The first line is where the pun resides. It reads:
> 月圆月期待 [moon round moon looking forward (to it)]
This is pretty nonsensical because the character for moon, “月” has replaced the identical-sounding character 越. Most intmermediate learners will recognize this character as being part of the 越……越…… pattern.
So the meaning is:
> 越圆越期待 [The rounder it is, the more you look forward to it]
Still seems kind of nonsensical to me (in this context, anyway), but it’s just a lame pun for a billboard.
I wasn’t expecting Star Wars to get in on the CNY festivities, but here it is:
The pun is (in traditional characters originally):
In simplified, that’s:
新年快乐 means “Happy New Year.” The pun replaces 新 (xin: “new”) with 星 (xing: “star”). The two are both first tone, and do sound very similar in Chinese (in fact, many native speakers don’t carefully distinguish between the “-n” and “-ng” finals of many syllables), and Star Wars in Chinese is 星球大战 (literally, “Star War(s)”).
Thanks, Jared, for bringing this video to my attention!
Here’s a Chinese public service poster that uses a pun to get its point across:
The big text reads:
> 你是要换， [Do you want to replace it,]
> 还是要患？ [or do you want a (safety) hazard?]
So the key here is that “huàn” can be both the verb 换, meaning “to replace,” as well as the noun 患, which means “hazard” (in the “safety hazard” sense). You often see it in the word 隐患, literally “hidden danger,” referring to potential safety hazards. (隐患 actually appears at the very bottom of the notice.)
So the name of the sugar is 浓好, a play on the expression 侬好, the Shanghainese version of 你好, or “hello” in Mandarin. 浓好 (the name of the sugar) literally means “strong is good,” where “strong” is the “strong coffee” kind of “strong.”
The character-savvy among you (who understand the necessity of radicals) will also notice that 侬 and 浓 share the phonetic element 农, and that in this case the person radical in 侬 and the water radical in 浓 carry meaning.
On the sugar packet we can also see it is from the “Hello Milk Tea Series.” It does make me wonder what else is in the series…
My friend Andy (the guy who did the WordPress Sinosplice Tooltips plugin) wished me a happy New Year in the following way recently:
> Happy New 一二!
At the risk of spoiling the joke, allow me to explain…
1. Pinyin “yī èr” sounds remarkably like “year.”
2. This is 2012, so the characters for “1 2” are singularly appropriate.
Good job, Andy! You only get to use this pun once every 100 years, everybody, so get on it!
Last year, the punny wish was:
> Happy Chinese New Year 兔 you!
1. Pinyin “tù” sounds nearly identical to “to.”
2. 兔子, sometimes abbreviated to 兔, is the Chinese word for “rabbit.”
This year (year of the dragon), friend and ex-co-worker Jason made the following punny wish:
> Wishing you a 龍 and prosperous New Year!
1. Pinyin “lóng” sounds reasonably similar to the English word “long.”
2. 龍 (simplified: 龙) is the Chinese word for “dragon.”
Jason also added the following variation for Star Trek fans:
> Live 龍 and prosper this New Year!
Finally, I’d like to give props to my dad, who always liked the following pun. It wasn’t until recent years that I could actually verify that this pun really does work in Chinese:
> How Long is a Chinese name.
The pun doesn’t work so well when written. The joke is to say it in such a way that it’s perceived as a question, when in fact, it’s a statement:
> 郝龙 (Hao Long) is a Chinese name.
(This “joke” doesn’t work nearly as well in China, where everyone knows that Chinese names are typically 2-3 characters/syllables, and as many as 4 on rare occasion, and everyone would easily recognize 郝龙 as a Chinese name anyway.)
OK, I better shut up now before I lose all my readers.
I’m wondering if this ad would be as likely to be used in northern China:
The text of the ad is:
The pinyin for the ad is:
> Zhāozū! Zhǎo zhǔ!
If you ignore both tones and the z/zh distinction (which a lot of southerners–especially elder southerners–do frequently), you get this:
> Zao zu! Zao zu!
The meaning of the ad is something like, “For rent! Seeking the right person!” (“主,” often meaning “host” or “owner” is a bit tricky to translate, because normally someone in a position to rent is not a “主,” but in this case that’s who it refers to: the appropriate party to do the renting.)
Recently I just happened to catch this wordplay on the streets of Shanghai around me:
年轻就是不一YOUNG / 不一样. (After reading this pun, go here.)
最高G密 / 最高机密 (“top secret”); G = 鸡 = chicken. 鸡米 is a name for little chicken nuggets (often fried).
新视界 / 新世界
Not a pun; just illustrating that 新世界 is a common phrase too. This hotel is just around the corner from the eye hospital above.
碧云公寓 (traditional characters are used in the photo): not a pun either; this just amused me because we foreigners have a habit of mixing up our tones. This apartment complex could easily become “Contraception Apartment” (避孕公寓) pronounced by a careless foreigner.
You know the little 5-note musical tune that Intel uses everywhere their logo shows up? Yeah, you know the one. It’s very easy to remember. I just became aware recently that this little musical tune has a translation into Chinese. Here it is:
So the Chinese is:
The English translation of this would be:
> The light! Wait for the light, wait for the light!
This is amazingly appropriate, considering the “English version” of the “lyrics” would be something like:
> Dunnn…. Dun-dun dun-dun!
Not quite as articulate, I gotta say.
