May Day Word Play

01 May 2015

Today is May 1st, China’s International Workers’ Day holiday. Yesterday I saw this amusing little joke, posted by a former student, “Monica.” The humor is based on transliteration. First the joke, then I’ll follow up with a translation and explanation.

> 小时侯上学,把“English”读为
> “应给利息”的同学当了银行行长,
> 读为“阴沟里洗”的成了小菜贩子,
> 读为“因果联系”的成了哲学家,
> 读为“硬改历史”的成了政治家,
> 读为“英国里去”的成了海外华侨。
> 而我,不小心读成了“应该累死”,
> 结果成了一名光荣的劳动者……工作辛苦了,
> 提前祝大家五一节快乐!

Translation:

> When I was in primary school, the kids that pronounced the word “English”
> as “yīng gěi lìxī” became bankers,
> as “yīngōu lǐ xǐ” became vegetable vendors,
> as “yīn-guǒ liánxì” became philosophers,
> as “yìng gǎi lìshǐ” became politicians,
> as “Yīngguó lǐ qù” became overseas Chinese.
> As for me, I accidentally pronounced it “yīnggāi lèisǐ,”
> and as a result became a glorious laborer….
> You’ve all been working hard; I wish you an early May 1st Labor Day!

For this to make sense, you have to read each individual character that makes up each transliteration (phonetic approximations of the word “English”). Here’s a quick gloss:

Washing Vegetables

Photo by IamNotUnique

应给利息: “should, give, interest”
阴沟里洗: “sewer, in, wash”
因果联系: “cause-effect, connection”
硬改历史: “hard/insist on, change, history”
英国里去: “England, in, go”
应该累死: “should, dead-tired”

(The “washing in the sewer” one refers to washing vegetables in less-than-clean water, rather than bathing, I think.)

Chinese people with limited English ability really do pronounce the word “English” as something like “ying-ge-li-xi,” which makes the joke all the better.


A note to learners: please remember that pinyin “x” should not be pronounced like English “sh.”

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John Pasden

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

Comments

  1. That’s fun. You had cool students.

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