Tag: puns


15

Sep 2020

Punning Pronouns for Finance

I’ve been seeing these ads in Shanghai recently:

财富在这「理」

The key line is this one:

财富在这「理」

Here you have a pun on the word 这里 (“here”), substituting for . They sound very similar.

财富在这「理」

So the punned sentence sounds like it’s saying “wealth is here” (a basic sentence), but if you read the characters, it’s saying, “wealth is managed here,” using 在 to specify location. This is because can mean “manage,” as in the phrase “理财” (“to manage wealth,” or “wealth management”).

But here’s another thing you might not know: in informal Chinese, can stand in for 这里 or 这儿. (Same for and 那里/那儿, but not so much .)

财富在这「理」

That’s sort of an intermediate grammar point, and not super common. If you’re still working on basic question words, be sure to check out the Chinese Grammar Wiki’s article: Placement of Question Words.


14

Jul 2020

The Leading Fresh Pun

I keep seeing this ad for dumplings (水饺), so I finally took a pic:

Fresh Pun

Here’s the part with the pun, conveniently indicated with quotation marks:

Fresh Pun

汤汁水饺的领“鲜”者

The pun uses the word 领先, meaning “to be in the lead” (ahead of the competition). Adding turns 领先 into 领先者, meaning the “leaders” in the field. In this ad, the 先 (xiān), meaning “first,” is replaced with 鲜 (xiān), meaning “fresh.”

So they’re claiming to be the leaders in freshness when it comes to broth-filled dumplings.


26

May 2020

Wan Hui, the Anhui Character Party

The name of this restaurant is Wan Hui: 皖荟. It’s a pun on the word 晚会, which is sort of like “evening party” (or dinner).

wan-hui-1

stands for Anhui Province, and is also one of the “8 great” types of Chinese cuisine. here calls to mind the word 荟萃, a flowery word for “assembly.”

This restaurant in Shanghai’s Changning Raffles City ( 长宁来福士广场) is not mind-blowing, but it’s still pretty special. Cool atmosphere.

I like these character fragment decorations on the walls:

wan-hui-2

The dry ice and purple lights are a cool contrast to the traditional Anhui-style walls:

wan-hui-3

As for the food, ummm, it’s OK, I guess? I’m not much of a 吃货 (foodie).


27

Feb 2020

Combatting the Coronavirus with Punny Propaganda

Three exhibits from the streets of Shanghai, each replacing one “yi” character of a chengyu (typically 4-character idiom) with the character 疫 (yì), which means “epidemic”:

yi-yan-jiu-ding

‘疫’言九鼎 is a pun on 一言九鼎 (yīyánjiǔdǐng). The original idiom refers to solemn statements, and the poster exhorts people to be honest (about their true health).

duan-zhang-qu-yi

断章取‘疫’ is a pun on 断章取义 (duànzhāngqǔyì). The original idiom refers to quoting out of context, and the poster warns people not to spread unsubstantiated rumors about the epidemic (you could end up in prison for as long as 7 years if you do!).

ren-zhi-yi-jin

仁至‘疫’尽 is a pun on 仁至义尽 (rénzhìyìjìn). The original idiom refers to fulfillment of moral obligations, and this poster implores people to remain compassionate while battling the epidemic.

In all fairness, “yi” is one of the most common readings for characters in Mandarin Chinese, so choosing that one to focus on with the puns really made things easier.


Related: Download the COVID-19 Vocabulary PDF on this page.


15

Aug 2019

7up Mojito = Mo7to?

Just a simple China product discovery:

mo7to

In China, the word “mojito” is not pronounced “mo-hee-to” like it is in English. Rather, the Spanish “j” is approximated with the Chinese “x” sound. In Chinese, it’s written 莫希托 (mòxītuō) or 莫西托 (mòxītuō), or sometimes even 莫希多 (mòxīduō). But it’s not a big step from “xi” to “qi” in Chinese, which makes the xi/qi pun possible, using the number 7 (qī). This gives us: 莫7托 (mòqītuō), as well as the curious English name “Moji7o.”

No comment on the taste! I didn’t buy it or try it.

But we’ve seen “Mint Sprite,” “Green Tea Sprite,” and “Spicy Sprite” before; I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that 7up is getting in on the action.


15

May 2019

Are Chinese Hospitals Going Smart?

The average person in China doesn’t go to a doctor’s office when they get hurt or sick; they go straight to a hospital. Then they have a pretty horrible (often all-day) ordeal ahead of them, involving paying to get a number, waiting to be seen, getting briefly looked at to determine next steps, then waiting in line to pay for tests or other services, then waiting on the results, then taking them back to the original doctor for a final diagnosis, etc. It really is a ton of time waiting in line to be seen by a person with (understandably) very little patience, only to be curtly passed off to the next term of waiting.

So when recently I visited Huashan Hospital in Shanghai (one of the better public ones), I was surprised to see these kiosks:

Shanghai 智慧e疗
Shanghai 智慧e疗

The big title on the wall is 智慧e疗. The 智慧 refers to “smart,” and the e疗 is a pun on 医疗, which means “medical treatment.” (Not even healthcare is above a good old “e” pun!)

