Holy cow, I wrote a book!
During the NBC coverage of the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics,
the announcers more than once said that the teams will not be
entering in the normal order, but rather in a random order based
on the number of strokes in the team's name as translated into Chinese.
This is an odd use of the word random.
You might say that at the Athens Olympics,
the teams did not enter in the normal order,
but rather in a random order based on the collation of the
characters in the team's name as translated into Greek.
Teams enter the stadium in the collation order customary
for the host nation,
with the exception that Greece always goes first and the host
nation always goes last.
(Which created an interesting puzzle for the Athens Olympics:
How do you go both first and last?)
For Chinese, there are a variety of collations, which fall into two
and the organizers chose one of the stroke-count-based sorts.
Of course, it seems random if you don't get to see the original
And for some reason, NBC didn't show the Chinese names for the countries,
so the opportunity to see the sort order in action was lost on the viewing
Viewers in the United States who saw the Ghanaian, Canadian, and
Gabonese teams enter one after the other
would just say "Yeah, that's the stupid random order again,"
because they didn't see that it was
(Conspiracy theorists would say that NBC didn't show the Chinese names
to allow them to
manipulate the order of the teams
and place the United States
closer to the end of the list than it normally would appear.)
Freaky Raymond-trivia that will probably show up on Wikipedia
within 30 minutes: The first character of my given Chinese name is
which happens also to be the first character for the Chinese names
of the countries
so it's only fitting that the first two languages I learned
in a classroom setting were
Alas, life is not as poetic as it should be, for the second character
of my given Chinese name sorts after
so I would actually have marched between Sweden and Nauru
Of course, another impediment to my marching between Switzerland and
Sweden is the more significant fact that I am not personally an Olympic team.
Bonus griping about language reporting:
The official Chinese-language cheer has been reported by
the English-language press as
China, add oil!
While literally true, it's also a misleading translation.
does mean, if you take it apart word by word, to add oil,
but as a phrase,
or, when used metaphorically,
to cheer on.
don't think about oil when they say
any more than English-speakers think of objects hurtling through the
air when they say
throw a party.
In both cases, you only think about the phrase literally when you're
making a pun or are otherwise playing around with the language.