The abuse of the character "全"
The widely used Chinese character 全 can be translated as "whole", "entire", "all round" or "complete". For example, it is used in "whole-person education" to refer to a popular education concept in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Another commonly used term is the "entire world". It is okay to use the character 全 in such cases.
But until not too long ago, we began to hear people use the term "the whole life cycle". This is clearly a case of going overboard, or, as the Chinese saying goes, "adding legs to a snake". Life cycle is a professional term, referring to a clear concept about the cycle of life from beginning to end. There is really no need to qualify that with "the whole".
Lately, we have seen other examples of going-overboard, which is as dumbfounding as it is amusing.
My publisher referred to the proposed cover designs for my latest book as 全封 or "the complete book cover". Don't the characters stand for 全面封鎖 mean "completely blocking"? Similar uses are found in "complete reporting", used by certain newspapers to refer to their daily reports about the student demonstrations against the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement. People marching in the streets claimed that they represented "the whole society"; politicians liked to assert that they were voicing the opinions of "the whole society" as well, and often carried out an "all-round" attack on their political opponents.
Some people use the characters 全愛 (complete love) on Facebook to pledge their devotion to their loved ones. One cannot help but wonder how they can "completely prove" that their love is 完全不打折扣的愛 (hundred-percent love) rather than simply 安全的愛 (safe love), 成全自己的愛 (love for their own interest's sake), or 委曲求全的愛 (love at their own expense).
全 is becoming redundant in our vocabulary. Does the abuse of the word make it sound "incomplete" if we don't use the word in all of these cases? Do we have to use "complete abuse" to prove that 全 is another problem resulting from the abuse of words? Why do we have to bombard people with the use of so many 全 ?
This article was originally published in Chinese in the United Daily News (20 June, 2014).
21 July, 2014