The closer view displays the following words:

  • 建卡 (jiàn kǎ) to create a card (and associated account)
  • 挂号 (guàhào) to register (at a hospital)
  • 缴费 (jiǎofèi) to pay fees
  • 签到 (qiāndào) to sign in (for an appointment)

I didn’t use this kiosk, and it seems not many people did. Hopefully progress is just around the corner!


23

Apr 2019

Come on, drink it! (says the hippo)

I spotted this new bubble milk tea shop recently:

喝嘛 (He ma)

The name is 喝嘛, which is just the verb meaning “to drink,” combined with the particle , used to “express the self-evident.” This is a command, though. How does a command “express the self-evident?”

To a native speaker, the feeling of the two usages is connected, but here the word adds the feeling of a somewhat whiny, “come on, do it….” In fact, that phrase “come on” (used when persuading) could be translated 来嘛.

So yeah, this product name is actually saying, “come on, drink our product. You know you want to! Come on…”

What’s the deal with the hippo? Well, “hippo” in Chinese is 河马 (literally, “river horse,” which is also the meaning of the Greek roots of the English word as well). So we’ve got a pun here.


27

Nov 2018

Fish You Talk

This restaurant, 鱼你说, has a pun for a name:

Yu Ni Shuo

I also like the stylized font!

The name is a pun on the phrase “与你说,” which means “talk with you.” is a rather formal word that can be used in place of or in many contexts.

Although the pinyin for both the name and the phrase are “yu ni shuo,” actually is second tone, while is third tone. But is third tone, which means that is read as second tone, due to the tone change rule. So actually the two sound the same.


27

Mar 2018

City Nightlife Characterplay

While perhaps not the cleverest characterplay, I like this treatment of the character , which means “city” (as in 城市), or sometimes “wall” (as in 长城). The phrase 不夜城 (literally, “not night city”) is similar to “the city that never sleeps.”

Untitled

The text is:

龍之梦购物公园
新食代
不夜城
千人自助餐盛宴

Note: The way that “Cloud Nine Mall” (龍之梦) is written breaks the “golden rule” that I learned in Chinese 101: Either write entirely in simplified characters or write entirely in traditional characters. Never mix the two. The simplified dragon character is written using the traditional . “食代” is a pun on 时代.


05

Sep 2017

What is “Tea Pi”?

I’m used to seeing English words mixed in with Chinese advertising copy, and even product names, but this name took me by surprise:

茶π

茶π“?! Why in the world…?

I showed this to some Chinese friends, asking them why anyone would put π in the name of a bottled tea drink. No one had an answer.

I speculated that maybe the “π” was being used as a pun on , meaning “faction” or “clique”? They didn’t really like that theory, but they had nothing better to offer.

In my foolish optimism, I searched online for the answer, and discovered it in this article:

你问什么是茶π?

农夫山泉官方表示:果味和茶味的结合,无限不循环的π,就是我们无限不循环的青春!

这……我竟然无言以对啊!

What is “Tea Pi,” you ask?

Nongfu Spring‘s official answer: a combination of tea and fruit flavors, infinitely unrepeating π, which is also our infinitely unrepeating youth!

Uhhh… there’s nothing I can say to that!

Translation: kids these days like random stuff.


01

Jun 2017

Hey What?

I saw this tea place in the Jing’an area and felt like “Hey Tea” was sort of an odd name:

Untitled

True, odd English names aren’t so odd in China, I know. But then I realized that this other shop was just around the corner:

Untitled

Yeah, the original “Hey Jude” pun doesn’t exactly carry over for any random drink.

(More Beatles puns here. This post is for Pete!)


UPDATE: Tom in the comments points out that Hey Tea is a big chain from Guangdong, so it looks like my theory is off.


01

Feb 2017

Happy Year of the Rooster

Happy Year of the Rooster/Cock/Chicken! Just as the English word “cock” has multiple meanings, the Chinese word (“chicken”) does as well. By itself, it can mean “prostitute,” but the same sound “jī” is also part of the Chinese word for, well, “cock.” I guess I’m friends with a bunch of upstanding Chinese folk, because I didn’t see the many puns I feel I could have for this year’s barrage of Chinese New Year greetings.

Here’s one tame pun I did see this year:

点钞机 / 点钞鸡

So the original word is 点钞机, “money counting machine.” Substituting (“chicken”) for (“machine”) doesn’t change the sound at all, but 点钞鸡 falls right in line with the Chinese proclivity for wishing financial success in the New Year. And you can totally imagine a money counting rooster.


26

Jan 2017

Happy New Year Teeth

Chinese New Year is just around the corner, and I bring you this pun/characterplay combo. Unfortunately, neither is particularly clever, but at least it’s not hard to understand!

Untitled

The large text of the ad reads:

新年好呀

This basically just means “happy New Year,” but the on the end is a modal particle you hear a lot in Shanghai. It adds a tone of playfulness, possibly childishness.

