Shampoo salmon

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From a section of the Singapore site "Stomp" called "Murder of the English Language" comes this mystifying entree name:

The name of the dish on the placard is xiāngbō sānwènyú chǎofàn 香波三文鱼炒饭.

There's no problem with the last two words (five characters), since they straightforwardly mean "salmon fried rice". Where we run into trouble is with the first word, the two characters of which literally mean "fragrant wave". Normally, however, when we encounter xiāngbō 香波, it means "shampoo" (a transcription of the English word; never mind that there are a number of other Chinese terms for shampoo as well), so it's understandable that a translator (especially a nonhuman one) might go astray when faced with it.

Since it is highly unlikely that xiāngbō 香波 means "shampoo" in this context, and "fragrant waves" doesn't work well either, we must look elsewhere for the significance of the term in relation to salmon fried rice.

According to this recipe, xiāngbō 香波 must be related to the pineapple (bōluó 菠萝), where xiāng 香 means "fragrant; tasty" and bō 波 is an abbreviation of bōluó 波萝, which is an orthographic variant of bōluó 菠萝, the usual way to write the most common Mandarin term for pineapple.

Meanwhile, there is another dish called xiāngbō gūlū ròu 香波咕噜肉 ("sweet and sour pork with savory pineapple"), and here too xiāngbō 香波 is related to pineapple. See also this description, and, for an introduction to gūlū ròu 咕噜肉 ("sweet and sour pork"), see this Wikipedia article. Consequently, we may be fairly confident that xiāngbō sānwènyú chǎofàn 香波三文鱼炒饭 means "fried rice with salmon and savory pineapple".

It might be worth noting that both bōluó 菠萝 / variant bōluó 波萝 ("pineapple") and sānwènyú 三文鱼 ("salmon") are borrowings into Chinese. The latter is fairly straightforward. Mark Liberman's 2008 post entitled "The Sichuan's hair blood is prosperous" touched on the transcription of "salmon" as sānwényú 三文鱼, except that there the Chinglish menu he was introducing and explicating translated it as "three text fish". At least enough progress has been made since then that translators now know sānwényú 三文鱼 means "salmon" and not "three text fish".

Incidentally, 三文 sounds much more like "salmon" when pronounced in Cantonese (saam1 man4) than in Mandarin (sānwén), which borrowed the term from Cantonese.

The reason that the Cantonese, and following them speakers of other Sinitic topolects, borrowed the word salmon is because this particular type of fish does not grow in China proper. One may sometimes hear Chinese refer to salmon as guīyú 鲑鱼, but — as we have seen in this post – fish terminology (especially across languages) is incredibly complicated and dependent upon time and place. Consequently, when Chinese want to refer to salmon from the West, they distinguish it as sānwényú 三文鱼 rather than as the more inclusive guīyú 鲑鱼.

In contrast, there is much controversy over the derivation of bōluó 菠萝 / variant bōluó 波萝 ("pineapple"), as may be seen in the wide variety of opinions expressed in this discussion group. The pineapple was one of many New World crops (peanut, maize, potato… [with high nutritional value from marginal land]) that came to China toward the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and the beginning of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), and were one of the main reasons for the explosion of the population that began from that time.

Although I am not certain of the derivation of bōluó 菠萝 / bōluó 波萝 ("pineapple"), it is curious that this plant belongs to a family called Bromeliaceae and that an extract derived from the pineapple is called bromelain, both named after the Swedish medical doctor and botanist, Olof Bromelius (1639-1705), and that the Chinese term for bromelain is bōluó dànbáiméi 菠萝蛋白酶 (lit., "pineapple protease").

[Hat tip Toni Tan and thanks to Fangyi Cheng]

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29 Comments »

  1. Michael Rank said,

    February 10, 2014 @ 3:01 pm

    I think Chinese as well as foreigners will think immediately of shampoo long before fragrant pineapples when they see 香波三文鱼炒饭,

  2. Victor Mair said,

    February 10, 2014 @ 3:20 pm

    @Michael Rank

    Of course, they will. That's why I took such pains to explain what the Chinese really means.

  3. maidhc said,

    February 11, 2014 @ 4:04 am

    How about "Furnace baking Australia frost's descent snowflakes steak close season height"? It sounds like a headline from The Daily Mail.

  4. Victor Mair said,

    February 11, 2014 @ 6:53 am

    @maidhc

    That's a good insight. I think that the devisers of Chinese dish names strive as mightily as Western headline creators to come up with something awesome, and fall prey to the same kinds of crashes and fails.

  5. Simon P said,

    February 11, 2014 @ 8:04 am

    I've been corrected in the pase when I've said 咕噜肉 as "gu1 lu1 rou4". This is what it's called in Cantonese "gu1 lou1 juk6". But in Mandarin, it's called "gu3 lao3 rou4", I was told. Was I misinformed, or are there regional differences, perhaps?

