In the movie “The Big Short,” two Chinese characters are displayed in Dr. Michael Burry’s office at Scion Capital. (Blink and you’ll miss them.) These characters—欲 yù and 恐 kǒng—are at the heart of the Wall Street proverb, “Financial markets are driven by two powerful emotions—greed and fear.”
Fittingly, 欲 yù means greed, desire. 恐 kǒng means fear.
Perhaps they really were part of Dr. Burry’s office décor or maybe their role represents a wink and a nod from the screenwriters. Either way these Chinese characters are clever props in the scene.
More about 欲 and 恐
欲 yù and 恐 kǒng are phonetic-semantic characters. That means you’ll find clues to each character’s sound or pronunciation (phonetic) and meaning (semantic) by looking at its parts.
欲 yù combines the two radicals 谷 gǔ (valley) and 欠 qiàn (to lack, to owe). 谷 gǔ is the phonetic part, suggests the sound for 欲 yù (gǔ rhymes with yù). 欠 qiàn is the semantic part and gives a clue the meaning (when you lack something, you desire it).
恐 kǒng means fear. It combines 巩 gǒng (solid, secure) on top and the heart radical 心 xīn on the bottom. 巩 gǒng suggests the sound in 恐 kǒng (gǒng rhymes with kǒng) and heart 心 suggests the meaning (your heart stops when you’re afraid).