Tag Archives: Chinglish

And sprinkle it with nonsensical English

Those verbal decorations in full.

I’ve been meaning to mention a Merida bike which has been parked just beside the  door at the west end of the bike park at school. It’s a white-framed racer with flat spokes and probably costs more than mine. It sat there for some time before I noticed the words on the top crossbar of the frame: Lolita Complex. Why? No idea. If it said “Stand Alone Complex” and had a picture of Motoko Kusanagi, I might understand. I certainly don’t want to look Lolita Complex up because I suspect I’d find myself at the sleazy end of the Internet. I’m surprised the bike wasn’t the Merida Humbert Humbert.

On the way home today, I had just passed 五爱路 when I saw a woman wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Used daisy can” on the back. Apart from this being a random collection of English words, I can’t begin to fathom whether it’s meant to mean something.


Dona eis requiem

Sign me up for some of that, abbot!

As I was walking down the corridor at school this morning, I passed one of the illuminated manuscripts noticeboards as I normally do, but today the words

A-level volunteer and postulant organisation

caught my eye because here we have a.) some obvious Chinglish and b.) a word I’ve never seen before. According to my dictionary, a postulant is a person seeking admission to a religious order. Lisa the Librarian knew the word, but she admits to reading too much historical fiction.

Obviously the next question is what the Chinese says.

A-level 义工与志愿者协会 (Yìgōng yǔ Zhìyuànzhě Xiéhuì)

My little dictionary at school wasn’t all that helpful, but from further research when I got home, it appears that it means “A-level Volunteer Work and Volunteer Association” although 义工 and 志愿 can both mean “volunteer”. The former seems to be referring to work and the latter specifically to the person (志愿者 is an agent noun).

So where do the postulants come into all this? 志愿 can also mean “aspiration, wish, ideal”, which suggests that the translator (human or otherwise) took 志愿者 to mean “someone who aspires to do something”.

Finally my little darlings had an English exam, and while I waited for the rain to ease (which it didn’t and still hasn’t), I marked PAL 2’s listening. They have the reading and writing exam tomorrow, and right now I have PAL 1’s listening to mark. Pray for me, abbot.

Watch where you’re sticking your best

And not up my retum.

Electric bikes and scooters often have some English words or phrases on them. When I was outside Buy Now (the computer centre), I spotted

We will do our best for you in retum.

My eyes started watering when I read that – until I realised that it wasn’t a matter of a missing “c”, but of “rn” being misread as “m”. I uncrossed my legs and proceeded on my way.

Are you quite sure you want to say that?

Yet another of those sorts of T-shirts.

Toxic summer T-shirtI got a snap of the T-shirt I saw in Carrefour the other day. I suppose that “toxic” might indeed be quite an appropriate adjective considering the state of the environment, but I think it might be a more suitable description of the Internet at the moment. At school at least it’s got very difficult to access quite a few sites.

When I get the opportunity, though, I’m going to see whether it’s any more difficult in the classrooms upstairs because I’m wondering whether the line from our office is being deliberately interfered with. For example, I tracked down the Junicode font a couple of days ago, but it took me some time to be able to download it because I either couldn’t access a page or I’d be redirected to some search engine page and would have to try reloading the page.

On the other hand, when I was looking at the same pages from one of the computers in the classrooms I didn’t have any problems at all. Mind you, that was just one time and no proof of anything.

I see that the Americans are going to spend US$30 million on fighting online cэnσorσhιp. Yeah, that’s so going to work. If you looked at traffic out of the Empire, whether it could successfully connect to some external website or not, just where would people be going? What proportion of the country even strays outside the box? If access was allowed to blogspot, YouTube, and Facebook, who would actually go there? Mind you, perhaps we need someone to go Admiral Perry on the Ministry of Raging Paranoia and kick the door in. But it is the Ministry of Raging Paranoia, fighting the good fight against that worst of enemies – the people.

Banking Chinglish

Give us a clew.

Having been collecting 一角 coins in a plastic bag which was beginning to bulge a little, I decided that it was high time I disposed of them at the bank. At the window of each teller, there was a sign saying 银行提示 (Yínháng tíshì) and in English, “Bank’s clew”, which puzzled me, and I eventually worked out the character 提, which I knew I’d seen, but couldn’t initially remember.

