that tend to compress some interesting levels of meaning into a compact expression. These are phrases that have a pretty definite set of associated meanings - One a Day's a good blog to look into for that. One of my faves isn't poignant at all, just sort of fun: 人山人海 (ren shan ren hai). Literally, that's something like "people mountain people sea," just, SO many people, more than a mountain of people, more than a sea of people, they're everywhere! I tend to associate a sense of incredulity with it. For example, if you're astounded by the vastness of the crowd and how ridiculous it is, you could tell a buddy, "Man, this is insane! REN SHAN REN HAI!"
posted by cobwebberies at 12:59 PM on October 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Sorry -- "imagined slight"
posted by johnasdf at 1:01 PM on October 14, 2009


There's a distinct tender aspect to 憐 lián which seems to fit quite well with the usual English 'pity' and 'pitiable', the Erya has: '憐,爱也' but then 哀 and 爱 seem linked in some way too and occasionally interchangeable in some early texts, e.g. the Guanzi: 国虽弱,令必敬以哀.
posted by Abiezer at 2:39 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Interesting one, Abiezer. I am also reminded of the term 疼, which can mean "pain", or "to dote on". The concept of love/affection in Chinese seems inextricably tied with melancholy and hurt.
posted by Alnedra at 7:16 PM on October 14, 2009


Probably a stretch, but looking at the phonetic element the Shuowen has: 兵死及牛馬之血爲粦 which Xu Kai glosses as the accumulated blood of dead soldiers, oxen and horses on an old battlefield, so possibly to do with the emotion evoked by that sort of affecting scene of past horror - I mean the truth untold,/ The pity of war, the pity war distilled./ Now men will go content with what we spoiled,/ Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
posted by Abiezer at 8:11 PM on October 14, 2009


Late to the party again... Abiezer, I imagine that you know that ‘可怜’ in old poems often means 'lovely'. I could only find one sample of this, '春江可怜事,最在美人家。' But I could swear that there's a far more well-known poem.
posted by of strange foe at 11:04 AM on October 15, 2009


Oh, I didn't osf - I mean, I'm aware of current compounds like 怜爱 but hadn't seen 可怜 used in the way you point out. Iiiinteresting!
posted by Abiezer at 11:19 AM on October 15, 2009


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