Strong language

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I have no context for this photo, but the character on the car and sign behind make the situation pretty obvious. Courtesy of Josh Ellis on Facebook, via Michael Cannings on Twitter:

The vertical sign on the door in the background reads:

sīrén tǔdì qǐng wù tíngchē 私人土地請勿停車
("private land; please do not park")

The single large character spray painted in green on the car is gàn 幹, which has the following meanings: "the trunk of a tree or the body; business, to attend to business; manage; skillful, capable; do; fuck".  You can guess which one is meant in this instance.

See, among other Language Log posts, the following:

"The Etiology and Elaboration of a Flagrant Mistranslation" (12/9/07)

"The further elaboration of a flagrant mistranslation " (8/31/13)

The latter post explains in detail the relationship of gàn 幹 to gān 乾 ("dry, dried; clean, exhausted; to possess the name without the true relationship; to hold a position in name only").  During the process of simplification, both of these characters were collapsed into gān 干, which originally had these meanings:  "to oppose, offend against; a shield; the bank of a river; a stem (including a cyclical / calendrical symbol); attend to, concern; involve; consequences, results; seek; arrange".  This collapsing of gàn 幹 and gān 乾 into gān 干 resulted in a flood of embarrassing mistranslations.

The character on the car does not mean "dry", not by a long shot.

[h/t/ Ben Zimmer]


  1. dicorico said,

    January 30, 2016 @ 6:21 am

    quite "radical" as we'd say in french

  2. julie lee said,

    January 30, 2016 @ 11:46 am

    Although I can read both modern and classical Chinese, I would never have understood what that character GAN 幹 “do, manage, etc." meant here ("fuck") had I not read your various explanatory posts. And I believe all my well-bred Chinese golden-oldies women-friends would not have understood its use here as well. So, thank you. (Also, although I am a product of English-language schools–from kindergarten to high-school–in the Far East, I never knew the meaning of the word "fuck" until I was in American graduate school, so conservative was my education. I had thought it meant "damn!", and, I regret to say, I'd use it as such."

  3. He said, she said,

    January 30, 2016 @ 5:54 pm

    I'm curious. If the chastised driver drove away with both windows rolled down, would observers be able to guess the message? Would there be multiple possible messages or would too much information be lost?

  4. Electric Dragon said,

    January 31, 2016 @ 11:07 am

    Perhaps the car owner could, with a bit of extra paint, convert 幹 into 乾, rather in the manner of Alan Partridge:×315.jpg

  5. K Chang said,

    January 31, 2016 @ 4:52 pm

    Doesn't "gan" have another meaning, as in "get rid of", like 幹掉他,一乾二凈?

  6. Lim said,

    February 7, 2016 @ 12:01 pm

    Some of you are thinking too much. I am Taiwanese. This means ‘fuck’. I grew up seeing hundreds of 幹 in my classroom and everywhere.
    The Mandarin pronunciation of 幹 is similar to the Taiwanese (Hokkien) pronunciation of 姦.

  7. Lim said,

    February 7, 2016 @ 12:07 pm

    Also, 幹, 乾 and 干 have nothing in common in Taiwan except that 豆干 can be written as 豆乾. They are three different ideographs with different meanings. Taiwan does not recognise the ‘simplified’ 干 used in Mainland China.

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