The pun is on 好牙, which refers to “good teeth.” (The two-character word for “tooth” or “teeth” is 牙齿). And since it’s an ad for dental services, the pun on good teeth is quite appropriate.

But do you see where the 口 component of (the modal particle) is actually a tooth? That’s the characterplay aspect. But the weird thing is that if you take away the 口, what’s left actually does literally mean “tooth.”

Anyway, 新年好!


06

Dec 2016

The more you read…

I like these subway ads for the QQ阅读 app:

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

The ads have been running for months already. The app is QQ阅读, an ebook reader app. 阅读 in Chinese can mean “to read” or “reading.”

The main line in the ad is:

越读,越明白自己。

The more you read, the more you understand yourself.

It’s a great usage of the 越……越…… (the more… the more…) grammar structure. But, in case you didn’t notice… it’s also a pun. It’s an ad for QQ阅读 (Yuèdú), and it starts with 越读 (Yuè dú).

This is one of the least cringeworthy ads I’ve seen in Chinese marketing, I must say! (No, I haven’t tried the app.)


15

Nov 2016

Naughty Beer

Thanks to reader Lucas, who lives in 张家港 (north of Suzhou), for sharing this image:

Naughty Beer

The pun is pretty simple:

  • 啤酒 (píjiǔ) beer
  • 顽皮 (wánpí) naughty

So the was swapped for the (they sound identical), and “naughty beer” was born!


25

Oct 2016

Verbing for the Summer

Summer is over, but I can’t help sharing this 一下 / 一夏 pun:

喝一夏,冰一夏

It reads:

喝一夏,冰一夏

The “喝一夏” part is punning on a very common use of 一下 after a verb, whereas the “冰一夏” part is punning on the same usage in a less typical way.

An uninspired translation would be, “have a drink and cool off.” (Sorry, I have no inspired translation!)


07

Jul 2016

Punny Clothing Shop

This is a clothing store in Shanghai’s Jing’an Metro Station:

布言布语

The name of the shop is 布言布语 (Bù Yán Bù Yǔ). The pun involves the character , which in this case, is a substitute for .

The original expression is: 不言不语, which means “to not say a single word.”

The pun gives us 布言布语 (the pronunciation matches exactly), riffing on words like 布料 (“cloth”) which use the character.

Truth be told, 布言布语 is not a vey clever name. Sure, it has the pun, but 不言不语 has nothing to do with clothing. Still, somebody thought it was good enough for a clothing shop name.

Other Chinese brands have similarly used a language theme in their names. The first one that comes to mind for me is “BreadTalk,” which is 面包新语 in Chinese.


01

Sep 2015

McDonalds Getting its Pun on

I spotted a punny McDonalds ad in the subway yesterday that might not be obvious to a lot of learners:

Untitled

The ad presupposes knowledge of the word 充电宝, which is a pretty recent word, and isn’t in a lot of dictionaries yet. 充电 means “to recharge” (electricity, but sometimes metaphorically as well). means “treasure” and is also used in the common word for “baby” (宝宝), but here it just means “thing.” 充电器 already means “charger” (for electronics), but the difference here is that a 充电宝 is a battery that can be carried with you and used to recharge you smartphone. These portable chargers seem to be way more popular in China than the battery-extending cases (Mophie and the like) I’ve seen a number of Americans use.

chongdian-bao

OK, so back to the pun. It’s focused on the “bǎo” part of 充电宝 (portable charger). It uses the character , meaning “full”. It creates the sense that a meal at McDonalds is a “recharging fill” (not “full recharge”).

Anyway, you get the idea.


12

Aug 2015

“True Detective” in Chinese is Sneaky

I just finished Season 2 of the bleak HBO TV series True Detective, and enjoyed it (although it depressed me a bit). I’ve had a few discussions with Chinese friends about the show, and I realized that the Chinese name of the show is worth a mention.

true-detective-zhentan

So the Chinese name of the show is 真探. The word for “detective” in Chinese is 侦探. Notice that both are pronounced exactly the same: “zhēn tàn.”

So if you’re hearing the name of this show in Chinese for the first time, you’d probably think it is just called “zhēntàn,” translating to “The Detective” in English. You have to actually see the characters to realize that a “True” has been slipped in there. (Makes me think of a line from the show intro: “I live among you… well disguised.”) It’s different from the common character swaps you see in Chinese brand names because it’s actually a translation, and it’s the fusing of two meaningful words into one.

And this got me thinking about similar wordplay for other names. It’s not a true portmanteau, as I understand the term, because there is no phonetic fusing going on. The “fusing” is entirely writing-based, but extends to meaning once you see it. We can do this in English too, I’m sure, but I can’t think of any examples right now.

I actually see this a lot going the other way (semantically) in Chinese: a name makes you think of certain meanings associated with certain characters (that you think you hear), but then the name purposely switches out those characters (in an attempt to be more “subtle”?). One example of that is 肯德基. (The Chinese name for Kentucky is 肯塔基州, but since it’s the name for KFC, the brand could have used instead of ). Another examples is 珍爱网, a dating site, which is clearly playing on the “true love” meaning of the word 真爱.


01

May 2015

May Day Word Play

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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