Lin Danda

Commenter Marco e-mailed me this great visual Chinese joke (translation and explanation follows):

Lin Danda

Translation of the joke (and you do need the visual above to understand it):

> A primary school teacher was returning test papers. She called out again and again, “Lin Danda! Lin Danda!” But none of the children came forward to collect the test paper.

> Finally, the teacher asked, “is there anyone that hasn’t gotten a test paper back? Please come to the front.”

> One little boy unhappily approached the teacher at the front of the classroom. He said to her, “Teacher, my name isn’t Lin Danda. I’m Chu Zhongtian.”

Sorry, if you can’t read the Chinese characters, there’s nothing to get. For those that want the explanation, read on.

The joke centers on the fact that a Chinese child’s handwriting is messy. More specifically, children haven’t learned to draw the different parts of Chinese characters with the correct proportions and spacing. The handwriting in the image above looks like a typical kindergartener’s handwriting… a kindergartener who can’t write a whole lot more than his own name.

Armed with this knowledge, examine the image below, which shows the characters for the names “Lin Danda” and “Chu Zhongtian.”

Lin Danda, Chu Zhongtian

Clear? The teacher read the name on the left, but the child had intended to write the name on the right. Furthermore, I suspect that the joke is funnier because the name 蛋大 (Danda) means “egg” and “big.” In Chinese (egg) is slang for “testes.” So the teacher was repeatedly calling a 6-year-old by a name that sounded kinda like “Big Nads.”

As long as I am explaining the joke, I might as well be a total killjoy and nitpick a little. There is actually a difference of one stroke between the two names (but it’s easy to overlook in the context of the messy handwriting, even for a Chinese person):

Lin Danda flaw

Also, kids in the PRC write their names on the tests horizontally, not vertically. But whatever–it’s a great joke.

Thanks again, Marco!


John Pasden

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


  1. And I thought my Chinese handwriting was bad… lol

  2. First Chinese Joke I’ve ever understood… Guess I’m making progress.

  3. In some dialects, 林 Lin can sound a lot like 你, so depending on where you are, the teacher might actually have been heard to say “You got big balls! You got big balls!”

  4. My friend’s dad was actually named Tian Gao Chao. Imagine being a teacher and having to shout that out! I’m not sure of the tian, but the gao chao really was 高潮。 So the guy’s name meant “add an orgasm.”


  6. Took me a second, but I actually got that one. Would this, by any chance, be similar to those email “jokes” that are forwarded to me every other day by my less computer-savvy relatives?

    I mean, is this one of those things that gets passed around all the time and is Old as the Chinese Internet, as they say?

  7. My better half said: “That looks like your handwriting!”
    I said: “My handwriting is the best. Your handwriting looks like Arabic.”
    I’ve still got the resulting bruise.

    Cool joke, though.

  8. I wasn’t sure it was funny (clever, surely) until I told my girlfriend. She laughed, so it must be funny. Thanks!!!

  9. hehe.
    why 大 is in a different font?

  10. [rimshot] “I’ll be here all week, folks”

    don’t give up your day job….

  11. Hey, I’ve been in China about 4 months, and I actually understand this one! Wow.

    Anyway, I’d really like to know how you did the graphics. They’re clear and intuitive.

  12. When I was hiking in the woods in Hainan, members of my hiking party taught me songs to sing about my big eggs. That would double over laughing when I humored them and sang it.

    I thought it childish then. I still do, which is why this post offends me. So there will be no rotflmao or even an lol from me. Only a wistful acknowledgement, a shrug of my weary shoulders, and the knowledge that my friend John, once a valuable commentator on China and Chinese, has fallen nay stooped to depths I had not thought possible. For shame, John. For shame.

    PS In reality, my eggs are middle-sized.

  13. @doom
    that’s my fault.

  14. you know what, my original point was not about who got the big eggs. I didn’t even think about that. I thought it was a perfect example for liguistic purpose—-the structure of Chinese characters.

  15. marco,

    I was just using this as an excuse to break John’s eggs. I am not offended by the actual content of the post (what you provided him) but rather by it’s tone and tact (testes are funny).

  16. i became the most popular girl at work today by showing my chinese tongshimen this website.

    thanks, john!

  17. kastner,

    That’s weird… I’m not sure why 大 ended up in a different font. Annoying.

  18. Stephan,

    Thanks. I just used Photoshop for the graphics… nothing special.

  19. Megan,

    It’s a nice surprise to see a comment from you on my blog. I’m glad to see you don’t regret your visit.

  20. I got this one and showed it around my Chinese class here. The teacher and the one student who is actually progressing laughed uproariously. As did I.

  21. I understood this without the explanation! Wow! That totally made my day!

    I’ve been reading this blog for a while; I don’t think I’ve ever commented before. Hi, then!

  22. Greg Pasden Says: December 5, 2006 at 6:51 am

    Why did they want to come to the FONT of the class?

  23. Haha, I remember reading that last year. Here are other two names:

  24. Peng,

    Thanks for sharing! I find these really interesting.

  25. 哈哈,搞笑啊

  26. I understand the comicalness of it up to the confusion between the characters tian and da. They are different letters, like G made from original C (Gaius). Is something like that funny? Why?

  27. im not chinese but stumbled upon this doing research. i was researching… my nickname!!! which translates: dan the man> dan “da” man> dandaman> then “danda” for short.
    so now i get to tell all my friends they’ve been calling me a big egg; which is ok because im big (6’5″/230 lbs.) and as a kid my sisters called me “egg head”.

  28. […] Ah, characterplay is always welcome… This particular example reminded me of Lin Danda (a timeless classic in character […]

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