Sunlamp, Monday, Tuesday…

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A friend of Brendan O'Kane in Beijing posted this screenshot of the Chinese-localized interface for her new Jawbone UP fitness tracker (alarm function) on Weixin last night:

Somehow, somewhere along the way from English to Chinese, "Sunday" has become "sunlamp".

Here are the words I know for "Sunday" in Chinese:

Xīngqítiān 星期天

Xīngqírì 星期日

Zhōurì 周日

Zhōutiān 周天

Lǐbàirì 礼拜日

Lǐbàitiān 礼拜天

Zhǔrì 主日 (the day of the Lord)

Rìyàorì 日曜日 (used in ancient Chinese astronomy; cf. Japanese Nichiyōbi)

Ānxírì 安息日 (Sabbath; the day of rest)

Sēndí 森迪 (person's name)

Sēndài 森戴 (person's name)

But I've never heard of it being called tàiyángdēng 太阳灯 ("sunlamp").

As Brendan says,

I tend to assume that in most cases of bizarro translation, a robot is to blame — but I'm having a hard time imagining any situation, short of deliberate sabotage, that could result in a machine translation screwing up something as basic as "Sunday".

It is, of course, a fact of life that nobody wants to pay for translation — but as my friend noted, if Jawbone is charging 900 kuai – about $150! – for a piece of hardware, surely it can afford to get the days of the week right.

Followup: The traditional Chinese-localized interface has "星期日" for Sunday. Doesn't do anything to explain where they got "sunlamp" from, but it's another data point at least.

I should note that Brendan sent that to me under the subject heading of "Reverse Chinglish".

[Thanks to Fangyi Cheng, Rebecca Fu, and Jing Wen]



  1. Brendan said,

    February 13, 2014 @ 3:41 pm

    森迪 Sēndí and 森戴 Sēndài remind me of "sundae," which KFC calls a 圣代 shèngdài and McDonald's calls a 新地 xīndì.

  2. Victor Mair said,

    February 13, 2014 @ 7:33 pm

    From Cecilia Segawa Seigle:

    From the list below, the only ones that the Japanese are familiar are:




    But as you know, only the middle one is used regularly for Sunday.
    The other two are too religious in atmosphere and not necessarily (not strictly) Sunday.

    The Chinese are indeed very rich with expressions.
    Sunday is the day that lights up a person's day – so why not Sunlamp?

  3. Bob said,

    February 13, 2014 @ 9:13 pm

    perhaps Brandon could follow up with a report re what the manufacturer would do to correct this gross error on its products. –hope Chinese industries would progress into responsible business entities.

  4. Brendan said,

    February 13, 2014 @ 9:54 pm

    @Bob: Jawbone is an American company. Chinese companies can generally be trusted to get the Chinese localizations of their software right. But like you, I hope that American companies will "progress into responsible business entities" where this sort of thing is concerned.

  5. Victoria Simmons said,

    February 13, 2014 @ 10:31 pm

    I wonder if there was a spellcheck/autocorrect comic disaster before the word even made it out of English.

  6. Matt said,

    February 13, 2014 @ 10:47 pm

    Is the English definitely "Sunday"? Because if it's just "Sun", that makes an erronous identification as "sunlamp" by some algorithm or translation memory much more likely. (Particularly if Jawbone also has functionality allowing you to track your sunlamp usage.)

  7. Brendan said,

    February 13, 2014 @ 11:02 pm

    @Matt: Dang, that one hadn't occurred to me. Will ask my friend to check the English version of the app, but it seems likely. Still strikes me as weird to get "sunlamp" as a first hit for "Sun.," especially in the context of days of the week, but stranger things have happened with machine translators.

  8. Victor Mair said,

    February 14, 2014 @ 6:32 am

    Great suggestion, Matt! I hope that Brendan's friend can answer that question for us soon.

  9. Victor Mair said,

    February 14, 2014 @ 7:01 am

    [Apologies to those who are not specialists on this subject for delving into some rarefied realms in this comment]

    Rìyàorì / Nichiyōbi 日曜日 essentially means "Day of the Dazzling Sun".

    On 曜, according to Morohashi, the character appears in the first text of the Huangdi Neijing: 七曜周旋, for which there's the note 七曜,謂日月五星.

    So, as I said in the OP, Nichiyōbi 日曜日 does indeed have its roots in ancient Chinese astronomy.

    Can someone check 日本国語大辞典 to see if it tells us something more?

    I have a suspicion / recollection that this esoteric Sino-Japanese lore may have its ultimate roots in Persian (or other west Eurasian) astronomical knowledge.

  10. Brendan said,

    February 14, 2014 @ 10:21 am

    Haven't heard back from my friend yet, but screenshots of an earlier version of the app do seem to show the days being given as "Sun., Mon., Tue.," etc., so it seems a reasonable bet.

  11. Bob said,

    February 14, 2014 @ 11:07 am

    On a closer look of the picture, the "Wake me UP" function seems no available on SATURDAYS. As Matt observed, the SUNLAMP might not referred to SUNDAY, but another function related to SUNLAMP….
    ~~why the "wake me up" function is not available on Saturday but available on Sunday?
    –if it did mean SUNLAMP, the label of this "intelligent" alarm clock was poorly designed.
    ** I will go to Jawbone Company's website, and see the American version of this product, and read its label..
    –if Jawbone (its Chinese branch) had made an error and took no corrective action(s), a protect to its Board of Directors would be called for.

