I'm lovin' it — next to the toilet

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Here's a sign for a McDonald's in the Guangzhou (Canton) Airport:

The English slogan, "i'm lovin' it," is followed by the standard Chinese version:  "WO3 JIU4 XI3HUAN1 我就喜歡 ("I just love [it])."  To the right of the arches and the slogan, the sign gives directions for how to get there:  "Go out at gate 9; walk forward, turn left, 100 meters (not "100 rice" for "100 MI3 米," though I have seen such translations on Chinglish signs), at gate 5 (next to the WC)."

As Stefan Krasowski, a Wharton grad working in China who sent me the message wrote:  "Great marketing: 'Yes, I'd like to eat at the McDonald's next to the public toilet.'"

Two observations about the language of the directions on the sign:

1. There are no particular Cantonese markers. It would be very rare ever to see any evidence of written Cantonese anywhere in the province of Guangdong (Canton), but one often encounters it in Hong Kong — especially in advertising.

2. WC seems to be a universal symbol that has entered many languages (Chinese, in this case) without the original English ("water closet") from which it derived necessarily being known. I dare say that many English speakers who freely use the abbreviation WC are not entirely certain of its origin, or at least not of the meaning of "water closet."

From the Wikipedia article on the "Flush toilet":

The term "water-closet" was the original term for a room with a toilet. Originally, the term "bath-room" referred only to the room where the bathtub was located, which was usually a separate room, but this connotation has changed. The term "water closet" was probably adapted because in the late 1800s, with the advent of indoor plumbing, many a toilet displaced many an early clothes closet, closets being shaped to easily accommodate the spatial needs of a commode.[citation needed] The term "water closet" is still used today in some places, but it often refers to a room that has both a toilet and other plumbing fixtures such as a sink or a bathtub. Plumbing manufacturers often use the term "water-closet" to differentiate toilets from urinals. American plumbing codes still refer to a toilet as a "Water Closet" or a "WC". Many South American countries refer to a toilet as a "Water" which is now a term commonly found in Spanish dictionaries, and which derives from the British term "Water Closet".

In any event, a "water closet" is not exactly the same thing as a "closestool," an obscure term that we have discussed before on Language Log.

McDonalds has adapted the English slogan "i'm lovin' it" for marketing campaigns in many other countries, including  (following another Wikipedia article)  Denmark, Guam, Japan, Australia, Austria, Sint Maarten, United Kingdom, Hong Kong, The Bahamas, New Zealand, Ireland, Austria, Belgium, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Andorra, Thailand, Luxembourg, Italy, Serbia, South Korea, France, Hungary, Kazakstan, Russia, People's Republic of China, Indonesia, Sweden, Greece, Czech Republic, Poland, Monaco, Brunei, Yemen, Morocco, Northern Mariana Islands, Iceland, Israel, Slovenia, Kuwait, New Caledonia, Oman, Bulgaria, Norway, Bahrain, Latvia, United Arab Emirates, Estonia, Romania, Malta, Slovakia, South Africa, Qatar, Croatia, Samoa, Fiji, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, India, Jordan, Dominican Republic, Belarus, Cyprus, Macedonia, Isle of Man, Suriname, Moldova, Lebanon, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Georgia, San Marino, Gibraltar, Azerbaijan, American Samoa, Mauritius, Montenegro, Portugal, Spain, Austria, Switzerland, and Finland.

Perhaps getting the nuances of the short American English slogan ("i'm lovin' it") just right proved too challenging for some, so they adopted the English version outright. (For the Japanese, though, it would be hard to pronounce the initial "l" of the second word.) Judging from the following translations into other languages, it would seem that few were very successful in capturing the flavor and meaning of the English:

German   ich liebe es "I love it"

Arabic   أنا أحبه (ana uħibbuhu) or اكيد بحبه (akid behibuhu)   "I love it. / Of course I love it"

French   c’est tout ce que j’aime "It's everything that I love"

Canadian French   c’est ça que j’m "That's what I love. (j'm = j'aime.)"

Canadian French   J’m "I love. (Written with golden arches for the m.)"

Taglish (Tagalog-English)   love ko ‘to "I love this. ('to = ito)"

Spanish   me encanta "I love it. (lit. It enchants me.)"

