The (Chinese) Alcohol for (Chinese) Alcoholics

08 Oct 2013

Here’s another one for the “I can’t believe they named the product that” file (see also “Cat Crap Coffee“). This one has more of a cultural differences angle, with a little bit of translation difficulty thrown in for good measure.

There’s a brand of Chinese rice wine called 酒鬼酒. Here’s a picture of it:

酒鬼酒

in Chinese, while often translated as “wine,” more generally means “alcohol.” Traditionally, it’s some kind of grain alcohol, like 白酒 (Chinese “white wine“).

A person who routinely drinks to excess is called a 酒鬼 in Chinese, which literally means “alcohol demon” or “alcohol devil” or “alcohol ghost,” depending on how you want to translate . It sounds pretty negative, but in fact, in Chinese culture this type of alcohol abuse is not nearly so stigmatized. Although the police forces of many regions in China have begun cracking down on drunk driving in recent years, alcoholism in China is not as closely linked in the public consciousness to vehicular manslaughter, domestic violence, child abuse, and the host of other evils as it often is in the west. In fact, regular heavy drinking is closely linked to some of China’s greatest poets, most famously 李白 (Li Bai).

Here’s 李白 getting his drink on:

Li Bai drinking

So it’s more in the spirit of historical drunken poetry (as opposed to inebriated abusiveness) that this brand of Chinese rice wine is called 酒鬼酒.

Translating the brand name into English is a new challenge in itself, though. If you simply translate 酒鬼 as “alcoholic” and as “alcohol,” you get “Alcoholic Alcohol,” which sounds like it means “Alcohol that Contains Alcohol,” which is just plain dumb. In fact, you can’t use the word “alcoholic” as a modifier at all for that reason, so if you don’t want to ditch the noun “alcoholic” altogether you have to say something like “Alcohol for Alcoholics,” which sounds like some kind of horrible demented “charity” to my American ears.

So what else can you do? “Booze for Boozers” and “Wino Wine” are ridiculous. “Drunk Spirits”? I’m curious what a creative translator can come up with. (Pete? Brendan?)

Anyway, 酒鬼酒 is a real company in China, and has its own Baidu Baike page (in Chinese, obviously), and is also listed on Wikipedia under “unflavored baijiu.”

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John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

Comments

  1. As I was reading, my mind played with “Wine for Winos,” which I see you’ve casually dismissed…moving right along…

    “Lush Liquor” offers a touch of luxury, and a connotation of verdant fields, beloved by the Chinese. Also preserves the grammatical structure of the original, for what that’s worth.

    As you nod off with a glass of this fine beverage, ice cubes clinking in your near-empty glass, let yourself bathe in John Coltrane’s melancholy melody, “Lush Life.”

    • Ha ha, sorry, is “Wine for Winos” good?? (I see Brendan also brought up “Wino Wine.” I dunno, just seems too cheesy to me. [Please restrain yourself from the obvious “wine and cheese” joke here.])

      “Lush Liquor”! I like that one.

  2. “Alcohol for Alcoholics” brings to mind HL Mencken’s “A Bum’s Christmas.” Not necessarily a bad thing!

    You probably still could try to do something with the word “alcoholic” — but as you say, 酒鬼 is more like “drunkard” or “sot,” and 酒鬼酒 sounds more playful than anything containing the English word “alcoholic” is likely to — maybe something like “Alkie-hol™ ?” — and anyway 酒鬼 has a long history, whereas the more medical-sounding the English word didn’t start getting used to refer to an alcohol-dependent person until relatively recently.

    I guess it depends on whether you want the translation to be usable as a brand name or not. If that’s not a requirement, then “Wino Wine” isn’t bad, other than the minor issue of baijiu not being wine by a very long shot.
    In the UK, people refer to Buckfast (a cheap’n’nasty tonic wine mentioned by name in more than 5,600 police reports over a three-year period) as the “commotion lotion,” and going for rhyme or alliteration might help preserve some of the playfulness of the Chinese name.