According to my phone, 提示 (n) means “present the draft; presentation” (remembering, of course, that my phone is from Hong Kong), while my dictionaries translate it as “point out; prompt”. It seems to be trying to say “reminder”.

But what of the “clew” part? My immediate guess was a variation on the word “clue”, and I was right. “Clew” is an archaic  (15th century) spelling of “clue” and another tribute to the idiocy of automated translation.

(Cross-posted from Green Bamboo LJ.)

In which Mr Bamboo relaxes


To celebrate the mid term exams, the weather turned wet yesterday afternoon and has shown no sign of letting up since until about half an hour ago when the deluge eased sufficiently for me to head home without getting as saturated as I had going or coming to school in the past twenty-four hours. The weekend, as I may have noted, was rather humid and by Sunday evening, the smell of smoke in the air, which I took to be from stubble burning, was noticeable. Monday was even hazier than Sunday had been and eventually a windy cold front arrived, washing away the smog and drowning the uneven roads and occasional cycle lanes in deep puddles.

At times like these, I have to wonder whether the Chinese word for drainage (排水 páishuǐ; or 旅水 lǚshuǐ; or 排水法 páishuǐ fǎ; or 排水设备 páishuǐ shèbèi; or 排水系统 páishuǐ xìtǒng; or 排出的水 páichūde shuǐ[1]) has quite different connotations from its English counterpart. Downpipes from gutters spew water all over the ground without any attempt to direct the water somewhere. (Perhaps northern China might be a good place to send it.) The surfacing of roads and footpaths seems to have been done without considering the consequences of inclement weather.[2]

However, as a consequence of the exams, I have, of course, been doing some marking. I got through the PAL 2 English exam yesterday which, if it’s an indication of anything, suggests that most of the class should consider the extended curriculum. I marked a few of the AS exam papers this afternoon and was dishing out A’s as if I was giving them away.

And now, a slight digression. The year is 1984 (I think) and I’m doing German in my second year at university. I remember our German teacher telling us about teaching English in Germany and how easy it was after seeing the same error so many times to begin to doubt yourself. I’m beginning to get that way with relax which, as any EFL teacher here knows, is regularly misused, being treated almost without exception as a reflexive verb when I’d use it intransitively.

I have no idea where this comes from, but it’s so common that I can only suspect it’s either how the verb is used in Chinese or some peculiar feature of the Chinglish students get taught in schools. I have to admit that relax is a good candidate for a verb which might indeed be used reflexively. It can be reflexive in Italian (rilasciarsi, rilassarsi); in French ([se] relâcher, [se] détendre); and in German (sich lokkern; sich entspannen). Latin and Greek, on the other hand, appear to be like English in that the equivalent of the intransitive form is not a reflexive verb. And, for that matter, Chinese appears to be the same (although appearances can be deceptive).

But having seen relax used reflexively so many times, it’s beginning to seem quite natural and I’m beginning to think that the error lies with me. I even wondered whether it’s a feature of American English. The crude stats from Google are

relax myself 39,600
relax yourself 277,000 (including a UK website with that very name)
relax himself 60,200
relax herself 54,000 (which leads to adult sites and an EFL quiz from the Beeb)
relax ourselves 106,000
relax themselves 21,000

But this information is of limited value because I don’t know who wrote these phrases or whether they might be in a sentence such as “I like to relax myself with a glass of wine” where myself is an emphatic reflexive.[3] A lot of instances might come from Chinese students on EFL websites. I don’t know whether the predominance of 2nd person sg/pl and 1st person pl forms is significant.

It’s not just relax that’s bothering me. There’s been more than one occasion of late when I’ve wondered whether my correction to some solecism is actually just as un-English as what I’m trying to correct. It seems that the shepherd may be becoming like the sheep.

1. 排水设备 and 排水系统 seem to refer to drainage systems; 排水法 might as well. Once again, it seems that Chinese has at least half a dozen words for everything.
2. Lest it appears that I’m deriding the quality of road construction in this country, I should note that attempts to drain roads in wet weather in 18th century England by placing a cant on them led to coaches toppling over where such a method of drainage was attempted.
3. Probably I’d say “I myself etc.” If I say the sentence out loud, there’d have to be noticeable pauses either side of myself.