Chilean Spanish   me encanta todo eso "I love all that. (lit. All that enchants me.)"

Brazilian Portuguese   amo muito tudo isso "I love all this a lot"

Turkish   işte bunu seviyorum "This is what I love"

Russian   вот что я люблю "That is what I love"

Ukrainian   я це люблю "I love this"

Latvian    man tas patīk "I like it"

Advertising slogans characteristically rely on catchy, memorable expressions that push the boundaries of formal language. Trying to capture that sort of grammatical insouciance in another language may sometimes be too much to ask. Another example is the Nike slogan "Just do it." The Chinese web is full of discussions about what this slogan means and how to translate it. Here's just one example.

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29 Comments »

  1. Ralph Hickok said,

    December 12, 2009 @ 9:27 am

    There must be some other Language Log readers old enough to recall that Jack Paar once left the Tonight Show because NBC had censored a joke in which WC was used to stand for both "water closet" and "wayside chapel."

  2. Army1987 said,

    December 12, 2009 @ 9:30 am

    "Culinary" comes from Latin "culus" (arse) because Romans had toilets near kitchens, of course.

    [(myl) Nice joke. Did you pull it out of your own kitchen, or has someone else cooked it up before you? The Lewis & Short entry for cŭlīna cites a relation to Sanscrit çar, çri, "to cook, mix", so you have an opportunity to take the joke back to the camp lay-out practices of the Indo-European nomads. And while you're at it, why not point out the broader etymological connections to culture?]

  3. David said,

    December 12, 2009 @ 10:22 am

    Interesting that you should mention that there are no markers of its being Cantonese. The choice of 转左 (zhuan3 zuo3 – turn left) is very common in spoken Cantonese but very rare in Mandarin; standard usage in Mandarin would be 左转(zuo3 zhuan3 – [towards] left turn). To my ear, this would give the sign's copy-writer away as a Cantonese-speaker.

  4. mollymooly said,

    December 12, 2009 @ 11:04 am

    In French WC, and W in other initialisms, is often pronounced [ve] rather than [dubləve], which is striking since [ve] is the name of V. If there was a common thing call a VC in France, it would lead to all sorts of hilarious misunderstandings.

  5. jfruh said,

    December 12, 2009 @ 11:12 am

    A friend of mine who spent some time in Hungary assumed that "vay-tzay" was some kind of slang for bathroom until she finally saw it written out as WC. The thing I find so interesting about this is that the abbreviation isn't so widely used in English-speaking countries (definite not in the US, and I believe not in the UK either?). How did this English abbreviation come to be used in non-English-speaking countries, and what portion of people who use it realize that it's of English-language origin?

  6. Ryan Denzer-King said,

    December 12, 2009 @ 12:54 pm

    We need a Blackfoot version: nitáííkakomimmiiwa, 'I'm loving it'.

    Where's Bill for the Dakelh version?

  7. Army1987 said,

    December 12, 2009 @ 5:11 pm

    To myl: I've read that that joke made its way into an Italian etymological dictionary. http://www.mauriziopistone.it/testi/discussioni/immaginaria_culinaria.html
    My translation (with my comments in square brackets):

    Chronicles of imaginary filology

    Is it true that "culinaria" derives from "culo"?

    "Enoch Soames" wrote on it.cultura.linguistica.italiano:
    In the post where I said that I prefer "cucinario" rather than "culinario" – paretymological deformation from culus, because lavatories were near the kitchen – I was called "brilliant" by Maurizio Pistone [the author of the webpage], as if I had made a joke. Unfortunately the etymology is real (see DELI – Dizionario etimologico lingua italiana – Cortelazzo, Zolli).

    [(myl) Better and better! A joke with a bibliography! Here's the entry from the Vocabolario Etimologico di Pianigiani:

    And the cited Latin word culina is related by Lewis & Short to a Sanskrit verb meaning "to cook, mix", thus forcing the connection to (the ancestor of) culo or culus back to proto-Indo-European times, presumably due to the traditional organization of nomadic encampments.]

    Therefore I should take back the compliment "brilliant".

    And that's right. But I'll continue to call "brilliant" anyone who has highlighted such a close community between the two deepest cavities of our body.
    ***
    I picture to myself a meeting of linguists and lexicographers, always so serious.