  12. julie lee said,

    February 14, 2014 @ 11:39 am

    @Victor Mair says:
    "On 曜, according to Morohashi, the character appears in the first text of the Huangdi Neijing: 七曜周旋, for which there's the note 七曜,謂日月五星."

    Just for those who know Persian or some other Middle Eastern languages but don't know Chinese:

    yao曜 “shine, bright"
    qiyao zhouxuan 七曜周旋 "seven brights revolving"
    qiyao wei riyue wuxing 七曜,謂 日月五星
    "(the) seven-brights mean (the) sun, moon, (and the) five stars"

  13. Bob said,

    February 14, 2014 @ 11:40 am

    Since 周一, 周二, …. are shown, (for Monday, Tuesday, …) a reasonable person would expect Sunday to be 周日.
    ##there is no need to beat our brains out to wonder what other Chinese versions of Sunday are…
    –my un-intelligent cell phone's alarm function, can be set to repeat the "wake up" alarm on Monday to Friday, but not on weekend(Saturday and Sunday), just like this "intelligent" alarm clock???

  14. Jim Breen said,

    February 14, 2014 @ 5:40 pm

    I didn't realise there were so many words for Sunday in Chinese. 日曜日 is the norm in Japanese of course, and the inevitable loanword "サンデー" gets use too especially in things like サンデー・ミラー (Sunday Mirror) and サンデー・ロースト (Sunday roast.)

    Of course, 日 is often used as an abbreviation. Something like 日月火 is instantly recognized as Sunday/Monday/Tuesday.

    Victor wrote:

    > On 曜, according to Morohashi, the character appears in the first text of the Huangdi Neijing: > 七曜周旋, for which there's the note 七曜,謂日月五星.

    > So, as I said in the OP, Nichiyōbi 日曜日 does indeed have its roots in ancient Chinese astronomy.

    > Can someone check 日本国語大辞典 to see if it tells us something more?

    I've lost ready access to that source (Yahoo Japan had it online until recently.) My other 国語辞典 (広辞苑, 大辞泉, 大辞林) simply explain what 曜日 means in modern Japanese.

    Sites such as tell the usual story about the seven luminaries.

  15. Victor Mair said,

    February 14, 2014 @ 6:15 pm

    Jim Breen's observations are much appreciated, as is the link to Bathrobe's amazing cjvlang website that spells out a lot of the things that I only vaguely recalled from decades ago.

    Hiroshi Kumamoto called to my attention this Wikipedia article:

    esp. the section "日本への導入" :
    日本への 導入

    具註暦では、日曜日は「日曜」と書かれるほかに「密」とも書 か れた。これは、中央アジアのソグド語で日曜日を意味する言葉 ミール(Myr)を漢字で音写した ものであり、当時、ゾロアスター教やマニ教において太陽神とされていたミスラ神の名に由来する。

    Hiroko Sherry kindly translated this into English:


    The concept of 曜日 was introduced to Japan at the beginning of the Heian era through 密教教典 such as 宿曜経, which was brought back to Japan by the monks who studied in Tang China.Soon after the concept was introduced, 曜日 started to appear in the official calendar and diaries.

    (So, the concept was introduced to Japan during the Tang period.)

    In 具註歴、the official calendar, 日曜日(Sunday) is written as 日曜 as well as 密. 密 is a Kanji representation for Myr, which means Sunday in the Sogdian language, and it derives from Mithra (?), the Sun god in Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism.

    Hiroko comments:


    It is not clear from this article whether the concept of 密 was introduced to Japan earlier than and independently from 曜日. It sounds to me that 密 also appeared in 宿曜経, which was brought back to Japan from Tang China, as an alternative form of 曜日/日曜.


  16. Matt said,

    February 14, 2014 @ 11:37 pm

    Yes, Japan imported China's 七曜 (originally from far, far to the west) as part of the whole Chinese cultural complex in ancient times, but they weren't really used for non-mystical purposes until the Meiji period. That change was driven by the government needing to interface more efficiently with representatives of the Western world, who insisted on taking Sunday off rather than "dates ending with a one or a six" and so on. (Even then, the system was mostly used by the government and the elites; I understand that it didn't become the default nationwide until after WWII!)

    That was also when the extra 日 at the end was added; it's arguably redundant, because you can also use just 日曜, 月曜 etc. for the days of the week, but the meaning of 曜 simply was not clear enough to the general public.

  17. Victor Mair said,

    February 15, 2014 @ 7:30 am

    From Antonello Palumbo:

    I would point you to a Tang Buddhist text, the Wenshushili pusa ji zhuxian suoshuo jixiong shiri shan’e xiuyao jing 文殊師利菩薩及諸仙所說吉凶時日善惡宿曜經) (T vol. 21 no. 1299). This was translated by Amoghavajra in 759 and bears a commentary written in in 764 by one Yang Jingfeng 楊景風 (his first name has Eastern Christian associations). The commentary includes an excursus on the seven weekdays in Sogdian, Middle Persian and Sanskrit, and Sunday is rendered in Chinese as 日曜. There is an extensive discussion of this passage (which also mentions the Manichaeans) in Chavannes – Pelliot, "Un traité manichéen retrouvé en Chine", Journal Asiatique I (1913) pp. 166–177.

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