I was browsing through this Classical Chinese Character Frequency List, when I noticed there was an entry for ‘entropy’. Really? The ancients had a word for entropy? That is so cool... If it is true. Not true, of course.
First produced by Chinese physical scientist Hu Gangfu (胡剛復) in 1923 to translate the concept of entropy in thermodynamics, where 商 (quotient) means the quotient of heat and temperature, and 火 (fire) means it is relevant to the thermodynamics. [no source given]
So, if this Wikipedian is correct about the origin of the word, this guy Hu created an entirely new character to use as a new word. Not a new word using existing words, no, he constructed a new character from the signific fire and the word shāng 商 (in its third meaning of ‘quotient’) as phonetic. Result: 熵 shāng.
I suppose that’s how in classical times they used to make Chinese more and more unintelligible when spoken out loud.
Still, 熵 shāng is only the forth shāng in DeFrancis. But I doubt that even a physicist who knows all about 熵, will get it when someone sighs shāng - the other words pronounced shāng (商, 傷, 墒) probably being more frequent or relevant out of context.
More realistically, I know that I can point at something decaying and sigh ‘entropy’, or even say out of the blue: ‘I hate entropy!’. Would that be possible in Chinese, outside of a physics class?
I asked this question on chinese.stackexchange.com.¹ Single morpheme/syllable words in Chinese are (with the exception of a number of words that are used very often, like 看, 貓, 走, etc.) somewhat more context dependent, even among people that in theory know the word in question. It will therefore be natural to use shāng 熵 only with sufficient context. People that don’t know shāng 熵 will of course have no idea.
Among English people there are a lot of people that don’t know the word ‘entropy’ either, but since it’s unique at least there is no confusion with similar sounding words. The other words pronounced shāng in Chinese will probably add to the confusion of someone who doesn’t know shāng 熵 to begin with.