The whole idea of “translating a a musical tune into a spoken language” is bizaere, though.
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.”)
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.
There’s a hotel on Shanghai’s West Zhongshan Road (中山西路) that I pass pretty often. Its Chinese name is 驴馆, or, literally, “Donkey Hostel.” Its English name is Red Donkey Hostel [website]. (Unsurprisingly, they passed on the opportunity for the similarly puntastic “Ass Hostel” English Translation.)
The Chinese name 驴馆 is a pun on the word 旅馆 (hostel). 驴 (donkey) and the 旅 in 旅馆 (hostel) are both pronounced lü. Even though 驴 is second tone (lǘ) and 旅 is third tone (lǚ), tone sandhi rules render their pronunciations identical in this case.
Here’s a (semi-fictional) image of what the hostel looks like:
Ice cream chain Cold Stone Creamery has opened a restaurant in the Cloud Nine (龙之梦) shopping mall in Shanghai’s Zhongshan Park. Priced well below Häagen-Dazs but still not cheap, the ice cream is passable. Still, I was most impressed with some of the names of the ice cream dishes:
1. Berry Berry Berry Good: 非常莓好 This name substitutes the 美 (“beautiful”) in 美好 (“wonderful”) for the 每 (“berry”) in 草莓 (“strawberry”). The result is a word that sounds exactly the same, but makes a berry pun.
2. Mint Mint Chocolate Chip: 蜜蜜巧巧 Partial transliterations of “mint” and “chocolate” still manage to carry the idea of “chocolate” in a cute-sounding name. The 蜜 is more likely to be mistaken to mean “honey” (蜂蜜) than to be understood as “mint” (薄荷) though.
3. Our Strawberry Blonde: 草莓美莓 Once again, we have the 莓 pun, but this time the word 美莓 is substituting for the word 妹妹, which means “little sister,” but can mean “young woman.” 美莓 has different tones (3-2) than 妹妹 (4-5), but the tones on 美莓 mimic the non-standard Taiwanese pronunciation of the word 妹妹, which sounds very cute to mainlanders.
4. Monkey Bites: 吱吱蕉蕉 This name is a play on the onomatopoeia吱吱喳喳, the sound of noisy birds (or possibly monkeys?). The character which replaces the two 喳 characters is 蕉 of 香蕉, “banana”–the monkey connection.
If you want to take a look at all the names yourself, I have scanned the menu and put it online (front, back). The ones above are the best ones, though. A lot of the other ones aren’t creative at all.
I find Cold Stone Creamery’s entry into the Chinese market somewhat interesting because it’s clear that the company is importing and translating everything rather than localizing its offerings. It’s hard to even find the Chinese name on the menu, which doesn’t appear on the front, and is only in one place. It’s “酷圣石冰淇淋“. 酷 (“cool”) and 石 (“stone”) seem like straightforward enough choices, but I’m not sure what’s up with the 圣 (“holy”)? 冰淇淋 is just “ice cream.”
Cold Stone Creamery has a Chinese website, but it gives me an interesting “The page must be viewed over a secure channel” error.
Update: the link doesn’t work if you leave off the WWW. Thanks, Micah.
Ever since I started doing my Chinese pun posts, I’ve been deluged with requests for more*. So today I am finally getting around to posting one that I’ve been seeing for something like a year in an ad on the subway:
> Only good ingredients can make good medicine.
The pun is with the words 药 (medicine), 才 (an adverb meaning something like “only if”), and 药材 (medicinal ingredients). You have two three-character phrases with exactly the same character pronunciation, but the difference of one character in the two phrases (材 and 才, both read “cái”) gives the sentence clear meaning.
The two parts can’t be said to be entirely identical, because read naturally, there would definitely be different pauses in the first part and the second part. Still, the identical pronunciations still make it kind of charming.
I noticed this one a while ago (sometime after Weight Loss Pun #1), once again on the back of the passenger seat in a taxi:
It’s an ad for “double layer” “tight skin” liposuction, which is supposed to meet your “little waist requirement.” (Yes, it’s a horrible translation, I know, but it’s a pun, so I don’t really see how I can do a good job.)
So the pun is on the words 小要求 (“little demand”) and 小腰 (“little waist”).
At least for these two cases of weight loss treatments, the puns are terribly obvious because the punned characters are in quotation marks each time. Would too many people not get them otherwise? Oh well… it helps us foreigners get them a little more easily, at least.
Why are the ads placed on the back of the front seats in Shanghai taxis almost always for breast enlargement or weight loss? I am puzzled.
I recently saw one ad that I liked for a weight loss treatment, though. It used a pun:
Obviously the pun doesn’t translate, but the literal meaning is:
> Spa figure-slimming magic turns “desire to slim down” into “enjoyment“!
The wordplay is based on the word 享受 which is a verb meaning “enjoy.” Like many Chinese verbs, it can be used as a noun as well. The word 瘦 means “thin.” Adjectives in Chinese can take on what Westerners consider verb-like qualities (see Wikipedia on Chinese adjectives if you’re a grammar nerd), so combining the verb 想 (“would like to”) with 瘦 (“thin” or possibly “become thinner”), you can get 想瘦, which means “desiring to become thinner” and has the exact same pronunciation as 享受 (“enjoy” or possibly “enjoyment”).
Sorry, puns aren’t nearly as charming when they’re explained.