The Bagel Gets No Respect in China

I love bagels. So I have to say: the bagel has gotten a bum deal in China. It starts with the name.

sad bagel

The Chinese Name for “Bagel” is 贝果

Now, of course 贝果 (bèiguǒ) is a simple transliteration for the English word “bagel.” But there are good transliterations, and there are bad ones.

In this case, the character means “shell” (like in “shellfish”) and appears in words like 扇贝 (scallop) and 贝壳 (clamshell).

The character means “fruit” or “nut” and appears in words like 水果 (fruit), 苹果 (apple), 坚果 (nut), or 开心果 (pistachio nut).

So with regards to the food-related characters used in the Chinese name for 贝果… that’s 0 for 2 on the food groups! Could this name possibly be confusing?

Knowing that bagels are not well-known among Chinese people, I tested my co-workers. I asked them if they’d ever had a 贝果. They said no. I asked them if they knew what it was. They weren’t sure, but guessed it was some kind of nut.

On the upside (sort of?), I’ve noticed that my pinyin input method (Mac) is giving me the option of a bagel emoji as I type 贝果, and it has cream cheese on it! so maybe not all hope is lost for the bagel in China…

bagel emoji in Chinese

And that’s all I have for you today from the world of hard-hitting bagel journalism in Shanghai.

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John Pasden

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

Comments

  1. Hey John,

    I’m sure you’ve seen all those stalls selling tasty 煎饼果子 throughout China’s alleys. Check Pleco’s entries of 果子/馃子, apparently its a description for all kinds of fried pastries, doughnuts etc. So, I guess 贝果 kinda makes sense and that might be the answer.

    • That’s a good point! I didn’t think of 果子 at all. More importantly, though, neither did any of the native speakers I asked.

      I think the key is in the structure, though. ~果子 and ~果 are not the same thing.

  2. Here if you say 貝果 (even at Starbucks), usually people have no idea what you’re talking about. However, if you say “bagel”, they know exactly what you’re referring to ‍♂

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