在德州農工大學當系主任的時候，有一天我在辦公廳外的走道上遇到秘書 Judy 和幾位教授正天南地北談得愉快。Judy 話多又不常思考，見我迎面走來，就沒頭沒腦的跟大夥說：「主任的頭髮好多好密。」
感謝父母的遺傳，我的頭髮的確濃密而又略捲，每次理髮一定要求理髮師狠狠的打薄一下，因此老是留了滿地散髮。聽 Judy 這麼一說，就隨口應到：「其實你們看到的我的 hair（頭髮）只不過是我真實 hair 數目的一半。」
這麼一句順其自然的應對，哪裡想到卻換得 Judy 一句曖昧的回答：「了解了，另外一半 hair（毛髮）一般人一定看不到！」眾人隨之哈哈大笑。
這是哪的話啊！我恍然大悟 Judy 的語義，便靈機一動，就著她的話以及大家的笑謔順勢應道：「如果按照妳的定義，你們所看到的我的 hair（毛髮）其實只是我所有 hair 的三分之一而已。」
英文不少短語或句子裡都會用到 hair，如：He is in one's hair. 這時，hair 已經和「毛髮」風馬牛不相干了，指的是：「他讓我心煩。」由此產生另一句話：Get out of my hair. 意思是「別來煩我，離得遠一點。」Judy 要是知道我的想法，也許真該離我的 hair 遠一點呢。
The English word "hair" can mean the hair on the head and body hair in general. Once translated into Chinese, its actual meaning depends on the context. Different interpretations can cause confusion. I am going to share a personal experience. You can draw your own conclusions after listening to the story.
It happened when I was working as the department head at Texas A&M University. One day, I walked past my secretary Judy who was talking with a few professors in the corridor. Judy was pretty chatty, sometimes speaking her mind quite frankly. Seeing me walking up to them, she commented: "Our department head has very thick hair".
Thanks to my parents' genes, I did have pretty thick and curly hair. Every time I went to the barber's, I would ask her to thin my hair generously. And there would always be a lot of hair on the floor at the end. Hearing July's comment, I replied casually: "What you are seeing is only half the amount of my hair."
But my spontaneous reply was interpreted in a different way. Judy responded with a mischievous comment: "I see. The other half cannot be seen by others." Everyone laughed.
What did she mean? In a second, I realised what Judy really meant, and I responded in the same vein. "According to your interpretation, what you are seeing is only one third of my hair."
This made the professors realise what I meant originally. But Judy was still at a loss, perhaps till this day.
There are a number of expressions involving "hair" in English. For example, "he is in one's hair". Here, hair has nothing to do with physical hair. Rather, it means "He is bothering me". From this, another expression is derived: "Get out of my hair", which means "Leave me alone".
If Judy had known what I meant, perhaps she would have left my hair alone in the first place.
This article was originally published in Chinese in the United Daily News (18 May, 2015).
26 May, 2015