Safety Handybar

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This marvelous device is the pride of Hang Fung Industrial Co. Ltd of Shantou / Swatow, Guangdong Province, PRC.  Here's a basic introduction to the tool:

Useful assistant tool Can helps some arthritis, the waist, the knee, the pregnant woman and also The luo river to solve the question. Multifunctional tool Multifunction tool for the accident situation security, reliable for the Escapes from the broken glass window and the safety belt cut off.

This information is provided under "Product Details" at this website.

Looking at the picture of this enigmatic tool and carefully reading over the explanation of its supposed uses only left me deeply perplexed, so I had no choice but to go in pursuit of yet one more Chinglish snark.

Fortunately, there is a more elaborate presentation on the nature of the handybar here.

Useful assistant tool

Can helps some arthritis, the waist, the knee, the pregnant woman and also the Luo river to solve the question.

Multifunctional tool

Multifunction tool for the accident situation security, reliable for the escapes from the broken glass window and the safety belt cut off.

Presented in this format, with more photographs and the cute, trundling car at the top of the page, the purposes of the handybar become somewhat clearer, but you're still probably wondering just what the real virtues of this miraculous tool are.  Fortunately, we have the Chinese originals for these Chinglish translations:

Duō yòngtú fúzhù gōngjù

Yāobù, xiàzhī sǔnshāng jí guānjié yánhuànzhě, yùnfù de xiàchē fúzhù gōngjù.

Duō yòngtú zìjiù gōngjù

Zìjiù gōngjù bùkě quēshǎo Aqua Gear™ fúshǒubǐng, zài shìgù qíngxíng xià de ānquándài kòu shīlíng, zuì kěkào jiěkāi ānquándài hé pòsuì bōlíchuāng de táoshēng gōngjù.

多用途扶助工具

腰部, 下肢損傷及關節炎患者,孕婦的下車扶助工具。

多用途自救工具

自救工具不可缺少Aqua Gear™扶手柄,在事故情形下的安全帶扣失靈,最可靠解開安全帶和破碎玻璃窗的逃生工具。

Multi-use support tool

Tool for those with injuries of the back or lower limbs or who are suffering from arthritis, or for supporting pregnant women getting out of a car.

Multi-use self-rescue tool

Essential Aqua Gear™ support handle self-rescue tool, for use in accidents when one's seat belt buckle is inoperable, this is the most reliable escape tool for getting out of one's seat belt and for breaking through glass windows.

Even with these more accurate translations, there is much that remains puzzling about the handybar.  While many of the problems are solved by the visuals here (you can click on this jpg to make it larger),  the verbal explanations (both in Chinese and English) in many cases only add to the confusion.  Above all, smack dab in the middle of this impressive slide, we find "PURPOSE USE", with the mystifying explanations of "An assistant tool" and "Multifunctional tool" that we have already labored over.  Most tormenting of all is the reference to "the Luo river to solve the question", which is completely missing from the Chinese text!

I've asked about a dozen native speakers what they make of this incredibly baffling reference, and so far none of them has a clue.  Some of them said that it makes their brain hurt to think about it.  What is still more aggravating is that this same direction — "the Luo river to solve the question" (or different formulations of the same expression) — appears in instruction manuals for other Chinese products.  And you know that you have a truly serious conundrum on your hands when even the Australian Kayak Fishing Forum devotes a long discussion to (unsuccessfully) unravelling it.

Since no one else seems to have come up with a satisfactory explication of "the Luo river to solve the question", I guess that I'll have to take a stab at it.

The first thing that I thought of when I saw "the Luo river" are the famous luò shū 洛書 ("Luo Writing / Inscription") and the hé tú 河圖 ("River Chart") which are invariably paired in ancient writing.  If you Google on    luo river chart   (no quotation marks) in English and   河圖洛書   (no quotation marks) in Chinese, you will find many references to these mystical diagrams that are important in numerology and geomancy.  Basically, the "Luo Inscription" and the "River Chart" are explanatory devices in traditional Chinese correlative cosmology.  To speak of them in a non-specialist way in modern times is tantamount to saying "explanatory chart", which, I believe, is roughly what the authors of the advertising material for the handybar were attempting to express when they spoke of "the Luo river to solve the question".  In other words, the handybar comes with an illustrated instruction sheet to answer questions and explain its usage.

