Translation principles acupuncture point names
For my English translations from the Chinese acupuncture point names, there are certain principles that I have adhered to.
I have limited myself here to my translations of the 361 basic acupuncture point names from the WHO, and have excluded the extra points.
Categories of point names
The point names appear to adhere to a limited number of forms or categories. The five that I identify are:
- Effect that the point has
- Indication for using the point
- The terrain on the body near the point
- The location of the point
- An act that one can perform to find the location of the point
A detailed discussion of these categories is here on a separate page.
For translating from ancient Chinese, I use webpage software that I make myself, and I need digital dictionaries for that.
When I translated the Yijing, I tried several online dictionaries. I eventually settled on AC Muller's CJKV-English Dictionary of Confucian, Daoist, and Intellectual Historical Terms, as the one most suitable for translating old Chinese. Since the point names seem similarly old, I believe the same dictionary is suitable.
Some entries are not there in this dictionary. The character 髎 that I translate as 'bone notch,' which is there in quite a lot of point names, is one such example. It is often there as 'hip bone,' which can't be correct. The particular meaning 'bone notch' is also missing from other dictionaries that I use, such as Wiktionary and CCDICT. CEDICT has '(TCM) space between two joints,' which seems better, but it can easily be checked that it is not correct: most of the points with 髎 are not located at a space between two joints. The meaning mentioned in the text 'Was acupuncture developed by Han Dynasty Chinese anatomists?' which is 'bone‐hole' comes closest, but these bone-holes are often just a small depression in the bone, hardly a hole. I prefer 'bone notch' as this seems fitting for most of the locations of these points.
When trying acupressure on a point, one of the first things one may notice is a feeling that is elicited. That feeling is often about the effect on the psyche of the point, more than that on the body. This is how I believe that the acupuncture points were discovered: people found that by pressing on particular spots on their body, a particular feeling would come up. Since this is so directly noticable, when one gets to know the effects of points by experience, rather than from theory, it makes sense that the naming of points was often influenced by this. So, the psychological effect that one can feel is in many cases what the point name describes.
However, it is easier to sense the feeling tone of the effect of a point, than it is to know what exactly it is that one feels. Pressing on a point on the Large Intestine meridian can give a kind of fresh feeling, for example, but what does that mean? This is something that has needed research, and there aren't so many texts available that describe the psychological effects of points.
Traditional Chinese Medicine isn't so much concerned with psychology. TCM is mostly aimed at solving bodily problems, and seemingly 'calms the Shen' is about the most that is said of a psychological effect. That lacks an explanation of how exactly the Shen is calmed, which would need insight into what a point is actually doing. And actually, the majority of the 361 acupuncture points do have psychological effects.
Such understanding is, however, there in Worsley's Five Element Acupuncture. The 'Acupuncture Point Compendium' by Claire-Louise Hatton comes from that, and does describe psychological effects in many instances. I have used that a lot to gain insight into the psychology of acupuncture points. However, it doesn't always, and when it doesn't but there apparently is a psychological effect, I have simply tried myself, using acupressure or by putting Tiger Balm on a point.
Even though some have referred to Five Element theory with translations of points, I don't see clear signs of Five Elements in the point names.
A detailed discussion of the Five Elements is here on a separate page.
As a general rule, it seems good to put the English words in the same order as the Chinese characters. Howevever, English has different grammar as old Chinese, so the order of the English translated words can differ from the Chinese.
English point names that one sees elsewhere are often kind of short. Usually there is one English word per Chinese character. That may be practical when using a point's name, however meaning can easily be lost by that shortness. To have names be meaningful, they sometimes need to be somewhat longer.
As an example, I prefer my long 'In Front of the Top of the Head' to 'Anterior Summit.' The name 'Anterior Summit' is pretty much meaningless to me, but I'm quite clear of what 'In Front of the Top of the Head' means, and why this point DU-21 前頂 has that name.
Some have argued that incorrect copies of chinese characters are there in point names, and that some characters would need to be replaced by other ones. I am highly suspicious of this approach. I have seen Zhouyi (Yijing) translations that were absolutely horrible, as a result of translators deciding that the characters would really need to be different ones, and that they knew which they should be. That, while a translation that absolutely makes sense can be rendered without doing that at all.
I am not saying that mistranscriptions haven't happened. Actually, I've wondered about 夾白 that is around instead of the normal 俠白 for LU-4. I just think that if point names containing particular characters have survived for so long that they have ended up in the WHO list, that is based on consensus between several parties, they need to be taken as the given ones.