    At one point, after some glasses of Nebbiolo wine, one springs up to say: "Well, they keep on asking me whether "estetico" [aesthetic] comes from "esteriore" [exterior], whether caciocavallo cheese is made from mare [cavalla] milk …"
    And another one: "To me, they ask whether Felino salami is made from cats, whether "culinario" [culinary] comes from "culo" [arse]…"
    A third one: "Let's make 'em contented, then! Let's write that on our dictionaries! You'll see they'll swallow the bait!"

    Passing from Nebiolo to Barbaresco wine the temperature of the meeting also rises.
    "We'll all write that "culinario" comes from "culo", because Romans kept kitchens next to shitholes."
    With the help of some litres of 60%-ABV Neive grappa the new etymology is written.
    "But nobody is going to believe that!"
    At that point alarmed waiters arrived with large jugs of bitter coffee. To no avail: the linguists demanded the correction (of the coffee [i.e. the addition of grappa in it], not of the etymology).
    "You'll see, they'll believe us!"
    "They won't!"
    "You'll see, you'll see!"

    [(myl) I see that you're a fellow enthusiast of the "bar bet theory" of etymological creativity.]

    A delegation of linguists (supporting one another, and all banging together into walls) sought to reach the nearby Italian literature congress, to convince delegates to write that D'Annunzio actually did have two ribs removed [in order to be able to fellate himself, as a popular legend in Italy -- which I happen to believe -- claims]. But they failed to enter the door.

    Until now.

  8. Peter Taylor said,

    December 12, 2009 @ 5:36 pm

    I've never seen "water" in a Spanish dictionary, but the Real Academia Española does list váter.

  9. Luciano Eduardo de Oliveira said,

    December 12, 2009 @ 6:18 pm

    I'm Brazilian and I don't think the Portuguese version Amo muito tudo isso is very idiomatic. I find the combinar between amar with muito weird and wonder what isso (that) refers to. I think a better slogan would Estou adorando (literally I'm adoring), with an implied object, common in Portuguese especially when referring to non-human entities.

  10. Matt said,

    December 12, 2009 @ 8:59 pm

    Since you mention it, here's a sample of that initial L in a Japanese version, as pronounced by Yuri Ebihara:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0hM5L1FVD8

    - Matthew

  11. marie-lucie said,

    December 12, 2009 @ 9:18 pm

    Coincidentally (or not) with Brazilian Portuguese, colloquial contemporary French should have "Macdo, j'adore!"

  12. Terry Hunt said,

    December 12, 2009 @ 10:30 pm

    Re Army 1987's "the two deepest cavities of our body": they're actually the two ends of the same cavity. Topologically and evolutionarily we're just complicated worms, a tube surrounding an alimentary canal.

  13. Dan T. said,

    December 13, 2009 @ 1:55 am

    One of the books in the "Great Brain" children's series (taking place in Utah in the late 1800s) featured the lead character's family, thanks to the father being a gadget freak, installing a newfangled water closet in their house.

  14. Fluxor said,

    December 13, 2009 @ 2:39 am

    I agree with David. I looked at the sign before reading the post and my "Cantonese detector" went up. The use of 转左, rather than 左转, is the most obvious. Less obvious is the use of 行. Although not uncommon in Mandarin, the usage of this character in this context tends to point to a Cantonese speaker in my opinion.

  15. John Cowan said,

    December 13, 2009 @ 7:31 am

    "Tcha! it beats me why Godamighty wanted to put such a lot of bones into them things."

    P.C. Eagles was shocked.

    "You didn't oughter question the ways of Godamighty," he said, reprovingly.

    "You keep a civil tongue in your 'ed, my lad," retorted Sergeant Lumley, unfairly intruding his official superiority into this theological discussion, "and don't go forgettin' what's due to my position.

    "There ain't no position in the eyes of Godamighty," said P.C. Eagles, stoutly. His father and his sister happened to be noted lights in the Salvation Army, and he felt himself to be on his own ground here. "If it pleases 'Im to make you a sergeant, that's one thing, but it won't do you no good when you comes before 'Im to answer to the charge of questionin' 'Is ways with kippers. Come to think of it, in 'Is sight you an' me is just the same as worms, with no bones at all."

