Translations gone wild

When I visit the United States on Friday, there will be a lot of things I won’t miss about Beijing: the air pollution, traffic jams and kids taking a dump on the sidewalk, just to name a few.

But one thing I will certainly miss are the Chinglish signs. There have been days when – after failing to accomplish the simplest of tasks because of my limited Chinese – I’ve felt like swearing off chopsticks, grabbing my passport and catching the first plane out of town.

But when I look up and see a sign for dried fruit that says “fuck fruit,” suddenly the clouds part, birds chirp and all is well. (“Dry” and a colloquialism for “sex” share the same Chinese character.)

Lucky for me, China is full of these translations gone bad, or what I like to call wonderful perversions of the English language. You see them on bumper stickers (“Baby on road,” instead of “Baby on board”), on signs at lakes (Don’t swim on the ice) and on menus at restaurants (Mystery meat).

You see them at coffee shops above safety protection devices (Please do not embellish the fire extinguisher), on trash cans (unrecycle) and in restrooms (FUR MEN).

Swimming on the ice is strictly prohibited.

I remember the days when unrecycling was cool. That seems like so long ago now.

The literal translation for this is “squats shit.”

Cue some James Brown: “I’m a furrrr man, da-da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da-da!”

Rather than hire a native English speaker to translate signs or instructions, business owners often just use an online translator and go with whatever comes up, according to some of my Chinese friends. Apparently, accuracy is overrated.

Not that I’m complaining. As long as phrases like “Beware of lion” aren’t confused with “Turtle crossing,” China can keep churning out the Chinglish that colors my days.

15 thoughts on “Translations gone wild

  1. I thought these were called “Engrish” signs? Seen a few of these from forwarded emails awhile back. But I think it’s a lot more fun to see them in person. 🙂 I just hope you won’t spot many of these when you visit the Philippines. 🙂

    • Engrish is another term used. Most of my friends just call them Chinglish signs. I went to the Philippines last year for Christmas, and didn’t any translations as bad as the ones I’ve seen in China.

      Thanks for reading.


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