While at the pharmacy the other day with my friend Chris, we came upon what seemed like a typical example of Engrish:
Funny, we thought… “the count” instead of “the counter.”
Only as we were leaving did we notice the guy behind the counter:
The Sesame Street character “the Count” is known for his rather clever name. Even a kid can get the pun. How does his Chinese name fare in terms of cleverness? Not too well, I’m afraid. According to this site, his Chinese name is simply 伯爵, a translation of only one of the meanings of the Count’s name, meaning “count” or “earl.”
What would a more clever translation of the Count’s name be? All I can think of is maybe something related to 叔叔 (“uncle”) and 数数 (“to count up”), but once you change the tones it doesn’t really work. (Not to mention that he very clearly looks like a count, not an “uncle.”)
I was quite amused to stumble upon a whole array of fake (but humorous) Chinese documents last weekend. The documents adopt the official style of Chinese 证书 (official documents), but the names are a lot more fun. Here are the three I bought (for 5 RMB each):
The three types of documents above, left to right, are:
– 美女证 (Babe Certificate); “PLMM” stands for “漂亮妹妹” (pretty girl)
– 帅哥证 (Cute Guy Certificate)
– 白痴证 (Moron Certificate); “SB” stands for “傻屄” which I’ll politely translate as “dumbass”
There were at least 10 different types, including things like “World’s Best Mom,” “World’s Best Dad,” “Certified Genius,” “Certified Virgin,” etc.
The insides even look official, with space for a photo:
For comparison purposes, here are some real Chinese certificates, collected from the internet:
I can’t imagine the government will be particularly happy about these things, especially with the Expo looming. I wouldn’t be surprised if these became scarce really quickly (especially in Shanghai).
Looks like my Flickr photos aren’t showing up for the time being; you can thank the GFW for that. The photos are viewable via proxy.
A few weeks ago, a series of clips from The Big Bang Theory, Season 1, Episode 17 became popular on various Chinese sites. In the episode, brainy theoretical physicist Sheldon says he has decided to learn Mandarin because:
> I believe the Szechuan Palace has been passing off orange chicken as tangerine chicken, and I intend to confront them.
Here’s the clip (on Tudou):
To someone who knows no Chinese, this episode works fine. However, native speakers of Mandarin will have trouble following a lot of what Sheldon is trying to say. Although most of the first scene would be easy to follow, a combination of inaccurate pronunciation and bizarre word choices in later scenes make the subtitles a necessity for even native speakers of Mandarin. (I forced my wife to watch this clip with the subtitles covered up, and she could only understand a few of the lines, even listening multiple times. You can also find more than one “what the heck is he saying??” conversations on the Chinese internet, like this one.) The Chinese clip adds Chinese subtitles, but some of them are inaccurate. The play-by-play is below.
I recently looked up the word 贫民窟 (meaning “slum”) in nciku. The definition included this example of usage:
> She decided to slum it for a couple of months.
The Chinese sentence, translated back into English, would be:
> She decided to stay in a slum for a couple of months.
I think the translator missed something in this particular case, and the content of the sentences (as well as the order) strongly suggests that the Chinese is a (not so great) translation of the English.
So how nciku is getting its sample sentences for Chinese words? The OED is the champion of the dictionary quotation for the English language, containing tons of examples of its words’ usage “in the wild.” Dictionary sample sentences are best when taken from other sources, but those sentences should at the very least be composed in the language the dictionary serves. It seems this is not what’s happening with nciku, but maybe Collins (one of nciku’s data sources) is to blame.
My wife recently introduced me to the humor site 一日一囧 (Jiong.ws). The videos she showed me were crude animations, each telling a single simple joke. Some were unfunny, some were Chinese translations of jokes I’d heard before, but a few very funny and worth sharing.
Of the four clips below, the first three are linguistic in nature. You’re going to need at least an intermediate level of Chinese to understand these jokes. I’ve provided a transcript for the last one, which has a lot of narration but no subtitles.
Priceless! This joke revolves around the words 草 (grass) and 日 (sun), and how they sound like the obscene 操 and 日 (same character and pronunciation, different usage). The funny accents make the joke work well. Of course, some experience in “overheard phone calls” in China also helps.
I’m not sure if the people in this picture are Chinese, but I found it through Baidu Images:
This reminded me of a similar funny photo I’d seen before. Turns out there are quite a few, if you look. Here’s one gallery, and another with more photos, and of a more international nature (but also more NSFW).
