Bad Translation Puzzle: “Divided”

I was at Shanghai’s Global Harbor mall the other day (it’s open, but there’s hardly any business, and eat-in dining is still prohibited at restaurants), and I saw this text on the window:

H&M: "divided"

A zoomed in version of the key part:

H&M: "divided" (zoom)

My 10yo daughter spotted it and was rightly confused by it. 少女 (shàonǚ) means “young woman” (girl in her early teens), and I suppose in a clothing story that would be “juniors” or something similar. Anyway, I can’t figure out how anyone could possibly get the translation “divided” out of 少女. Often errors like this are a result of over-reliance on machine translation, and usually it’s not too hard to figure out how the bad translation happened. Not so easy in this case!

The only thing I can think of is the word 少于 (shǎoyú), which means “less than.” It’s at least math, but still not an explanation. Otherwise, something like 分类 (fēnlèi), meaning “categories” (of clothing) could be a source, I suppose. “Categories” are sometimes referred to as “divisions.”

UPDATE: OK, I utterly failed this “translation puzzle.” Apparently H&M simply calls their “juniors” department “Divided.” Considering that the other departments are just direct translations, this possibility didn’t even occur to me. Thank you, commenters!


John Pasden

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


  1. Divided is the brand name for H&M’s juniors line. If you go to their English-language website, that’s just what they call it. I guess they wanted to keep it simple in Chinese and not spend time coming up with a creative brand name?

    • Wow, I had no idea. Considering that the other departments are direct translations, I never even considered this possibility. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Assuming this is a real confusion…it’s not a bad translation, it’s the name of that clothing section for H&M.

  3. I think everyone probably has the same reaction that your daughter had! Why call it Divided? It doesn’t really give off a positive connotation. I think they call it Divided in Sweden too. Who knows? Maybe it sounds cool to Swedish teens.

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