Archive for Language and advertising

Syntactic wigs

Bruce Rusk shared with me this photograph from a store in Vancouver’s Chinatown:

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Biscriptal juxtaposition in Chinese, part 2

When Tom Mazanec came home from Fudan University in Shanghai a few nights ago, he found this leaflet in a baggie hanging on his door:

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Homa Obama

Tom Mazanec sent in the following ad that he saw in a Guangzhou (China) apartment complex:

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Full fart

Advertisement at a train stop in Oslo:

Photograph courtesy of Alexy Khudyakov

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In "Applenese", we examined the Chinese translations from the Mainland, Taiwan, and Hong Kong of this Apple advertising slogan for Mother's Day last spring:  "A gift Mom will love opening. Again and again."

Now let's see what is done with the new Apple campaign for the iPhone 6, "Bigger than bigger",  in Chinese and other languages.

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I remember Apple's Mother's Day advertising campaign for the iPad Air and iPad mini last spring:  "A gift Mom will love opening. Again and again."

I only found out yesterday, in this article, that the Mainland Chinese translation of this tagline is the following:

Ràng māmā kāixīn de lǐwù, kāile yòu kāi.


The grammar cannot be faulted, and the meaning superficially seems to make sense, but the more you think about it, the odder it becomes.  If forced to translate the Chinese translation back into English, I'd come up with something like "A gift that will make Mom happy.  She'll open it again and again."  (Or, for the second sentence, less forced but more awkward:  "She'll be hap[py] again and again.")  That's not what the English says.

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Musee & Peace

This sign from a Nagoya subway is for waxing and other hair removal.

Photograph courtesy of Nathan Hopson.

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Cantonese and Mandarin interwoven

Tom Mazanec noticed this ad for China Mobile by the baggage claim at the Guangzhou (Canton) Baiyun Airport a few nights ago:

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Eco Coke and No Smorking

While we're at it, here are two more contributions from Nathan Hopson in Japan:

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Well, Japan doesn't fall to deliver. I assume that this is meant as something like "individual," in the sense of "self-ish," but whether it's word play or misunderstanding is unclear:

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The rice is prosperous

Here follows an egregious example of bad machine translation without human intervention to correct or improve it.  This is a listing for a book in Chinese on Amazon.

Pinyin as given in the listing:  dao sheng he fu de jing ying zhi hui [ fu zeng / xue xi shou ce qi che ban lv ]

Chinese characters as given in the listing:  稻盛和夫 经营智慧  [附赠]学习手册 汽车伴侣 (click on the small image of the cover ["See this image"] to embiggen)

English translation as given in the listing:  The rice is prosperous and the management intelligence of the man [present|the study manual car companion ] (this is obviously errant nonsense and of no use to anyone who might want to buy the book)

The listing states that the book is by "unknown (Author)".

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Choke a small chili

Paul Obrecht called to my attention the fact that the phrase "choke a small chili", which is widely used on Chinese wholesaling websites (especially for jewellery and accessories), gets 1.5 million Google hits (it received 307,000 ghits when I checked at 6:16 p.m. Tuesday evening, but that's still a lot for such an unusual expression).

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Male aunty

Joel Martinsen came across this snapshot a couple of days ago:

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His Coffeeness

Kendall Willets had long ago noticed that Korean honorifics show up disproportionately in commercial settings, but this article brought up something new.  The -si- 시 infix is only supposed to apply to the verb if the subject has higher status, but in service settings it's expanding to everything, including coffee.

The big LOL sentence for me, was when the Coffee 알바 (short for 아르바이트, “Arbeit(work)” from the Japanese-German arubaito/baito which denotes part-time workers in Korea) in the video says,

그 사물 들에게 우리는 존경의 마음을 억누를 수 없습니다. 커피 나오셨습니다. 커피가 제 시급보다 더 비싸거든요.

roughly translated as:

“We cannot control the boundless respect we have for these things. “Here’s your coffee.” (this is the kind of sentence they are talking about, which to my ears, can only be translated into English as (with a little bit of exaggeration) “His Coffeeness has graced us with his presence.” Then she goes on to say “It’s because (a cup of) coffee is more expensive than my hourly wage.”

[VHM:  sic (punctuation and all); emphasis in the original]

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Free Pre-Paid Cremation! DETAILS INSIDE

Over the last year or so I've received several letters from an admirable organization called the Trident Society with the words "Free Pre-Paid Cremation! DETAILS INSIDE," on the envelope. Ordinarily, I don't open advertising letters, but the third time I got one of these I couldn't resist the urge find out what the writer(s) could mean by these words, which appear to pose a double conundrum. (1) What could a pre-paid cremation contrast with? A post-paid cremation? How would that work? (2) Anyway, if it's free, how can it be paid, pre- or post-? You might want to stop reading for a second and try to guess what's going on.

I'm afraid the answer isn't all that satisfying. Inside there is a card on which the reader can express interest in learning about cremation services. The card also features the announcement: "WIN a pre-paid cremation. Return this completed card today …to be entered … " So I'm invited to participate in a lottery for which the prize is a cremation paid for before my death. I guess I would have been just as happy with a free cremation.

By now, you may be saying , "Oh c'mmon, you know perfectly well what they meant!" Yes, of course, but what I find puzzling about the whole thing is the question of the relative shares of linguistic ineptitude and huckstering flimflam that went into it.

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