Chinese fire drillって何だ?

前回に続いて、最近読んだ小説 "Gravity" で見つけた表現について書く。スペースシャトルの打ち上げに向けた次の場面に出てくるものだが、この「中国式火災訓練」とはいったい何のことだろうか。

The atmosphere in the FCR (= Flight Control Room) appeared icy calm, as were the voices on the comm loop. It was the image NASA strove to maintain, of professionals doing their job and doing it well. What the public seldom saw were the crises in the back controller rooms, the near-disasters, the Chinese fire drills when things went wrong and confusion reigned.

人目につくところでの沈着冷静さとはうらはらに、裏舞台ではてんやわんやの大騒ぎということだが、辞書を引くとまさに、そうした状態を指す言い回しとわかった。

- (Informal: Sometimes offensive) a state of chaotic, often clamorous disorder [Origin: ‡ 1960-65]

この他に、自動車にまつわる悪ふざけを指すという。こんなものがあるとは知らなかった。

- (offensive) a prank performed while stopped in a car at a red-light; each passenger (including the driver) shouts "Chinese fire drill", exits the vehicle, runs at least once around it, then re-enters, taking a different seat.

- a prank in which the passengers of a motor vehicle that is stopped at a stoplight, get out and run around the vehicle before returning to their seats

次のような語義と注もあった。

- (offensive) a silly, pointless exercise

- Usage notes
Although this term has seemed to have lost all traces of an insulting meaning, it is possible some might be offended.

Wikipedia には、どうしてこんな表現が生まれたのかについての説が載っている。興味のある方は参照していただければと思う。
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_fire_drill

この記事から引用したいのは、由来よりも、むしろ次の記述である(原文を適宜改行した)。偏見は、言語表現にも影響を与えるということであろうか。

The term is traditionally explained as coming from a British tendency around the time of World War I to use the adjective Chinese as a slur, implying "confused, disorganized, or inferior."

Other "Chinese" slurs of the day included "Chinese national anthem" (an explosion) and "Chinese puzzle" (one with no solution).

In this context it is related to the stereotype of the Chinese as being "inscrutable", hard to judge, and difficult to understand, all relating to the British experience of a sophisticated but distinctly alien culture. There are earlier isolated examples which were based on ideas of the inferiority of the Chinese.

また、The Word Detective というサイトにも、この表現についての説明があった。
http://www.word-detective.com/back-x.html#chinese


参考エントリ:
Gravity (Tess Gerritsen)
「固有名詞にちなむ表現」一覧