Give us this day our daily Chinglish

It’s gibberish, Jim, but just as we know it.
ptown When I went after some oil for my bike chain this afternoon, I noticed this shop across the street. I have no idea what it’s meant to say. Perhaps the owner is taking the… [Don’t say it! Don’t even think it! –ed.]
I took a trip to Walmart after tea tonight and went for a little stroll around the place. I see that the audience for free-view DVDs has shrunk, the queue for eggs has gone, and the place is busier than it was when I first went there, but what caught my eye was some of the signs in the fruit and veg section. Have you ever heard of flurbunwiths? This is the alleged, er, translation of 酸菜 suāncài “pickled vegetables”. I can’t see any connection between this and flurbunwiths in the way “usa califoruia brrf noodlr hing” (on the menus in California Beef Noodle King) is obvious.
jimao cai But there were other peculiar labels such as “and boolean” for 黑布林 hēi bù lín which, according to Baidu, means “black plum” where I assume 布林 is a quasi-phonetic rendering of plum. Then there was 鸡毛菜 jīmáo cài (see picture) which was translated as “cooking chicken feathers”. The word 鸡毛 is in the dictionary and seems to be used in phrases meaning something that’s small or trivial, but there’s no mention of the vegetable. There was also 伊丽莎白瓜 yīlìsuōbái guā (see picture below) which was translated as Elizabethan melon; or, to be more exact, the Chinese is obviously a rendering of “Elizabethan”. The questions are what the melon used to be called (because I don’t imagine that it always had this name), why the name was changed, and why this became the new name. I can’t imagine the word “Elizabethan” has the same resonance to the Chinese as it does to me.
elizabethan melon

I note in passing


Indeed, I passed 70,000 hits at about 8.45pm last night. Don’t know who the lucky winner was because Pope B. of, er, Valencia City (? bloody awful handwriting; can’t tell where the place is) ticked the box requesting anonymity. Well, if the Pope wants to be anonymous, I should respect his wishes. The caller was someone who seems to have been going through old entries (although that might be several people for all I know).

(Later. Seems it was a crank call from the Archbishop of Canterbury. Those boys are such a pair of wags. There was this other time when the Archbishop of Canterbury turned up at the gates of the Vatican dressed as the Pope’s wife, only she turned up a few minutes later, was arrested by the Swiss Guard, and tortured by the Inquisition for six months until they realised their mistake. She can laugh now, but only after she’s taken extreme painkillers. [Oh, crap. He has nothing to say. –ed.])

Almost the end of the week. We do, unfortunately, have to go in to school on Sunday to give the little darlings their end-of-the-month tests and then on Monday because the stupid system doesn’t understand Monday-to-Monday holidays. I might use Jonathan Dimbleby’s Russia series to take the strain since I got two more discs of it from my Dad the other day.

The PAL classes are being good, but the AS class has neither the level of English nor the commitment, though I can’t blame them if they have no love for the books. NorthStar isn’t exactly exciting (but it’s not meant to be; seems more like a book for someone who’s serious about studying English) and Learn to Listen You Little Bastards is similarly fairly dull stuff (and, again, the sort of book for someone who’s a bit hardcore).

Meanwhile, Colin continues to get personal statements from the A2s, which are works of fiction by and large. The problem is that he (and to a lesser extent, I) has been correcting them only to find that he gets the same sort of thing back again because they’re being produced according to some model which none of the A2s can produce without perjuring themselves because they lack the breadth of experience that their Western counterparts might have. They ought to be honest.

“I’m a Chinese school boy/girl. My life revolves around going to school, being taught copious quantities of knowledge, but having no understanding of any of it. I have no hobbies or interests relevant to my subject because I don’t have time to cultivate them, but I do play basketball or Counter-Strike or go shopping or chat on QQ when my parents aren’t making me do extra English classes at New Oriental or English First. I’m doing physics / maths / chemistry / business because, er, something to do with some advanced nation reacting to centuries of writing 八股文 as a means of advancement, which retarded the country’s technological development; but although I may have an aptitude for the subject I want to study, I have no real interest in it. My dad’s an engineer / a boss (I have utterly no idea what he does) / etc., so that’s what I have to be regardless of what I really want to do. I know, though, that my parents’ capacious coffers will ensure that my application for a place at your university is greeted favourably.

