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VietNamNews

Dictionary gives chapter & verse on VN culture

Update: September, 29/2013 - 15:43

Hot off the presses: The new must-have dictionary for expats outlines cultural life in Viet Nam and is on sale at 44 Trang Tien and 46 Tran Hung Dao streets, Ha Noi for VND 210,000.

by Lady Borton

Here's a "Must-Have" book with gems to delight the reader on every page.

For years, I have had the Vietnamese version of the newly published Dictionary of Vietnamese Traditional Culture edited by Huu Ngoc on the "three-foot shelf" over my desk. The back on my Vietnamese version is broken, its pages turned down, and notes written hither and thon.

Now, we have a sumptuous English version eight years in the making.

Long-time readers of Viet Nam News will remember Huu Ngoc's column, "Traditional Miscellany". Dictionary of Traditional Vietnamese Culture just out from The Gioi (World) Publishers gives us tidbits of scholarship from Huu Ngoc (and other contributors, too), with the topics organised alphabetically for quick and easy reference. According to Huu Ngoc, the English version of the Dictionary is far superior to the Vietnamese and French editions.

If truth be told, this is not a dictionary. Rather, it is a mini-encyclopedia. The Dictionary is a handy paperback (14.5 by 20.5cm) in a solid but trim 375 pages, not counting some terrific pen-and-ink drawings. Each entry presents great details, including relevant Vietnamese terms in parentheses for easy access or easy skipping. And lots of fun sayings!!

Kudos to Huu Ngoc for sure, but as a "line editor", I'm also in admiration of the work done by Almos Maksay. For the first time ever, I've had in hand an encyclopedia (either general or on a specific topic) in English with not only a consistent voice but a voice displaying a wry sense of humor.

The design by Hon Hoi is perfect. The Dictionary is easy to read and easy to peruse. Watch out! It's tempting...! Choose at random the letter "B", for instance, and dip in toward the end of the entries for that letter: You'll find "body warmer", "buffalo fighting", "bullfrog", "burial", "But", and "butterfly".

Since we in northern Viet Nam have been floating about more than usual during this year's rainy season, at random, I chose "bullfrog". Here's the entry: "bullfrog (enh uong). An amphibian with a toothless upper jaw and smooth skin, the bullfrog lives in pools, ponds, swampy rice-fields, and bushes. The most common species is Kaloula pulchra, which appears after heavy rains and emits deafening croaking, making its belly swell and float on the water's surface. Common saying: Ban bo tau enh uong (selling one's ox to buy a bullfrog): acting like an idiot."

OK. Don't act like an idiot.

If you live and work in Viet Nam, this book is a gem well worth having on your "three-foot shelf".

If you are passing through Viet Nam or want to buy a small, durable gift that is "rat Viet Nam" ("very Viet Nam"), look no further. This is the book you want. — VNS

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