The only other thing I might add is that the "Luo river" may conceivably have morphed out of the nonce term " luótú" 羅圖 ("display chart"), but that would not have been necessary for the author(s) of the advertising copy to get to "the Luo river to solve the question" in the sense of "explanatory chart".

[A tip of the hat to Dan Chall]

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15 Comments »

  1. amandachen said,

    May 9, 2013 @ 7:01 am

    Isn't it referring to people who have problems with particular acupuncture meridians?

  2. Linda said,

    May 9, 2013 @ 7:21 am

    As soon as I saw the picture I knew exactly what the tool is. It's a one of these http://shop.theaa.com/store/emergency/aa-emergency-car-hammer

  3. NotJohn said,

    May 9, 2013 @ 8:21 am

    In the 'Other Products' section of the website there was a 'Urine Analyzer' with a minimum order quantity of 100acre. That's a HUGE machine!Unfortunately the link only took me to a registration screen.

  4. cs said,

    May 9, 2013 @ 8:29 am

    Now I wonder if the same translator worked on the included instructions (in which case it might not solve the question very well).

  5. Heather Pringle said,

    May 9, 2013 @ 10:12 am

    What a lovely piece of linguistic sleuthing, Victor!

  6. Michael Cargal said,

    May 9, 2013 @ 10:14 am

    Since the tool is intended (among other things) to break a car window from the inside after a car has run into a river or lake, could the river reference have to do with that?

  7. Victor Mair said,

    May 9, 2013 @ 4:51 pm

    The descriptions on ebay are clearer:

    http://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_trksid=p2050601.m570.l1313.TR11.TRC1&_nkw=handybar&_sacat=0&_from=R40

  8. Ted said,

    May 9, 2013 @ 6:32 pm

    The round buttons underneath the cute trundling car lead to pages that are both far more informative and better-translated. Interestingly, the text headings on those pages do not match, and are far superior to, the labels on the buttons, which come from the problematic text VHM has quoted.

    So, for example, if you click on "Glass Breaker," the heading says "How to use the window breaker," and the relevant part of the Handybar is labelled even more helpfully as "Emergency window breaker."

  9. JS said,

    May 9, 2013 @ 7:00 pm

    The string "the Luo River" has probably been generated via machine-translation of Chinese text containing the character 洛, now often used in sound-translations of foreign names and brands, etc. But no idea where that text ended up or what it would have been…

  10. Paul Oberlander said,

    May 9, 2013 @ 11:40 pm

    If I am understanding the usage of "Luo Writing" and "River Chart" are used in Chinese the way we say " this or that is the 'Rosetta Stone' of something."

  11. Victor Mair said,

    May 10, 2013 @ 5:16 am

    @Paul Oberlander

    That's a pretty good analogy.

  12. Victor Mair said,

    May 10, 2013 @ 7:44 am

    From Shigehisa Kuriyama:

    What fun! My guess about the Luo River:
    落水
    since the device will supposedly allow you to break the car window when your automobile has fallen into the water. "Solve the question" => possible "Solve the problem (wenti)"?

  13. un malpaso said,

    May 10, 2013 @ 8:50 am

    I had no problem figuring out what the tool was from the second sentence in the original translation. Which is fortunate, because the first one made absolutely no sense.

  14. Gene Callahan said,

    May 10, 2013 @ 3:40 pm

    @NotJohn: "In the 'Other Products' section of the website there was a 'Urine Analyzer' with a minimum order quantity of 100acre. That's a HUGE machine!"

    But fortunately very, very flat. It can be folded up for shipping.

  15. Fluxor said,

    May 15, 2013 @ 3:01 am

    The English translation probably came from a different original Chinese text. The original was probably something like:

    能幫助腰部, 下肢損傷及關節炎患者,孕婦解決落水問題。

    解決=to solve. 問題=question. If 落 was mistyped as 洛, then you get 洛水, or the Luo River.

    Of course, 落水 (fall into the water) doesn't make sense in this sentence as the tool is meant to help you get out of the car in this portion of the text. Rather, 落水 would make more sense in the "rescue tool" section of the text. Note that getting out of the car is 下車, as used in the current Chinese text. But also note that this product is from Hong Kong, where 下車 is spoken (and often written) as 落車. Hence, my theory is that the author simply confused 落水 and 落車 used in different sections of the advertisement and accidentally made a substitution. Add to that a typo and machine-translation and it explains how they end up with "the Luo river to solve the question".

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