PS, My English hasn’t progressed in two years because the absence of any exam for it deluded me into thinking that it wasn’t important. I hope you will admit me to your Foundation English Programme.”

While we’re talking about foundation English, a couple of weeks ago I saw some girl wearing a T-shirt which said, “No paint, no gains”. Sage words since seeing which, I’ve been buying paint. However, I now realise that it was a slogan for Chinese paint manufacturers. Advertising is cunning.

Meanwhile, the decorations have been going up for the National Day Holiday (the day when Chairman M. stepped close to the microphone and said, “No, I don’t want to buy the Thoughts of Chairman Mao.”), which this year will ignore 30 years of misery and celebrate 30 years of an increasing gap between the haves and have-nots. This city, for example, is absolutely crawling with very expensive, brand new cars, and they’re not being driven by the 老百姓. I don’t think I’ll ever be in China so long that I’ll ever cease to despise motorists and deplore the stupidity of all road users. Or pedestrians. The pavement is there for a reason.


Achtung, baby!
idaho t_shirt
Two T-shirts spotted in Hotwind this evening. The first one says “Idaho. It is incumbent upon us to do so”; the second, you can read for yourselves. I can only assume that Idaho is some weird reverse rendering of Adolf Hitler in Chinese. I don’t know whether this is something Hitler said, but a quick nose in Google yields nothing immediately. The phrase is fairly generic.
Oh well, I suppose Chinese people go into clothing shops in the west and see the weirdest things in Chinese.

You mention Chinglish

And then three phrases come along at once.

With the Olympics nigh, Chinglish has been featuring on Language Log lately. The latest post on the subject – Should we laugh at Chinglish? – is about a post on Chinglish by James Fallowes. On the original question, it’s often hard not to laugh at Chinglish, although there’s a continuum from the completely bizarre to the use of utterly inappropriate vocabulary to mundane errors.

The question is also being asked why no one is getting native speakers of English to proof this stuff; but we’ve been asking that for years. Stephen Jones’ comment on the Language Log entry is

I think the reason is that the foreigner is just that – a foreigner.

There’s a tendency in Chinese schools and universities for the foreigner to be seen as a conversation teacher, a trained monkey designed to amuse. The serious teaching is done by Chinese English teachers.

I don’t think that’s quite the reason why, but Jones is right about one thing: we’re the novelty act. Yet in six years of being the novelty act, I’ve never sought to simply entertain and I’ve never believed that stealth learning in any form is effective.

[18.07.14. Actually, I now think the comment is a little more accurate than I originally thought. The Chinese aren’t keen on foreigners teaching English for the College Entrance Exam because we can’t teach the weird thing that they think is English, an odd creature which is a mix of 19th century / American English (which are not exactly dissimilar things) with some British English thrown in for good measure.]

So what is the reason? Why don’t the Chinese collar native speakers and ask them (nicely) to check their translations? My early theory was that the translators would lose face if their translations were always being corrected. That may be part of the reason. It may also be because if someone is doing the translation in-house, then you don’t need to pay some foreign consultant. Bigger bribes for everyone.

Anyway, I see the sun is shining today, and it’s about time I got out of here and went on an adventure. Perhaps I’ll espy more Chinglish on the way (which is how I can work this comment into this entry).

[18.07.14. Six years later and nothing has changed. We’re not just the novelty act, but we have to compete with TOEFL and SAT essay teaching, which students clearly regard as far more important than actually learning actual English.

Similarly, at the bottom of the escalator from the checkouts in Carrefour, there was a Kawaii booth lining the wall until recently. The shop sells cheap trinkets aimed at the female market. For some reason it’s now gone, leaving a bare wall punctuated by a door. On the door is a sign which is trying to say “Keep clear”, but says instead, “No jamming”. I know one of my current colleagues, who’s a keen guitarist, will be dis­ap­pointed by this injunction.]