Was my melodic nature lost in translation?
December 27, 2023 7:52 AM   Subscribe

I received an enigmatic fortune cookie fortune that I’d like to try to understand. Is it a poor translation of an aphorism that makes sense in the original Chinese? The fortune read, “Because of your melodic nature, the moonlight never misses an appointment.”

It almost makes sense, and I’d love to know the original if someone can figure it out from the English text. Thank you.
posted by Winnie the Proust to Writing & Language (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'll hazard a guess that it's computer-generated and never passed through the mind of any human being before it came to you.
posted by JimN2TAW at 8:27 AM on December 27, 2023

I have been collecting my fortune cookie inserts for years and have hundreds. They have gotten more enigmatic over the years. I have this book - The Fortune Cookie Chronicles - that you may enjoy about the history of the cookies and the fortunes inside.
posted by XtineHutch at 10:27 AM on December 27, 2023 [2 favorites]

OP, I agree that this was a) computer-generated and b) bearing no relationship to anything in any Chinese dialect.

However, I think the fortune you got is beautiful if you look at it as poetry, and I encourage you to do so. One line of poetry can be interpreted in many different ways, some agreed-upon and others unique to the reader. The "fortune" you got is beautiful just as it is, enigmatic and not-quite-but-almost meaningful.

I'm actually envious, as my Christmas fortune cookie was "Do not let others take advantage of you," which is neither lyrical, nor uplifting, nor even a fortune. I miss real fortunes.

Also, you (and everyone else) might enjoy Jennifer 8. Lee's The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, all about Chinese food culture in the U.S.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 10:34 AM on December 27, 2023 [1 favorite]

I myself have received this fortune (high five, my melodic cousin!). I believe I got it a few years back so I'm not sure it *was* computer generated. I assumed it meant basically what it says.
posted by slidell at 10:42 AM on December 27, 2023 [2 favorites]

This particular fortune dates back to at least 2001. This argues against computer generation, unless you've noticed a lot of fortunes following the same pattern, Madlibs-style. Natural language processing and AI were not capable of generating grammatically-correct freeform text in a particular style (if you can call "faux Chinese proverb" a style) until just a few years ago. Another datapoint: a pre-2001 Google Scholar search for "natural language processing" "fortune cookie" doesn't turn up anything relevant.

I would possibly believe someone ran something back and forth through babelfish.altavista.com and then edited it. Babel Fish existed, supported Japanese and Chinese at the time, and tended to be hilariously bad at handling those languages.

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, for what it's worth, does not mention computer generated fortunes, although it's not an exhaustive history of the minutiae of the industry, so that doesn't rule it out on its own.

Do you happen to recall if there was a brand associated with the fortune cookie, probably on the wrapper? One could always ask the manufacturer!
posted by jedicus at 10:59 AM on December 27, 2023 [9 favorites]

The charcters for melody mean 'revolve' and 'rule' at least according to this site . If you think of a life as a consistent song, it could make more sense. Maybe.
posted by AlexiaSky at 11:04 AM on December 27, 2023 [1 favorite]

This fortune seems to me to be inspired by "Moonlight Sonata".

I suppose it’s conceivable that title was translated into another language and then back.
posted by jamjam at 11:53 AM on December 27, 2023

see i read this and immediately thought "because of the way your heart sings you will always experience the simple and pure joy of gazing at the moon!"

Not sure it has any basis in other mythologies, but as wowenthusiast, and as a member of the cloud appreciation society, being mindful of these simple delights is core to my own values at least, and might generally enhance the average fortune of any given day.
posted by wowenthusiast at 12:52 PM on December 27, 2023 [5 favorites]

Assuming that it has nothing whatever to do with any actual Chinese aphorism, if you substitute "harmonious" for "melodic" it comes closer to making sense. I actually rather like "the moonlight never misses an appointment."
posted by praemunire at 1:24 PM on December 27, 2023 [2 favorites]

My interpretation: Melodies make noise beautiful, the moon makes the night beautiful - due to your ability to create beauty, beauty will never fail to turn up for you.
posted by sohalt at 2:40 PM on December 27, 2023 [2 favorites]

Tangential, but if you haven't already seen it, the film Fremont has a couple of scenes where the topic of discussion is how to write a good fortune cookie fortune.
posted by bricoleur at 3:19 PM on December 27, 2023

My theory, most likely incorrect, is that they used melodic instead of melancholic.

Because of your melancholic nature, the moon never misses an appointment.
posted by jcworth at 10:15 PM on December 27, 2023

I’m no expert but it reads more like Engrish than something a Mandarin speaker would actually say or write. A simulacra of a Chinese poem by someone who doesn’t speak the language.

Anyway here are some famous Chinese poems referencing moonlight, if you’re interested. “Quiet Night’s Thought” by Li Bai is extremely famous and even little children are taught it when first learning Mandarin.
posted by pandanpanda at 8:33 AM on December 28, 2023

It's interesting how many interpretations of this there are. To me it means something like, your ethereal beauty belongs under the moonlight.
posted by slidell at 10:08 AM on December 28, 2023

Response by poster: What amazing answers, thank you! I had no idea this was such a world. I'll be keeping the fortune in my wallet, and just appreciate it as its own melodic creation.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 7:03 AM on December 30, 2023

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