    "Not so much about worms," said Sergeant Lumley. "You oughter know better than to talk about worms when a man's eating his breakfuss. It's enough to take any one's appetite away. And let me tell you, Eagles, worm or no worm, if I have any more lip from you–"

    –Dorothy L. Sayers, Murder Must Advertise

  16. Guilherme Manika said,

    December 13, 2009 @ 7:48 am

    I am not so sure that the "it" in the slogan refers to "McDonald's" specifically, which is something that the Brazilian Portuguese has attempted to preserve: I love "all of this" (this what?). That is why it sounds weird.

    I guess English is a language that is uniquely suited for the meaninglessness of marketing.

    [(myl) Both plausibility and evidence are against this, it seems to me. A hypothesis with better a priori probability is that effective advertising slogans, like good poems, are hard to translate.]

  17. John Atkinson said,

    December 13, 2009 @ 9:11 am

    @Peter Taylor: "I've never seen "water" in a Spanish dictionary, but the Real Academia Española does list váter."

    The Concise Oxford Spanish Dictionary has it, spelled wáter, and says it's pronounced either '(g)water, or (in Spain only) 'bater.

  18. Philip TAYLOR said,

    December 13, 2009 @ 9:27 am

    Rather than writing wo3 jiu4 xi3huan1, the excellent Pinyin to Unicode converter at http://www.foolsworkshop.com/ptou/ will allow one to write wǒ jiù xǐhuān

  19. J. Goard said,

    December 13, 2009 @ 11:38 am

    My friends, gf, and I have never seen it translated into Korean. Koreans tend to prefer ungrammatical or semantically anomalous stuff in English. like the girl's shirt I saw recently with most of Gresham's Law:

    "Bad money drives out"

  20. Aaron Davies said,

    December 14, 2009 @ 2:38 am

    the nazis apparently used to get much amusement out of referring to Churchill as "W C"

  21. George said,

    December 14, 2009 @ 5:51 am

    When I lived in China, the only reason I ever went into a McDonalds was because you could be sure of finding a clean toilet. I know, that adds absolutely nothing to this discussion.

  22. Army1987 said,

    December 14, 2009 @ 12:14 pm

    re "bar bet theory": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penguin_diagram#Origin_of_the_name

  23. MM80 said,

    December 14, 2009 @ 7:19 pm

    Perhaps getting the nuances of the short American English slogan ("i'm lovin' it") just right proved too challenging for some, so they adopted the English version outright. (For the Japanese, though, it would be hard to pronounce the initial "l" of the second word.)

    In addition to difficulty pronouncing /l/ in Japan, they also have difficulty with the fricative /v/ (for which they make a /b/) so "i'm loving it' could possibly become 'i'm rubbing it'.

  24. Michael Rank said,

    December 15, 2009 @ 6:51 pm

    I've noticed that a lot of people nowadays (usually aged under 25/30) say things like "I'm thinking that…." which sound strange to old farts like me. I'm thinking that they're influenced by the MacD slogan "I'm lovin' it" which is another reason why I would never say anything like that expressions.
    Incidentally WC is very old fashioned in British English…

  25. Lareina said,

    December 15, 2009 @ 10:18 pm

    Sir – your 'flush' make me think of the poster on your door "数码冲印" as in
    "Digital flush india"….lol…….0/
    have a goood goooooooood holiday/

  26. 侠客西风 said,

    December 25, 2009 @ 10:04 pm

    数码冲印
    印, not india, but print.

  27. 侠客西风 said,

    December 25, 2009 @ 10:05 pm

    Michael Rank

    and what do they use in British English nowadays for WC?

  28. Robert said,

    December 28, 2009 @ 12:36 am

    @ 侠客西风

    Loo or toilet, usually. Both refer to the device and the room containing it. This caused me much confusion when I was 3 years old and people referred to someone as being "in the loo".

  29. N.S. Edwards said,

    May 31, 2010 @ 10:17 am

    I believe that the word "loo" doesn not come from Waterloo, as some suggest. In hotels, schools, etc. the rooms are numbered. However, the toilets are marked often as "00." This indicates that it has no number, hence it is not a room. The French read it as the letters "O" and called it "l'oo." The British named it the "loo" with a different pronunciation.

    This being said, I just read a book about Henry VIII times. They called the toilet – a jordan. Does anyone know where this word is coming from?

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