  6. Victor Mair said,

    February 11, 2014 @ 11:20 am

    From Rebecca Fu, who is from Harbin and is a great cook (of gulurou / gulaorou and many other delicious dishes):

    =====

    We always pronounce it as gu3lao3rou4 古老肉 in Mandarin, but never know what the dish's written name is. Maybe 古老 is the sound of the Cantonese name.

    =====

    That is a very revealing comment by Rebecca.

    I think that the unsureness of the actual morphemes for this word is underscored by the fact that the characters commonly used to write it, 咕噜, both have mouth radicals, indicating that they are meant merely to convey sounds. Incidentally, that combination of characters can also mean "rumble; roll; murmur", which reminds me of Bob Bauer's famous article entitled "Sino-Tibetan *kolo 'Wheel'", Sino-Platonic Papers, 47, which is also gulu in Modern Standard Mandarin, and which probably is related to IE words for "cycle".

  7. ahkow said,

    February 11, 2014 @ 11:46 am

    Interestingly enough, although the photo comes from a Singapore website, pineapple in Singaporean (or Malaysian) Mandarin is never 菠萝 boluo, but 黃梨 huang2li2 鳳梨 feng4li2, probably under Min influence. But there is a phonologically-similar 菠蘿蜜 bo3luo2mi4, which is the term for jackfruit.

    Likewise, contrary to sentiments expressed on comments above, "shampoo" in the same Mandarin varieties is also never 香波 xiangbo but almost always 洗髮劑/洗髮水 xi3fa4ji4/xi3fa4shui3 (lit. wash-hair-chemical / wash-hair-liquid). Asking for 香波 at a shop would get you puzzled stares (unless speaking to e.g. immigrants from Mainland China).

  8. Victor Mair said,

    February 11, 2014 @ 12:31 pm

    @ahkow

    Let's clarify what you're saying.

    Do you mean that this salmon dish is made with jackfruit, not pineapple? Wouldn't that be highly unusual?

    I did mention that there are other words for pineapple and shampoo than the ones discussed in the original post.

    Do you think that the photo was taken in Mainland China and posted on a Singapore site?

    Or do you think that the restaurant where this photograph was taken caters to Mainlanders?

    Or do you think that Mainland Mandarin is having a significant impact on the way language is used among the broader population in Singapore?

    The policies of the Singapore government have resulted in huge numbers of Mainlanders coming to Singapore, such that they now constitute a significant proportion of the population and have stirred up resentment among the inhabitants who have lived there for much longer periods of time.

  9. Mark Dunan said,

    February 11, 2014 @ 12:32 pm

    Incidentally, that combination of characters can also mean "rumble; roll; murmur", which reminds me of Bob Bauer's famous article entitled "Sino-Tibetan *kolo 'Wheel'", Sino-Platonic Papers, 47, which is also gulu in Modern Standard Mandarin, and which probably is related to IE words for "cycle".

    Probably just a coincidence, but in Japanese, guru-guru (ぐるぐる, no Chinese characters) is the onomatopoeic word for something going round and ronud in a circle. (There's another slangy word guru which means "in cahoots; in conspiracy with", referring to multiple people scamming someone together.)

  10. Victor Mair said,

    February 11, 2014 @ 12:41 pm

    From Jing Wen, a native Beijinger:

    I think I say gulao rou and write it as 咕咾肉 rather than 咕噜肉. It is from Guangdong and belongs to 粤菜 (Cantonese cuisine). So gulao/gulu must be 粤语 ("Cantonese") but I do not know what it refers to. Maybe it is the name of the special method of cooking the meat in Guangdong?

  11. Victor Mair said,

    February 11, 2014 @ 1:02 pm

    From Fangyi Cheng, who hails from Hunan:

    =====

    I think I will pronounce 咕噜肉 as gu1 lu1 rou4, and gulaorou should be 咕咾肉. You can find the introduction of 咕噜肉 from here:

    http://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/咕嚕肉

    There are some stories about why it is called 咕噜, one of them is related to Li Hongzhang 李鸿章.

    =====

    VHM: I don't think either of the stories recounted in the Wikipedia article is very convincing

    1. the sound of people swallowing their saliva elicited by the smell of the sweet and sour pork as it is served to them

    2. the sound made by the famous Chinese statesman, Li Hongzhang, as he cleared the phlegm in his throat will serving this dish to a foreign guest (there are lots of stories about bizarre things Li Hongzhang did while interacting with foreign dignitaries — I don't know if most of them were made up by foreigners or by Chinese)

    Such zany etymologies are typical for Chinese words whose true origins are unknown.

