Nôm Na Là Cha Mách Qué

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Hey you!  Nôm na là cha mách qué!

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Say what???

Whatever dude.  Your Momma too.   Dumb ass.

I would have this attitude because this sooo sounds like such an insult.  This sentence cannot be said without it sounding like an insult.  Nobody knows why.  At least, nobody in the modern world knows why.

Well, I do—now.

Back in the old days, (and I mean really old—like a thousand years ago—old), this was an insult to those who used Chữ Nôm to write anything with.  (I detailed Chữ Nôm in my previous post so go back and read that if you are not clear on this aspect of the post).  The sentence, when uttered and hurled at someone meant that the person being insulted was an ignorant uneducated commoner, unable to comprehend that which exists at higher levels, written with elevated, respectable Han Chinese.


The commoners could care less.  They rather enjoyed it and actually proliferated the idea and endorsed that saying until it saturated all corners of Vietnam.  The saying continued forth through the years, unchanged in meaning, deriding and jeering the commoner and his usage of street language (as opposed to court language).  It still survives to this day and used in the same derisive manner.

I tell you…

Most folks have no clue as to its original meaning.  If they only knew the truth, they would…


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…they would smile and continue to proliferated the idea so that it would remain intact for future generations, that’s what they would do.  You see, it is a huge clue that has been left to be transmitted down to future generations during a time when the written knowledge of this was banned on fear of death and persecution.

kingThis was evident in the retelling that was detailed in a history book called Tiêu Sơn Tráng Sĩ, written by Khái Hưng, about the reign of King Quang Trung, aka King Nguyễn Huệ (阮惠) which lasted from 1788 to 1792 (more about this important king in future postings).

In a short passage, there was described, a scene where a visiting dignitary who was dispatched by the Emperor of China from the north to check on the compliance of Han Chinese decrees by the kingdoms in the south, cried out in horror:  “Ignorant!  All of you are ignorant!  From King to Courtiers, you are all ignorant!”

He was, of course, talking about the fact that King Quang Trung was using Chữ Nôm to write his kingly decrees, instead of using the more elite and advanced Hanzi as required by the Emperor from China.

Indeed, the truth of the matter was, King Quang Trung had previously insisted to his subjects that all decrees written in his kingdom, courtly or not, HAD TO BE WRITTEN in Chữ Nôm, and it had nothing to do with whether he knew Hanzi or not.  As I have previously stated, those who were part of the court HAD TO LEARN HANZI because that was the language of the courts.

In fact, because he lived most of his life within the royal palace, King Quang Trung probably knew Hanzi better than he knew Chữ Nôm, and most likely, he knew it far better than the visiting dignitary, who could not have been educated in the manner that princes and kings were.  The only reason for King Quang Trung’s decree was because he wanted the Vietnamese to use the language of the south that had been cobbled together by the southerners (the Vietnamese) for the southerners to use.

This language, though not the original Văn Khoa Đầu, was at least NOT the language of the overlords from the north.  Furthermore, it was not illegal to use and would not cause the wrath of the northern Han Chinese to rain down upon the common subjects.  Most importantly, it allowed King Quang Trung to NOT have to honor the language of his enemy by using it.

I don’t know about you, but if it was good enough for my king, it’s good enough for me!

So, to answer the question about what the heck Nôm na là cha mách qué means, I’m sure you must have figured out by now that the first word has to have something to do with Chữ Nôm, and you would be absolutely correct!

Here is the breakdown:

1)  Nôm is Nam in modern-day Vietnamese, as in Việt Nam or Nam Script as used in this context.

2)  Na is na ná, which means ‘similar to’ or ‘akin’, as used in the context of this sentence.

3)   is the verb ‘to be’.  In the present tense, it means ‘is’

3)  Cha is father or teacher; in this context, it means teacher.

4)  Mách is to teach or to instruct.

5)  Qué is quẻ in modern-day Vietnamese and means gua, as in bagua, or the combined eight trigrams.

Put it all together and what do we get?

Nam Script is akin to the teacher of the hexagrams.

And once again, in cleverly hidden messages, in mythology, in stories told to children, in nursery rhymes, even in derisive quotations, my ancient ancestors have tried with everything they had to transfer tiny nuggets of truth down the ages to us so that one day, we can gather them all up and smelt them down to isolate the pure gold from the impurities.  The resulting truths shine like the brightest golden treasures—treasures that my ancestors have fought to preserve so that one day I could recover them and claim my birthright.

Their message is clear.  Learn Chữ Nôm and I would be able to learn the I Ching at the most basic levels.  I would be able to read the I Ching in its most basic form, as it was written so long ago, and as it was written at the time Lao Tzu and Confucius was reading it.  In a sense, we would be contemporaries because we would be reading the exact same text.  I would no longer have to rely on translations of the translations which had been translated from the original texts.

Thank you, ancestors.  Thank you so very much.

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