Saturday, May 8, 2010

Chinglish and 一知半解

My friend, Taylor, sent me this great collection of Chinglish signs that The New York Times just posted to their site. These are some of the best ones I've ever seen:

See All 10 Signs here

Here are some of the best Chinglish signs that I captured with my own camera while in China:

This is an absolute classic. I don't know how it could be more non-sensical. I took it at a youth hostel in Shanghai in 2006.

I don't know about you, but the numbers 7, 11, and 16 sound pretty delicious to me! I took this at a tiny restaurant half-way up Emei Shan.

This really isn't blatantly horrible Chinglish. I really like how it was translated though. From Hua Shan.

This Chinglish is all great. Westerners would be mistaken to think that they don't make the same mistakes though. In an effort to be "fair and balanced," I want to post some extremely lame attempts at Chinese characters done by westerners.

These are from the website - Hanzismatter - which is solely devoted to exposing idiotic tattoos and other westerner attempts at using Chinese and Japanese characters:

This is supposed to say "death" and "life." Unfortunately, the tattoo artist drew "death" mirrored. There are way too many of these mirrored tattoos on Hanzismatter.

This means "Stupid American."

Here is what the person who has this tattoo wrote about it on the internet:

While spending some time in Japan, I was lucky enough to get the kanji for "Dragon soul" tattooed on my arm at a studio in Tokyo. The artist helped me translate the phrase into kanji.

His tattoo means "foreigner." That's a pretty mean prank played by the tattoo artist!

I asked Qian if there is a word that means the opposite of "Chinglish." A word in Chinese that means a failed attempt at Chinese. She couldn't think of anything except maybe "Englese."

After I asked her, I saw the title screen from where I found the pictures above and the Chinese idiom it features: 一知半解.

Although I've never heard this phrase before, I was able to guess the meaning of this idiom immediately. It means something along the lines of, "a little knowledge and no understanding." So while there may not be a world exactly for "the misuse of Chinese characters" (I don't know, maybe there is), this idiom captures the meaning pretty well.


Ramesh said...

Ha Ha - the piece about foreigners having stupid tattoos is hilarious. Imagine walking around with a tattoo that says Stupid American !!

I am much more tolerant of such language since my pathetic attempts at learning Chinese produces only such gems !!

LEB said...

I am not sure how to isolate clothes .... tattoo artist has a dark sense of humor !! If you get time ...please do drop by my blog.

Anonymous said...

I'm calling fake on the "Stupid American". It looks a lot like a black magic marker, you can really see it on the dot in the jade radical and on the end strokes of the horizontal lines. The color seems off and you can see some transparency to the skin which I don't see in real tattoos.

The first tattoo is clearly legit, the third "foreigner" tattoo I have doubts about also, it too seems a bit "magic markerish", but I can't really say for sure, it could be real, but the second "Stupid American" tattoo, looks very phony to me.

Where is tattoo Mark 马克 when you need him?

Mark said...

@Ramesh - I know what you mean. I'm not that bothered by Chinglish. Hey, they're trying. And lord knows that I see tons of grammatical and spelling mistakes written and spoken by native speakers all the time (and I'm sure there are plenty on this blog as well).

@LEB - Your blog looks cool. Keep it up.

@Hopfrog - I hadn't considered that these are fake. I just looked at them again. They look real enough to me. But then again, it'd be good to hear someone like 马克's opinion.

Even if these ones I chose are are fake, go check out the site, there is plenty of legitimate fail there.

I mostly chose the tattoos I did because they are the most obviously ridiculous and use easy characters.

Mark Carver said...

@Hopfrog- I'd say it's probably real, because the dude shaved his leg, and a fresh tattoo will have that shiny, sort of raised off the skin look. This tattoo is just poorly done with too little ink so the color saturation isn't totally filled in. I've got a few poorly-done ones myself that someone once asked if it was markered on :-P

BTW, I never see the Korean or Thai langauges abused in the West like we mutilate the Chinese and Japanese languages. I guess in the future when all the Westerners know Chinese and Japanese, we'll look for other languages to desecrate :-P

Anonymous said...

Ah, ok man thanks for clearing it up. I'd have bet money it was fake, but your the man on this subject, so your call on this is good enough for me.

Mark said...

@马克 - Am so glad that you chimed in! I'll take your word on those. I see what you're saying on those shaved hair and shininess of those tattoos.

Those are awful.

You're right about westerners mangling Chinese and Japanese. Both places, and particularly China, are really trendy right now.

Qian and I went to a "First Friday" in Kansas City last week. It is a collection of art gallery open houses in an art loft/warehouse district in KC.

We only went to about five galleries, but two of them had pieces featuring Chinese art. One of them was just Chinese characters on little trinkets and another had a whole bunch of China-related art, books, and other pieces.

Western people are in to Chinese and Japanese culture. The desecration of their writing in tattoos and other forms is an unfortunate consequences, I suppose.

Jodie said...

"Devote your life to every green leaf" is lovely. I also like "Tender, fragrant grass. How hard-hearted to trample", it's actually far more eloquent than "Keep off the grass".

But I'm glad you highlighted Chinese and Japanese being mangled by the Western world. As I see it, Chinglish actually shows that someone is making an effort with another language. The same cannot be said for a lot of native English-speakers.

Obviously, Chinglish musn't turn up in important documentation or anything like that but I'd hope that a professional translation company was being used for things like that anyway. But much of the time, it's harmless and I often find that the meaning still comes across.