Recently discovered this hilarious video on Youku. Be sure to watch it to the end.
The video appears to be from Taiwan.
This got me thinking… “funny animal videos” (along with “cute baby videos”) belong to a small set of video types which has universal appeal. If you watch funny animal videos on Youku, you’ll notice that most of them come from outside China, and were simply “ported to” (copied and uploaded to) Youku. Obviously, it could go the other way as well, but for now, that’s less common. Why aren’t more “funny animals videos” from China?
Well there are a number of reasons… Household pets are not as common in China yet, and video equipment may not be quite as prevalent (although it must be getting close!). As these two increase, you can reasonably expect the filming of pets to increase, and with that the number of funny animal videos coming from China.
So I wonder… how long do we have before the majority of these videos come from China?
The video is the theme song for a Japanese anime series called Saint Seiya (圣斗士星矢 in Chinese — apparently it’s well-known among the Chinese). This case is a little different, because the song was actually re-recorded with (ridiculous) Shanghainese lyrics. (In a karaoke parlor, from the sound of it.) And there are subtitles for us Shanghainese-impaired! The kind subtitler put the Shanghainese “transliteration hanzi” on the top line, and the Mandarin translation on the bottom line.
Here’s a quick and dirty translation of the lyrics:
> No hot water for washing my feet
> Today I’ll go to bed without washing them
> The water for washing my face is still heating up
> Going to bed without washing my feet – so dirty
> No hot water for washing my feet
> Mom says the bills are too high
> She says wash your face first, then use that water to soak your feet
> Water for your feet and water for your face
> They’re both heated with the gas burner
> Why don’t salaries go up? The cost of water, electricity, and gas have
> Oh my God
> Heat it, heat it*
> If you don’t heat it, the price’ll be higher next year
> Heat it, heat it
> Wash you feet, then go for the spa, oh yeah
> Heat it, heat it
> Heat it from now til the end of the month
> Heat it, heat it
> Why not heat it?
> My mom is paying the bill
Lots of great cultural context here:
– Water in Shanghai has traditionally been heated with gas heaters (although electric ones are also common now)
– Traditional Shanghainese good old-fashioned thrifty living
– Washing one’s face and feet traditionally has been a common substitute for taking a shower
Here’s the original Japanese theme song.
The Shanghainese version of the video was recommended to me by a local friend who said the Shanghainese lyrics sounded like the Japanese. I don’t really hear the resemblance, but it’s good wacky fun nonetheless.
Ryan North, artist, linguist, Canadian, and all-around “great thinker,” has posed an interesting question recently: in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song, is the line “Splinter taught them to be ninja teens” or “Splinter taught them to be ninja teams?”
Video below if you must listen for yourself:
I was pretty sure it’s teens myself (rhymes with “machines”… exactly!). Still, in the spirit of “1.3 billion people can’t be wrong,” I had to wonder what the Chinese people thought the lyrics said. Sure, they’re just going on a translation, but whatever the common translation is, that’s what 1.3 billion Chinese people think the song lyrics mean. That’s gotta count for something!
First of all, the Chinese translation confirms the “ninja teens” view (忍者少年)… sorry, Ryan. But looking at the rest of the translation, I must say that there is a thing or two about the translation of these lyrics which concerns me. In the spirit of subtitle surrealism, we better do this whole thing.
First comes original English lyrics (in bold), then Chinese “translation”, then re-translation back into English (in brackets).
Whoa, did someone sneak an extra word in there? Mostly an exact literal translation, except that the Chinese prefer to call the turtles supernatural turtles (神龟), or “god-turtles,” for the more literal-minded. Thinking this particular phrase might have some root in China’s rich cultural heritage, I did a Baidu image search. Hmmm. Lots of TMNT. No legends involving Guanyin and a massive turtle or something? I guess it’s not as important as TMNT. You know… the god-turtles.
Heroes in a half-shell
[Heroes draped in hard armor]
Hmmm… dramatic, but decidedly less turtley.
They’re the world’s most fearsome fighting team
[They take on the world’s fearsome challenges]
Hmmm, so these “challenges” the translator made up are fearsome, but the turtles are not? Maybe it’s because they’re god-like.
We’re really hip!
[We’re the greatest!]
This is actually less humorous than a ridiculous cartoon character from the 80’s saying “we’re really hip.”
They’re heroes in a half-shell and they’re green
[They are green heroes draped in hard armor]
Wow. Nice dramatic effect.
Hey – get a grip!
[Hey, catch up!]
