I was attracted to the Dao De Jing at a fairly young age. It took over a decade, though (as I was reading a related text—I can't remember which one, maybe the Zhuangzi), for it to suddenly dawn on me how alien this was from the way of reasoning that's been ingrained in me through the culture I was brought up in.
I had been able to extract tons of enjoyment (and, hopefully, insight) from them already at that point. But from then on, the daoist classics suddenly looked very different to me. They took on a depth that I hadn't seen in them before.
A related book I would recommend is Edward Slingerland's Trying Not to Try. A very interesting dive into the concept of Wu Wei. His interpretations of the old texts get a little one/two dimensional at times, but he also brings along a lot of insight.
The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao;
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth.
The named is the mother of ten thousand things.
Ever desireless, one can see the mystery.
Ever desiring, one can see the manifestations.
These two spring from the same source but differ in name;
this appears as darkness.
Darkness within darkness.
The gate to all mystery.
Therefore, it is questionable, whether the second '道' really means 'say; tell' in the text before 2000 years.
So the text is meant to do something else, like help others start thinking and learning for themselves.
It shows a random passage from a random translation, with an attribution link to the long dead parent site. I should probably dump the db back to the constituent pieces, enduring issues and all.
Initially it was a test for rails, but I rewrote it in php ages echo.
For example, the original spelling of Shakespeare in 1609 looks something like this:
From off a hill whoſe concaue wombe reworded,
A plaintfull ſtory from a ſiſtring vale
My ſpirrits t'attend this doble voyce accorded...
Vpon her head a plattid hiue of ſtraw...
As early as 1700 people have been modernizing (for example) Shakespeare, going so far as to add apostrophes that weren't there (I remember one guy in a discussion with me on this topic lamented that modern editions removed apostrophes, when in fact they were added by editors in times past...).
Our small, entirely one-for-one spelling edits are in the same spirit. For your example, I don't think removing the apostrophe from "phone" changes the meaning of the text at all. It does remove the explicit announcement to the reader of "phone" as a contraction (though a clever reader will notice that the word "phone" occurs in the word "telephone" in this same story); but does it change the story's meaning? Or, is it more like replacing the long "ſ" in the quote above with a modern "s"? After all, removing "ſ" removes the history of our written language as a descendant of Roman cursive script, which, like the history of "phone" being a contraction, is something that someone somewhere probably would prefer to preserve!
The only difference between SE and the editors of old is that we're being upfront about it, and we give readers a chance to undo those changes using Git, if they prefer. And, ultimately, our editions don't prevent anyone from reading older editions with their preferred spelling variant preserved. Old books with old spelling and 100% faithful digital transcriptions are out there for everyone to still enjoy. We're just another option for readers who want to enjoy a timeless book without having to fight through dated spelling. :)
I do think removing the apostrophe from "'phone" changes the meaning, because it implies a different relationship to the technology. It's like writing "internet" without the capital I. This is still considered incorrect, but it's becoming more common, and I think eventually it will replace "Internet". The loss of the capital letter, just like the loss of the apostrophe, shows the technology fading into the background and losing its novelty.
And the works of Shakespeare are an extreme example, being older than most works on the site. I'd prefer the original spelling, but for works of that age I can understand changing it. I'd set the publication of Johnson's "A Dictionary of the English Language" (1755) (or a few years later) as the cut-off point for spelling changes.
I think, rather, in text a character's relationship with technology is part of the text, not of the spelling. A character does not know how he spelled "phone" when they're speaking dialog. The sounds out of his mouth do not include an apostrophe whether it's there in the spelling or not.
And, I think there are plenty of people who would be just as upset at using Johnson's dictionary as a cutoff for spelling. If we demand original spelling in everything we read, why is any cutoff acceptable? (Or so they would argue.) Of course, I disagree that a we need a cutoff at all, or that spelling matters in the general sense :)
(Of course, spelling can matter when the text makes a point to be old-timey; so if you note in the H.P. Lovecraft short fiction example, the "A Reminiscence of Samuel Johnson" short story retains its archaic spelling and style, because Lovecraft wrote it archaically on purpose. In fact we retain several archaic spelling styles in Lovecraft that we might otherwise modernize, because he was famous for thinking of himself as an "aged antiquarian" and wanted his prose to reflect that. This is where a careful and well-read editor matters, and those are the kinds of people we have volunteering at SE.)
Ultimately it comes down to taste, and the trust you have in the editor of the volume you're reading. This project is unintentionally making it a mission of mine to reveal to readers how much of what they've read in the past and think is "genuine," has in fact been heavily edited by many people on its journey from first printing a hundred years ago to your hands today, no different than what we're doing. SE just says so up front and gives you the option to undo.
I proposed Johnson's Dictionary because it's the first English dictionary that was widely accepted as authoritative. Before then you could argue that there was no real standard spelling, and all that mattered was whether writers could be understood. After it was published, idiosyncratic spelling gained meaning.
>In fact we retain several archaic spelling styles in Lovecraft that we might otherwise modernize, because he was famous for thinking of himself as an "aged antiquarian" and wanted his prose to reflect that.
I checked Lovecraft first for that reason, and I was relieved to find the changes were much less than I feared.
There are always going to be some changes in grammar...
Consider this edit:
This is a character who would know that "'phone" is short for "telephone", but it's changed so that he says "phone". It ruins the effect of telephones being new and modern technology, and makes them so commonplace that people are no longer consciously aware that the word "phone" is an abbreviation. (Although it actually does need an edit, because the automatic conversion of the ' failed and turned it into a ‘ instead of the correct ’.)
A representative sample translation from the beginning of stanza 20:
Don't spend too much time
thinking about stupid shit.
As for the best translation, the Penguin edition translated by D. C. Lau might be it.
If you're really interested in it, I would recommend getting both of these – the synthesis helps.
I concede that can be troublesome. But, from a different perspective, it’s also kind of liberating.
> understanding Dao De Jing is problematic even for native speakers of Chinese
That being true, it allows you enough room of not being ashamed of your own interpretations, if you find them useful. In that sense, the text is much more alive, talking to you directly, instead of being an unsolvable puzzle that takes you away from it.
Road to Road, very Avenue;
The beginning of the unknown world;
There is the mother of all things.
Therefore, often do not want to observe its wonderful.
Often, they want to see what they are.
Both of these have different names.
With the same meaning,
The door of the public.
The Taoism, the very way;
The name is famous and very famous.
The beginning of the nameless world;
Yes, the mother of all things.
It is often not, to view it.
Often there is a desire to view it.
The two are the same names.
The same predicate of metaphysics,
Mystery of mysteries,
Many wonderful doors.
Modern Chinese has a lot more multisyllable words than classical Chinese. That tends to narrow meanings.
If I have to pick a favorite it's probably https://taotedev.com/2016/01/29/3-state-v-action/