Maidhc Mac Roibin spotted this oddly named item on the menu (bottom right) of the Nutrition Restaurant in Cupertino, CA:
hóngyóu chǎoshǒu 红油炒手
(lit., "fried hand with / in red oil")
The English ("Fry the red hand"), of course, is ridiculous, but the Chinese itself is wrong. It should be hóngyóu chāoshǒu 红油抄手 ("wonton [soup] with spicy sauce").
The erroneous wording on the menu, hóngyóu chǎoshǒu 红油炒手 (lit., "fried hand with / in red oil"), and the corrected wording, hóngyóu chāoshǒu 红油抄手 ("wonton [soup] with spicy sauce"), are nearly perfectly homophonous (except for one tone), and differ by only a single character: chǎo 炒 ("[stir-]fry; saute") instead of chāo 抄 ("copy; transcribe; plagiarize; confiscate; seize", etc.). The two characters differ by only a single stroke: chǎo 炒 has a "fire" radical, while chāo 抄 has a "hand" radical. Visually they are very similar. As a matter of fact, the first few times I looked at the menu, I thought that I was seeing hóngyóu chāoshǒu 红油抄手 ("wonton [soup] with spicy sauce"), not hóngyóu chǎoshǒu 红油炒手 (lit., "fried hand with / in red oil"), because I expected to see the former, not the latter.
This very dish occurs as item #46 on the Sichuanese menu that we studied in this post:
"Wonton in Zanthoxylum schinifolium etzucc sauce " (5/6/15)
There hóngyóu chāoshǒu 红油抄手 is translated as "Wonton in hot chili oil". Fair enough. So far as hóngyóu 红油 goes, it literally means "red oil"; "hot chili oil" is an adequate rendering for that. But the other part of the name is much more difficult to render: the literal meaning of chāoshǒu 抄手 is "fold (one's) arms", a gesture of respect. We find the expression with this meaning as early as the novel All Men Are Brothers OR Water Margin (latter part of the 16th century).
As a Sichuanese topolect word, however, chāoshǒu 抄手 (lit., "crossed hands", describing the way the dough skin is folded) refers to a type of wonton (meat-filled dumpling with a thin dough "skin"). Quoting from "Wonton in Zanthoxylum schinifolium etzucc sauce", chāoshǒu 抄手:
….also signifies "wonton" in Heilongjiang, parts of Shaanxi and Anhui, Wuhan, and other scattered locations in north and central China…. "[W]onton" [is] a topic that we have several times addressed on Language Log:
- "Wanton soup" (1/5/15)
- "Wantan soup for überman hubby" (3/15/14)
- "Hong Kong-specific characters and shorthand" (3/15/15)
There are even more ways to write (and say) "wonton" in Chinese than there are in English ("wantan, wanton, wuntun", etc.), viz., MSM húntún, Shandongese húndùn 馄饨, yùntún 餫飩, Cantonese wɐn4tɐn1 雲吞, Minnan piánsi̍t 扁食, to name just a few.
To arrive at "fry the red hand", the translator would have had to be thinking chǎo hóngshǒu 炒红手 instead of hóngyóu chǎoshǒu 红油抄手, which requires quite a leap of rearrangement. Otherwise, they simply were being extremely sloppy. The real, initial mistake, though, lies with the person who wrote the Chinese, so it's not too surprising that the translator would come up with something wild. However, if they were attentive and sufficiently knowledgeable, the translator should have realized that something was wrong with the original Chinese.