Nathan Vedal wrote to tell me about an interesting mistranslation into Chinese that he recently came across.
Having purchased some not particularly healthy, but quite delicious, instant noodles produced by a Korean company, he was perusing the Chinese instructions, which included the following sentence:
Jiāng 550CC de shuǐ fàngrù guō zhōng, dài shuǐ kāi hòu, fàngrù miànguǐ jí tāngfěn. Guò 4 fēnzhōng hòu, jué bàn jí kě shìyòng.
"Pour 550 CC of water into pot and wait till it boils, then add the noodle devils and soup flavoring. After 4 minutes, sense/feel-stir; can be eaten at once."
The directions are baffling. What in the devil is miànguǐ 麵鬼 supposed to mean?
miàn 麵 ("flour; noodles")
guǐ 鬼 ("demon; devil; ghost")
Are they telling us to put "noodle devils" into the boiling water?
Nathan was ultimately unable to solve the problem until he found someone online who proposed a reasonable explanation. As the author of this blog points out, it seems likely that what is intended is miànkuài 麵塊 to refer to the "block of noodles". A similar omission of the radical (semantic key; semantophore) occurs in the last phrase where juébàn 覺拌 ("sense/feel-stir") should read jiǎobàn 攪拌 ("to stir"), the hand radical having been dropped from jiǎo 攪 ("stir; mix; disturb; annoy").
One would expect this kind of orthographically incorrect character to appear in handwriting, and, in fact, I've often encountered such mistakes in reading old manuscripts and letters from friends. For typing with phonetic inputting (which is employed by the overwhelming majority of those who enter characters into electronic devices such as computers and cell phones), the more common kind of error would be to call up a different character or characters with the same or similar pronunciation, thus:
miánkuài 綿塊 ("cotton block")
miànkuài 麵塊 ("block of noodles")
And, instead of:
jiǎobàn 攪拌 ("to stir")
the following might be mistakenly entered:
jiāobàn 交辦 ("assign to take care of")
jiǎobǎn 腳板 ("sole of the foot")
jiàobǎn 叫板 ("rhythmic passage at the end of a spoken part in an opera")
jiāobān 交班 ("hand over to the next shift [at work]")
jiàobān 轎班 ("palanquin / sedan-chair bearers")
jiāobǎn 膠版 ("offset plate" [for printing])
jiǎobàn / chāobàn 剿辦 / 勦辦 ("suppress by means of military action")
Whether as the result of phonetic inputting or shape-based inputting, one must be wary of entering incorrect characters in texts one is typing. The only real safeguard against making such errors is to have a high level of literacy to begin with and to check constantly in dictionaries when one is unsure of oneself.
May your Easter dinner not consist merely of instant noodles, much less demon noodles!