  12. Victor Mair said,

    February 11, 2014 @ 3:55 pm

    From Tom Bishop:

    I just revised the ABC dictionary yesterday, in response to an inquiry a few months old; I'm guessing you noticed the dictionary change or it was pointed out to you (otherwise, what a coincidence!). These are the entries after my revision:

    gūlǎoròu 咕咾肉 n. See gūlūròu

    gūlūròu 咕噜肉[-嚕-] n. sweet-and-sour pork M:²kuài 块

    The old entry was

    gūlǎoròu 咕噜肉[-嚕-] n. sweet-and-sour pork M:²kuài 块

    Notice the alternation between 咾 and 噜. The original entry has a reference to The Eater's Guide to Chinese Characters (vcf137.5). That book (which I happen to have) has two entries 咕咾肉 "gǔ lǎo ròu" and 咕噜肉 "gǔ lǔ ròu".

    Although The Eater's Guide to Chinese Characters has third tones (gǔlǎo and gǔlǔ). I made them gūlǎo and gūlū following the readings in Xiandai Hanyu Cidian. I have no experience with this term (or pair of terms) in real life (being a vegetarian).

    I saw a variant 古老肉 somewhere, but I don't see why it would be related to 古老. Maybe just like waiters writing 反 instead of 饭 or 飯.

  13. Victor Mair said,

    February 11, 2014 @ 4:10 pm

    From Bob Bauer:

    I myself have wondered about the origin of 咕噜 in this word.

    Sidney Lau's A Practical Cantonese-English Dictionary (1977) has three relevant entries on page 305. The first one is for 咕噜 gu1 lu1 which is glossed as 'sweet-and-sour' and states that it refers only to Chinese dishes, and "origin of word unknown".

    Two other entries are: 咕噜排骨 gu1 lu1 paai4 gwat1 'fried spare-rib with sweet-and-sour sauce'; and 咕噜肉 gu1 lu1 juk6 'sweet-and-sour pork'.

    I have to say 咕噜 gu1 lu1 doesn't look or sound Cantonese to me, and I suspect it is most likely a foreign loan.

  14. Gpa said,

    February 11, 2014 @ 5:13 pm

    咕噜 is Mandarinizing the foreigner's mistaken pronunciation of Cantonese name of 古老肉, which when garbled or pronounced incorrectly would become what is today's 咕咾肉. Take a look at this: http://blog.sina.com.tw/binbindish/index.php?idx_page=5 and literally look for " 咕咾肉" (copying and pasting 咕咾肉 in the page finder doesn't help here: It's under the title: 97/4/1(二)如何做出酸酸甜甜、香氣十足的咕咾肉?【張信宏V.SMaggie】, with subtitle 如何做出酸酸甜甜、香氣十足的咕咾肉?).

    So, 咕咾肉 is really 外國人's attempt at saying 古老肉 via 粵語.

  15. Bob said,

    February 11, 2014 @ 5:17 pm

    perhaps influenced by the dish's English name, or, people have found the un-explainable 咕嚕 tiresome; in Hong Kong, 甜酸 is used more often, or replaces with 糖醋.

  16. Gpa said,

    February 11, 2014 @ 5:24 pm

    At first, I thought 咕咾肉 was from 閩南語 because they have 咾咕厝 in Taiwan. Later, I realized the characters were in reversed order.

  17. ahkow said,

    February 11, 2014 @ 7:30 pm

    @Victor Mair

    Great questions.

    1. Do you mean that this salmon dish is made with jackfruit, not pineapple? Wouldn't that be highly unusual?

    As a speaker of this Southeast Asian Mandarin dialect, I wouldn't have guessed it contained pineapple, because xiangbo is compositionally opaque to me. I do agree with your interpretation that it is made of pineapple, though. I do however know that boluo is the name of pineapple in certain,Chinese-speaking areas, but would not use the term myself.

    With jackfruit I was pointing out the fact that there was another similar sounding term for a very different fruit. Jackfruit is not really frequently cooked, maybe except in Javanese gudeg (check out Waroeng Surabaya in South Philly if you haven't already)

    2. I did mention that there are other words for pineapple and shampoo than the ones discussed in the original post.

    Yup, and I just thought I would point out that xiangbo and boluo can be pretty marked in some geographies.

    3. Do you think that the photo was taken in Mainland China and posted on a Singapore site?

    Yes. A Singaporean establishment wouldn't typically use an online translation service.

    4. do you think that Mainland Mandarin is having a significant impact on the way language is used among the broader population in Singapore? The policies of the Singapore government have resulted in huge numbers of Mainlanders coming to Singapore, such that they now constitute a significant proportion of the population and have stirred up resentment among the inhabitants who have lived there for much longer periods of time.