    Finding an English translation for 酒鬼 that sounds cute in this context will be tough — a wee spot o’ dipsomania isn’t as cute as it used to be in the Anglophone world — but you could always try going archaic. “Toper’s Tipple?” Nah, too much.
    “Blotto™ Baijiu?” No. “Stinko Sauce™?” Even worse. “Drunk Drink?” Slightly better, but it makes me think of Dave Chapelleand Lil Hugs. “Hobo Hooch™” or “Bum Booze™?” “Delirium Tremens?” No, there’s already a Belgian beer called that. “Rotgut for the Rat-Arsed?” “Skid-Row Special™ Fortified Breakfast Spirits?” “Hair of the Rottweiler?” “Uncle Red-Eye’s Regret Sauce?” I dunno, dude, it’s a toughie.

    Looking forward to seeing what people come up with!

    • Wow, Brendan! You did not disappoint. I was chuckling all the way through your response.

      “Alkie-hol™ ” might work for the “new baijiu for a new generation of boozers,” I’m thinking.

      I see your translations have taken a decidedly British slant, but maybe that’s for the better. (American bias on drinking is a big part of what made the translation difficult in the first place, right?)

      • Re: regional bias — mostly I just liked the word “rat-arsed,” and it alliterated nicely with “rotgut.” I think the British Isles may have a richer vocabulary for describing drunkenness; one of those Eskimos/words for snow things. (I know, I know.)

        After a good night’s sleep, I’m feeling a bit better about “Drunk Drink.” Particularly if we pronounce the second word as “drank.” What say you?

  3. Impossible to add on to Brendan’s good work here, but how about “Devilish Spirits”? It could work as a shout out of sorts to “Kill-Devil,” early slang for rum. Plus I think that sounds sort of classy, which would match the packaging!

  4. 白酒 is most certainly not wine. For those playing at home it is a grain alcohol that has a very distinctive taste (if you are not a spirit drinker you won’t like it) and it has a kick on it like a mule.

  5. I also really like that their slogan is apparently, “不可不醉,不可太醉”.

  6. Creatively it is “Drinkers’ Choice”.

  7. Victor H. Mair Says: October 9, 2013 at 5:13 am

    Most of the good ones have already been taken, but how about “Boozer Brew” and “Tippler’s Tipple”?

    A couple of related Language Log posts:

    Let the Beer-Divider Be Chief!
    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1636

    Don’t Drive in the What, er?
    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1632

  8. I can’t claim to be well versed on translation issues, but my intuition tells me that an Australian translator might go for a more creative translation such as “Sink More Piss”.

  9. This would be more like Smashed Scotch or Wasted Wine if you can go for an adjective?

    Maybe Juicehead Gin or Sot’s Scotch.

  10. Bliss? (http://tinyurl.com/lkej662 – the original title was Piss, but the record company objected. Can’t think why)

  11. 酒歸酒

    NO BS Booze and Serious Booze is the impression I get, or something like Professional Booze: Booze for Serious Drinkers.

    Drunkk: two k’s for double the drunk. And because you’re drunk and can no longer spell.

    And I actually like Drinkers Drink. Maker’s Mark, Drinker’s Drink.

  12. 1) http://baike.baidu.com/view/737984.htm
    2) http://www.business insider.com/most-valuable-drink-brands-2013-6
    3) Whites, Whiteys, White Lush, Drunk White, Whinoty, Vanity, Druncardi, Jimmy Drunker, Drunkessy, Whitenoff, Drunknoff, Lee Drunks, Drunkleys, Drunkolut, White Dragon, Druncard, Royal Drunk

  13. domain names

    drunkardi.COM is available.

    drunkessy.COM is available.

    drunknoff.COM is available.

    drunkleys.COM is available.

    drunkolut.COM is available.

    johnnydrunker.COM is available.

  14. Last night I asked the cab driver who proudly told me he drinks 半斤白酒 nightly about 酒鬼酒. His comment: “高档酒” @ ¥200/瓶 is out of his price range.

  15. James Dai Says: October 3, 2014 at 5:46 pm

    I think the solution’s simple if you want to use the word alcohol: Alcoholic’s Alcohol

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