Hey, a turtle is telling you to catch up! That is so cool but crude.
When the evil Shredder attacks,
[When bad egg Shredder comes to make trouble,]
“Evil”… “bad egg”… more or less the same right? Yes! …in Chinese.
These Turtle boys don’t cut him no slack!
[The supernatural turtle guys will not give him an easy time]
Now I see why they’re not referred to as “fearsome.”
Splinter taught them to be ninja teens
[Teacher Splinter taught them to become ninja youths]
And here you have the translator correcting the original lyricist’s mistake of not giving Master Splinter proper respect.
He’s a radical rat!
[He is a rat brimming with passion]
Ah yes, “brimming with passion,” the little-known synonym for “radical.”
Leonardo leads, Donatello does machines
[Leonardo is the leader, Donatello is a genius inventor]
This line has lost the ambiguity of “does machines,” but I guess we won’t miss that.
That’s a fact, Jack!
[This all is true, man]
Props for not using “杰克” (Jack).
Raphael is cool but crude
[Raphael is cool, but he’s a bit crude]
Nice! They even toned it down to just “a bit crude” to save him some face.
Gimme a break!
Yes, he is less crude in Chinese.
Michaelangelo is a party dude
[Michaelangelo is a mack daddy]
Well, it’s debatable whether 万人迷 means “mack daddy” or “ten-thousand men love,” but the real question is where’d the “party” go?
Ah, there it is.
UPDATE: Ryan has responded to this post on his site, and here’s what he said:
> April 3rd, 2008: A few days ago T-Rex was considering the “ninja teens” / “ninja teams” issue in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song. I got a lot of emails about that (and here it is nice to be able to say “Man, it’s not me that’s wrong, it’s T-Rex!”) but SECRETLY, I agreed with T-Rex, and thought that the lyrics says “Splinter taught them to be ninja teams”. But guys! I am going to admit that I was wrong.
> saw on old lady bring her own egg to the jian bing guozi seller to save money
Sam is talking about 煎饼果子 (pictures). They’re made by spreading a basic batter on a hot plate, and cooking an egg on top, and then spreading a sauce on it. The total cost (including the price of the egg), is usually 1-3 RMB (depending where you are in China). Eggs generally cost much less than 1 RMB each.
I can’t really believe this, but it’s still hilarious:
> In a long conversation that stretched way past midnight at Mao’s residence on February 17, 1973, the cigar-chomping Chinese leader referred to the dismal trade between the two countries, saying China was a “very poor country” and “what we have in excess is women.”
> He first suggested sending “thousands” of women but as an afterthought proposed “10 million,” drawing laughter at the meeting, also attended by Chinese premier Zhou Enlai.
> Kissinger, who was President Richard Nixon’s national security advisor at that time, told Mao that the United States had no “quotas” or “tariffs” for Chinese women, drawing more laughter.
> “Let them go to your place. They will create disasters. That way you can lessen our burdens,” Mao said.
> “Do you want our Chinese women? We can give you ten million,” he said.
> Kissinger noted that Mao was “improving his offer.”
> Mao continued, “By doing so we can let them flood your country with disaster and therefore impair your interests. In our country we have too many women, and they have a way of doing things.
> “They give birth to children and our children are too many.”
Word on the street is that the unedited version of Lust, Caution has already circulated pretty widely. My wife picked up a good copy a while back. I’m planning to watch it soon, partly to see what the fuss is about, and partly because of the ridiculous claim that I keep hearing from the Chinese: “foreigners can’t understand it.” (I actually probably won’t understand it–this isn’t the kind of film I’m into–but it’s still a ridiculous claim.)
Anyway, this is all just an excuse to make a post featuring “Reel Geezers,” the “dynamic octogenarian duo.” Their reviews are hilarious. Watch!
I haven’t had time to read many blogs these days, but fortunately John B forwarded me this gem from Imagethief, which discusses Beijing’s air quality:
> How bad was the air the last two days? If it was a person it would have been a seedy, broad-shouldered thug, dressed in filthy leathers and reeking of grain alcohol, last-night’s whorehouse and cheap cigarettes, that hauled you into an alley by your collar and beat you senseless with a lead pipe wrapped in duct tape, emptied your wallet, found your grandmother’s address inside, went to her house and beat her senseless with the same pipe, cleared out her jewelry box and sodomized her golden-retriever on the way out the door before setting fire to her cottage, coming back to the alley and kicking you in the ribs one more time for good measure.
> It was that bad. And even that may not quite capture the sheer evil of it.