    Tough question. There is definitely alignment of some Mandarin language terminology with China e.g. Xin Xilan for New Zealand as opposed to the "older" Niu Xilan. But lots of colloquial terms have not been supplanted. Tomatoes are still 蕃茄 fan1qie2, a market for fresh produce is still a 巴剎 ba1sha1 (after Malay pasar, borrowed from the same source that gave English "bazaar"). The local variety still carries a lot of covert prestige and is used as a way to distinguish native-born Singaporean Chinese from recent immigrants from China. I dont expect a lot of absorption of Putonghua lexical items or constructions due to the fact that there is little consumption here of mainland shows, and a strengthening of local Chinese identity as a reaction to the recent influx of immigrants from China.

  18. Victor Mair said,

    February 11, 2014 @ 8:18 pm

    @ahkow

    Thanks for your excellent, detailed responses. Very informative.

  19. Venichka said,

    February 12, 2014 @ 1:27 am

    I've seen "Gollum meat" given as an English translation for "咕噜肉" on a menu in a Cantonese restaurant in Chengdu, Sichuan. I ordered it and it tasted like sweet and sour pork. On Baidu, "咕噜肉" is translated as "Sweet and Sour Pork", however "咕噜" alone is "Gollum". Maybe the person looking for a translation didn't include "肉" because they knew it meant "meat".

    I hadn't heard of the Li Hongzhang origin before, but Gollum got the name from "a horrible swallowing noise in his throat" according to The Hobbit.

  20. Simon P said,

    February 12, 2014 @ 4:02 am

    The story I've heard is that it comes from the bubbling sounds of the pot as it boils, but it seems reasonable to suppose it's a loan. Do we know how far back the dish can be traced?

  21. maidhc said,

    February 12, 2014 @ 6:05 am

    Venichka: As I recall from LoTR, Gollum lived mostly on raw fish.

  22. Victor Mair said,

    February 12, 2014 @ 7:22 am

    I've watched a fair number of people cook sweet and sour pork, but never heard any conspicuous bubbling sounds during the preparation.

  23. Jim said,

    February 12, 2014 @ 3:56 pm

    蛋白

    Is that a translation loan of "Eiweiss"?

  24. Bob said,

    February 12, 2014 @ 4:25 pm

    @Jim
    疍黃 egg yellow(yoke), 疍白 egg white, are self descriptive and self meaning enough; Chinese also have creative thinking, need not borrow names from foreigners all the time.

  25. Victor Mair said,

    February 12, 2014 @ 8:25 pm

    From Peter Leimbigler
    at http://www.cjkware.com

    =====

    Regarding "sweet-and-sour pork", in the KEY 2014 updated dictionary we have the following relevant entries:

    咕咾肉 gūlǎoròu
    sweet-and-sour pork || (often written gūlūròu 咕嚕肉/咕噜肉 which is non-standard for the pronunciation of this dish)

    咕嚕肉 gūlūròu
    sweet-and-sour pork || (usually pronounced gu1lao3rou4 which is non-standard in this writing;; same as gūlǎoròu 咕咾
    肉)

    [The word 咕嚕 gūlū, according to the 6th edition (2012) of the Xiandai Hanyu Cidian, seems to be unrelated to the dish, so the KEY entries read:]

    咕嚕 gūlū
    {onom} (of the stomach, heavy objects rolling, etc.) gurgle, rumble; "cluck" (or similar, used to describe the sound of swallowing)

    咕嚕 gūlu
    {onom} whisper; murmur (talk in a low voice, usually to oneself) || (same as gūnong 咕噥/咕哝 "murmur")

  26. Bob said,

    February 12, 2014 @ 10:11 pm

    the sounds for 魯 and 老 (hence 噜 and 咾) are the same in Cantonese. Since there are enough references indicating 咕噜肉 is a Cantonese dish; the assertion of 咕嚕 is a variation of 咕咾 is baseless. I think, 咕咾/古老 are the simplified form of writing 咕噜.
    –古老 makes no sense here, since no one says this is an ancient dish.
    –I have seen 咕嚕 but not 咕咾 before in HK.
    *** simplified form on menus, particular the written on slips of paper, posted on the restaurants' walls kind, are not necessary from a lazy writer, but, attempts to show customers who only know limited characters.

  27. Jim said,

    February 13, 2014 @ 3:45 pm

    Bob,

    "疍黃 egg yellow(yoke), 疍白 egg white, are self descriptive and self meaning enough; "

    You are missing half the meaning of Eiweiss. I referring to the analogous use of the term 蛋白for protein as in "bōluó dànbáiméi 菠萝蛋白酶 (lit., "pineapple protease")."

    Calling protein "eggwhite" is probably no more necessarily obvious in Chinese than it is in English, and I would think there would be several other terms that might have been invented.

    .

  28. Bob said,

    February 13, 2014 @ 8:33 pm

    @Jim
    疍白 and 疍白酶, just like motor and motor car…. their meanings are far apart.

  29. Jim said,

    February 14, 2014 @ 1:58 pm

    So you are saying you don't see the connection between "protein" and "protease"? Okay.

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