The signs they are a-changin’.

Thanks to the Salon’s British correspondent BC for the following story from the BBC:

China Stamps Out Poor English

China has launched a fresh drive to clamp down on bad English in the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Previous attempts to wipe out Chinglish – the mistranslated phrases often seen on Chinese street signs and product labels – have met with little success.

Emergency exits at Beijing airport read “No entry on peacetime” and the Ethnic Minorities Park is named “Racist Park”.

Beijing city authorities will issue new translation guides by the end of the year, Xinhua news agency said.

The booklets would be handed out to hotels and shopping malls, on public transport and at tourist attractions.
Chinglish has become a running joke among many foreigners in China, and several websites have been set up listing humorous examples of mistranslation.

A road sign on Beijing’s Avenue of Eternal Peace warns of a dangerous pavement with the words: “To Take Notice of Safe; The Slippery are Very Crafty”.

Menus frequently list items such as “Corrugated iron beef”, “Government abuse chicken” and “Chop the strange fish”.

The mistranslations arise because many Chinese words express concepts obliquely and can be interpreted in multiple ways, making translation a minefield for non-English speakers.

The municipal government in Beijing first tried to stamp out the problem just a month after being awarded the 2008 Olympics back in 2001.

A year later the Beijing Tourism Bureau set up a hotline for visitors and residents to tip off examples of bad English, and said results would be reviewed by a panel of English professors and expatriates.

I admit that this linguistic clean-up initiative saddens me. In much the same way that I love spam poetry, I adore both unwittingly funny translations and weird signage, and have often taken pride in my people’s excellence in both fields. (Fayetteville, incidentally, also proffers the occasional gem—for example, the delightful sign near the one-lane bridge that declares “Road Closed When Underwater.”) Still, thanks to the BBC for making the most of the Chinglish situation by giving us the following visual, with original caption:

Occasionally, a sign makes sense.

In other news, today is Z’s birthday, so direct all your warmest thoughts his way.


Add 33 years and make a wish, Z.

7 thoughts on “The signs they are a-changin’.

  1. Menus frequently list items such as “Corrugated iron beef”, “Government abuse chicken” and “Chop the strange fish”.

    Not only would I eat at a restaurant that served such dishes, I would go out of my way to patronize the place.

    Hell, I might have to open it. The Tzara Cafe!

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