Lost in Translation: The 12 oddest signboards I saw in China

Mistranslation is an issue for anyone coming to grips with a foreign language. In Urdu, I once mixed up the words istemaal and intezaam, and instead of jokingly telling my driver to arrange a Pakistani wife for me, I told the husband and father of four that he ought to use my Pakistani wife. Yeah…

Mandarin Chinese and English are poles apart – the scripts are different (Chinese, in effect, doesn’t have an ‘alphabet’ as English speakers would define it), Chinese is highly tonal, whereas in English, tone is used to create connotation, or at most, a question.

The difficulties faced by translating from Mandarin to English is exacerbated by the fact that many words have several meanings, and context often determines the speaker’s intended meaning. This results is wildly different translations of words – and it’s a recognised problem too. So much so, that prior to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, the local government set up a committee to “clean up” the city’s often mistranslated English signage.

Apparently, the scheme didn’t extend to Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, where I visited in 2012 and spotted the following signboards. Some are funny, some are bewildering, and one is possibly outright offensive.

What is the funniest thing you have seen ‘mistranslated’ (in any language)? Or have you been lost in translation yourself? Tell us in the comments below!

Comments (2)

  • veena Reply

    I have an entire album on Facebook of ridiculous signs and misspellings in India. It never ceases to be hilarious.

    April 15, 2016 at 2:09 pm
    • Tim Blight Reply

      hahahhaa I’ve got a whole bunch from India too – maybe a part 2 is in order?

      April 18, 2016 at 10:16 am

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