The South China Morning Post (Feb. 13, 2011) carried this peculiar headline for an article by John Carney: "No sex please, our ancestors are resting, sign says." And here is a photograph of the sign in question:
The sign is situated in a remote location in Clear Water Bay, Hong Kong. But what in the world does it mean?
Well, we already know jim4 gam3 嚴禁 ("strictly forbidden") from my Nov. 10, 2010 post entitled "Don't Kettle".
From the picture above the warning in the rectangular box, it seems that one is being enjoined not to shake one's car. The inverted pair of shapely legs with a circle at the base is suggestive, but not immediately obvious. Combined with the shaking of the car, I suppose that — with a bit of effort — one could figure out what is being implied.
So, returning to the verbal Chinese warning inside the rectangular box, it states that what is being "strictly forbidden" is 車震 ("car shaking"), which is what we already figured out from looking at the picture above. For a Mandarin speaker (chē zhèn), this is mystifying: why would one be told not to shake one's car? In any event, chē zhèn is not a fixed expression or word in Mandarin. In Cantonese, however, 車震 does have a specific meaning. The entry from the handy CantoDict site:
ce1 zan3 jyutping
dogging inside a parked car
This term is used in Cantonese, not Mandarin/Standard written Chinese.
Characters in this word:
車 ce1 / geoi1 – cart; vehicle; car
震 zan3 –  [v] shake; quake; tremor; tremble, as an e[arthquake]
For those who are curious about the fuller explanation at the bottom of the sign, it says:
In front of the ancestors' graves,
Do not wildly steal pleasure;
Ghosts and spirits together witness,
The evil consequences will be born by yourself.
Now we know what the Chinese means (sort of), but what about the English? Both the sign and CantoDict inform us that ce1 zan3 車震 means "dogging." Until encountering this sign, I had never heard of the expression "dogging." So I asked some friends from Hong Kong and England if they had heard of it. A British friend elucidated "dogging" thus: "I'm…aware of the term, which I understand to derive from 'I'm just going out to take the dog for a walk, dear', meaning 'I'm just going out to watch people shagging down at the park'. So, owning a dog is just a cover for all kinds of bad behaviour."
A Hong Kong friend added: "I know the term 車震 means to have sex in a car. Cantodict has 'dogging' as the English translation, too… and I think in British English 'dogging' means to have sex in public places."
There are plenty of unusual non-Sinitic words in Hong Kong English, and it sometimes takes considerable effort to determine how and when they entered the language. For another example, when you pay the fee at a parking lot in Hong Kong, you are required to do it at the "shroff". When I first encountered this word, it struck me as vaguely Arabic, but it was only when I found this lovely etymology website, "Take Our Word For It," that I learned the real story of its origin:
[I]t is originally from çarraf, Arabic for "banker" or "money-changer" and derives from the Arabic verb çaraf, "to exchange" and is related to the Hebrew çaraph, "to refine", "to assay" [gold or silver]. The Arabic word was borrowed by Persian as saraf and from thence entered 16th century Portuguese (those Portuguese traders got everywhere!) as xarrafo. English picked it up either from the Portuguese or, even more indirectly, from the 17th century French form: cherafe. At any rate, it entered the Anglo-Indian vocabulary as shroff some time in the late 17th century although occasional English travelers in the East had used related words, such as xaraffo, a century earlier.
In the Far East, shroff acquired an additional meaning, that of "a native expert employed to detect bad coin". At the same time the verb to shroff, meaning "to screen coin for fakes", also came into being.
The meaning of "cashier's booth"… is obviously related to these other meanings of shroff but was probably coined (ouch!) fairly recently as we cannot find this meaning in any of our references. Perhaps it is a contraction of shroff-shop, a word which occurs in a Cantonese document dated 1882.
What a shame that such a venerable and well-traveled word should be reduced to working in a Hong Kong car-park!
Here's the definition of "shroff" from Webster's New World College Dictionary (2010):
1. a banker or money-changer
2. an expert in testing coins
Origin: Anglo-Ind sharaf < Hindi sarrāf < Ar ṣarrāf, money-changer < ṣarafa, to issue, disburse
to examine (coins) to separate the genuine from the counterfeit
Hong Kong English is particularly colorful and rich in words from a wide variety of sources. Practically any word in the world is liable to end up in Hong Kong English because of the sailors, merchants, entertainers, shoppers, tourists, teachers, students, bankers, and all sorts of other people who pass through this most wonderful and cosmopolitan of cities.
[Many thanks to Bob Bauer, Genevieve Leung, Wicky Tse, Stefan Krasowski, Gordon Chang, Mark Swofford.]