Sheep, Goat…it matters!
The Chinese New Year started today, and because Chinese words are vague and not as specific as English words, there has been some debate as to whether we are celebrating the year of the sheep or the year of the goat. According to Lala Zuo, a Chinese language and culture professor at the US Naval Academy in Maryland, assets there is no wrong translation—just various ways of translation. It all depends on the context.
“Few ordinary Chinese are troubled by the sheep–goat distinction,” Xinhua, China’s main state-run news agency, said in its report on the debate. “However, the ambiguity has whipped up discussion in the West.”
Well, of course it has…
A goat and a sheep are different no matter the context. Sheep are usually, but not always, wool-bearing animals. They are of the genus Ovis. Sheep are usually raised for wool and meat. Very few are also raised for their milk, which is used to make specialty cheeses. A ram is an intact (still has testicles) male sheep that is used for breeding.
Goats are a member of the genus Capra. Goats are usually raised for milk, and dairy goats are often raised for meat and fiber. Goats don’t have wool; they have hair. Mohair comes from goats.
A goat’s tail points up, and a sheep’s tail hangs down. Sheep say “Baaa!” and goats scream (at least on the Internet).
Goats are smarter. Have you ever heard anyone say “Don’t be a goat”? Probably not. On the other hand, sheep are considerate. When sheep eat grass, they leave the root for the next year, but goats eat the grass root and all.
Zhao Shu, a folklore expert at the Beijing Institute of Culture and History, thinks the whole debate is just plain silly. He writes that the Chinese culture has a more inclusive spirit and stresses harmony. Ha! I bet Zhao Shu was born during the year of the rat and has never had to struggle with the sheep-or-goat issue.
It’s not my struggle either, but if it was, I would seek clarity over harmony. So, I did the only sensible thing: I went into a Chinese restaurant, ordered some takey outey, and looked at the placemat. Problem solved. It’s the year of the sheep. You’re welcome.
Happy Lunar New Year. The Year of The Sheep! Baaaa.
Odd Loves Company,