Arnold Zwicky kindly called the following choice Chinglish label to my attention:
The metathesis was bound to happen sooner or later. In fact, it has definitely happened countless times, and not just in China:
- Chinese restaurant in New Delhi
- Chinese restaurant in Virginia Beach
- Chinese restaurant in San Francisco
- St. Louis news source
- American recipe for steamed sirloin with bean crud sticks (the misspelling occurs repeatedly in this recipe)
- Korean restaurant
All right, that's enough. The misspelling (bean curd –> bean crud) occurs thousands of times, so maybe we should accept it as a variant or an innovation!
Here's what the label actually says:
Shuǐkǒu là fǔrǔ 水口辣腐乳
("Shuikou spicy fermented bean curd")
The last three characters are pretty straightforward, but the first two, although they look and seem simple, pose a bit more of a challenge. If you invert them thus, kǒushuǐ 口水 ("saliva"), they can mean "mouth-watering", as in the expression liú kǒushuǐ 流口水 ("slobber; slaver; drool; make one's mouth water"). I suppose that, for many people (and even for me sometimes), spicy fermented bean curd can cause one to salivate.
Alas, what we have here is shuǐkǒu 水口 ("water-mouth"), not kǒushuǐ 口水 ("mouth-water").
In fact, shuǐkǒu 水口 is a toponym meaning "water gap", "outlet (for a river or stream"), etc. Naturally, there are many places in China that are called "shuǐkǒu 水口", but the one associated with our bean crud is in Kaiping city, Guangdong province. This Shuikou town is famous for its fermented bean curd. Although the main brand of fermented bean curd in the vicinity is Guǎnghé 广合 (a company that goes back to 1893), Shuǐkǒu 水口 is also a known brand from the area. Here is an introduction concerning fermented bean curd production and its history in Shuikou town.
In closing, I'd just like to mention that this is the second Language Log post within a week to deal with a fermented foodstuff. The discussion on kimchee is still going strong. May this post on spicy bean crud, er, curd generate equal enthusiasm. Perhaps someone will even describe their experience with spicy bean curd's odiferous cousin, chòu dòufu 臭豆腐 ("stinky bean curd").
[Thanks to Fangyi Cheng and Rebecca Fu]