Category Archives: Chinglish

Politically Incorrect Chinglish

Students I teach are often tested onstage to make sure they have what it takes to be orators. If they tremble onstage in front of the mic, that’s not the end of the word: this is why we have Nobel-grade scientists and world-class TED speakers, both on the same planet!

However, amplified Chinglish should be banned. What’s tricky is they’re everywhere, and they’ve had, as I’ve discovered, a tendency to even get political. Here’s just a selection of the most politically incorrect Chinglish I’ve heard from my students…

“Democracy People’s Republic of Korea”

When discussing issues over north Korea, some used the “official”, long title of the country, which in reality is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Long name, I know. I wish it was all of the above instead of the Kimland that it is today.

But onwards. That’s a grammar mistake. Democracy describes a current state of political affairs, or the attribute of a modern nation-state. The adjective democratic should be used here instead.

“Community Party of China”

This is not a new-born / illegal party in the Middle Kingdom — it’s what students erroneously refer to as the ruling party, the Communist Party. The trouble is — they have a hard time trying to make “community” and “communist” sound different.

It’s also worth pondering how the party’s name is written in English. I favour the verbatim translation, making it the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), but I know Beijing’s approved version is a little different — the Communist Party of China (CPC). It’s also a case of how you translate the official name of the country — if it was a verbatim translation, the People’s Republic of China would have become the Chinese People’s Republic. The fact that most Western news outlets use CCP instead of CPC means that when talking about this to Anglophone audiences, for example, they’d be probably more familiar with the CCP than the CPC, although the two are much the same.

“Unit States of America” / “Unit States of American”

They also at times have trouble pronouncing the official country name in the States. Unit States sounds just so wrong — they’d have ideally added the -ed at the very end.

There’s another big problem in Chinglish country names: some of us make little distinction between a country name and its adjective. Hardest hit are Germany – German, Switzerland – Swiss as well as that impossibly-hard-to-understand trio — United Kingdom / Great Britain / England. If they’re not referring it in Chinglish to Englishland or English, they’re assuming “UK = England”, which would make those of us in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland look at those poor, innocent students funny.

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.

Politically Incorrect Chinglish Disasters

What the heck is this… independent Beijing and independent Yanqing?

Spotted at the crossing between the Litian Highway and the Airport Side Road.
Should read: Beijing City, Urban Beijing or Beijing Urban Area.

Spotted on National Highway 110 in Changping.
Should read: Yanqing County

(I remarked earlier last year that this problem was still yet to be fixed!)

Something’s horribly wrong at the Taiwan Association of Logistics Management…

It’s the Chinglish, of course. There are billions of bones to pick there, but this stands out as particularly hilarious:

January 1996 Publish propagation booklet “Introduction to Logistics.

August 1996
Co-host “The 2ND Taipei International Logistics Show” and Conference with Chan-Chao Corporation. The Show is held every year since then.

See for yourself here (it’s deep into the page). Here’s where the whole thing’s out of control:

* “Publish propagation booklet…”: Taiwanese propaganda? All too sinister to me. Better said with “published Introduction to Logistics booklet”. Leave out the propaganda bit. And by the way, add that second quotation mark.

* “Co-host “The 2ND Taipei International Logistics Show” and Conference with Chan-Chao Corporation…” I nearly screwed up and thought they meant the Chow-Chow Corporation (orz). First, it’s “2nd”, not “2ND”. Second, dump the “The”. And lastly, “The Show is held every year since then” doesn’t make sense at all. It should be “the show has been held every year since.” Neat and simple.

Even our buddies at the wrong side of the Straits have it really, really difficult in translating stuff from Chinese to English…

Zhongguancun 1st Bridge versus Zhongguancun Bridge 1

Beijing is redoing all road signs. In one of its best moves, it dumped the “MS imperialist” Arial font and opted for national font neutrality — it stuck with Switzerland’s Frutiger, and his Univers font.

Along with the font change, however, also comes the re-emergence of officially approved Chinglish. Zhongguancun, in particular, is being hard hit. All bridges are being Chinglishified as 中关村一桥 becomes “Zhongguancun Bridge 1″.

