We’ve all heard the New Age-y proverb about the Chinese word for “crisis” being a combination of the characters for “danger” and “opportunity.” (I just ran across the canard in the 2001 CLCV Scorecard [good luck finding it online; it seems to be long gone] and my skepticism was immediately piqued.)
According to a Professor of Chinese Language and Literature at the University of Pennsylvania, it’s pretty much bullshit.
On his web page entitled “danger + opportunity ≠ crisis,” Professor Victor H. Mair writes:
The explication of the Chinese word for crisis as made up of two components signifying danger and opportunity is due partly to wishful thinking, but mainly to a fundamental misunderstanding about how terms are formed in Mandarin and other Sinitic languages. For example, one of the most popular websites centered on this mistaken notion about the Chinese word for crisis explains: “The top part of the Chinese Ideogram for ‘Crisis’ is the symbol for ‘Danger’: The bottom symbol represents ‘Opportunity’.”
He goes on to explain the three fatal errors in this misconception: