Chinglish Alert! “Columbus is the first guy to land in the America land”…

Chez nous it’s orals time again… that time of the year when students are tested by standing in front of a microphone, mastering Keynote / PowerPoint presentations, and telling others their own stories they’ve prepared.

We’ve obviously had a fair number of students who have done very well, but I’ve also heard a fair bit of gibberish. Without revealing who said what in detail (isn’t privacy always a good thing?), I’ve decided to list some of the Chinglishes I’ve found and decrypt them…

• “Columbus is the first guy to land in the America land.”

One of my students actually wanted to say Columbus was the first [Westerner] to land in the Americas”. Trouble is, his bit of Chinglish has a number of serious mistakes:—

  • Columbus is the first guy… No, seriously: How sure can you be that he was the first male member of the human race to land in the Americas? Native English speakers hit the details pretty hard, so I’d rather you not mix “slangese” with “reality-ese”, so to speak.
  • …to land in the America land. Here, there’s one land too much: also, if you wanted to mean the whole of the Americas, use — that’s right, the Americas instead. “The America land” hardly makes much sense.
  • The whole sentence is also very awkward and it is mere truthiness to suggest Columbus “was there first”. We’ve cases of the Aztec, the Native Americans, those from the First Nations, etc, being there ahead of Columbus. So your sentence — sorry to say this — is wrong when it comes to the facts.

• “Relevant stuffs.”

When I hear this, I instantly think of the closest “proper” English word using “stuff(s)” — which will have to be foodstuff. So you’ve already sent me barking up the wrong tree to start with.

I can kind of understand your meaning: you most probably wanted to say 東西 (dongxi) or 玩意兒 (wanyier), which means, in slangspeak, things or stuff. My favourite was from another fellow student, who wrote to me in “rap-slang” asking me if I’d be interested in interesting “stuffs about China” (in essence: stories about China).

I’d have probably ended up writing items or objects instead. First, it’s not slangese; second of all, it’s much more understandable..

• 1907 (year) = “nineteen seven”?

I know what you’re on about here: You’d pronounce 1996 as the year nineteen ninety-six or alternatively, nineteen-hundred ninety-six. Zeros are — OK, so most of us think we can skip the zero. Right?

This is probably why we got a few students trying to “read” the year 1907 as the year “nineteen seven” — simply because there was a zero in the year. They might be thinking: we don’t “read out” / “spell out” zeroes, so it’s no surprise, really, that they end up reading it as nineteen seven, which I’m more tempted to decipher as 197 (19… 7… 197).

The correct way to do this, then, would be to call it nineteen oh-seven (zero sounds a tad odd, the way I’d see it). And just because you might have called 2007 two thousand (and) seven doesn’t mean you can forget the zeroes altogether.

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