That’s weird already. They should change it to “Zhongguancun 1st Bridge”. (I emailed the “guys in charge” and my email remains unanswered. What else do I expect…)

Here’s why:

Question 1: Is this the first bridge in the series in the Zhongguancun region?
Answer 1: Yes.
Next Steps: Rename it “Zhongguancun 1st Bridge”. Next sign, please…

5th Avenue, Zhonghua 1st Road… Something xth something-or-other isn’t all that weird. (And our “Taiwanese compatriots” use it for Zhonghua 1st Road in Taipei, by the way, so it’s all supposed to be “real local”.)

The upshot:

Wrong: Zhongguancun Bridge 1
Right: Zhongguancun 1st Bridge

When Cars Run Into Each Other

If you’ve been around the nation long enough, you will notice a yellow triangular sign with the picture of a car running into a truck. (I did it once and it felt downright horrible… no injuries, though…) This sign is supposed to warn you of a so-called “accident black spot”.

Except for that nobody in the western world really calls it an “accident black spot”. I was in touch with folks on the wrong end of the Pacific, and they said that they call that kind of road either a “hazardous road” or a “treacherous road”.

“Dangerous road” or “dangerous section” might also do well. Of course, that’s referring to the Chinese term 事故多发 — or “accidents happen often” (verbatim translation).

So — drive carefully!

Don’t say “f**k” or “sh*t”

The Chinglish I’ve posted on To Take Notice of Safe.com are all “civilized Chinglish”. Out on the Web, however, you can find mangled Chinglish which even have the dreaded F-word and S-word in them, like F**k the certain price of goods or Electrical toilet, please do not s**t.

Apparently, Chinglish, too, is an obnoxious “language” so-called.

How Not to “F**k”

The dreaded F-word in Chinese is (WARNING: Coarse language!) 肏, but is often remixed as 操, especially in North China. This has the intercourse-ish meaning and is also used when you’re in a Vesuvian temper. However, the Chinese also use the characters 日 and, in particular, 干.

The trouble with all this, of course, is the character 干. Far from just being a swear-ish-character, this also means “dry”, especially in simplified Chinese. (In traditional Chinese — this gets better — you want to avoid 幹, which is the curseword, and 乾, which means “dry”.) Some foods just aren’t all that wet, so to speak, so we have “dry foods”, which is 干食. Unfortunately, this easily translates into “F**k Foods”.

But why pick f**k” for the character 干? Some writers of Chinglish want their signs to have more character, or appear more humanized (“keep out”, as opposed to “inhibition astraddle transgress”, so to speak). So they turn to imported “slang US English dictionaries” (and there are plenty of them) and their ilk. Unfortunately, they take the off-colour words (like “f**k” for 干) as “standard” and write them out for the world to see — in Chinglish.

Fortunately, I have yet to see a single Chinglish sign with my very own eyes bearing the F-word on them…

How Not to “Sh*t”

Some of us never left a farm, and as a result, appear a bit less “civilized” than others. Others just don’t give all that much and forget to dump their bad habits. I’ve seen about a couple dozen gents in Audis who decided to “water the grass” on the freeway (they must have been like me, guzzling way too much mineral water). Some of us, too, can’t hold it when nature makes a call, and dump it just about anywhere.

The problem is more pointed in China, where, unfortunately, we have the odd guy letting it out outside of the public conveniences. As a result, there is more than one park that has apparently had enough and, as a result, posted a signpost telling people “禁止大便” (don’t drop your droppings here). Unfortunately, that sign sometimes gets translated, word-by-word (sans the politesse filter) to “No Sh*tting”. (Its minor sibling, “禁止小便” or “禁止便溺”, is sometimes referred to as “No Urinating” instead of “No P*ssing”).

Probably the best thing to do is just to dump these signs, especially in big cities where there are a lot of expats. Most of us know that to dump it all out in the dead centre of a park is not a good idea.

100 Chinglish Pics and Counting…

Whew. It wasn’t all that easy collecting a hundred Chinglish-laden pics (given that I’ve my 1998 – 2005 photo collection on my Mac mini — my files are all over the place), but here they are: 100 Chinglish pics, and counting…

Some of the funniest pics:

* To put off Xuanda Expressway. To put in Jingzhang Expressway. (Xuanda Freeway, Hebei)
* You have got into TONGZHOU. You have got into SHUNYI. (Shunyi-Baimiao Highway, Shunyi/Tongzhou, Beijing)
* Walk the Street. (Ying County, Shanxi)
* Please Take Saft Belt. (Beijing)
* Pestrooms-Men. (Baodi Wenquancheng Service Area, Jinji Freeway, Tianjin)

…and a lot more, both here and coming…