Sale of chicken murder

« previous post | next post »

This fine instance of Saudinglish is found, together with other prime examples, in the following article: "Vous avez aimé le 'chinglish', vous allez adorer le 'saudinglish'!"

Roger Allen has transcribed and translated the Arabic on the sign as follows:

bay` al-dawaajin al-madhbuuhah

(double vowels in English for elongated vowels in Arabic).

the sale of slaughtered poultry

Perhaps Language Log readers familiar with Arabic will explain subtleties and nuances that are not immediately apparent to the non-specialist.

[Hat tip Nathan Hopson]


  1. Mark Mandel said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 12:00 am

    Hmph. IMO "Saudinglish" is awkward. I'd prefer "Saunglish", although I'll grant that while much of Saudi Arabia may be as hot as a sauna it is nothing like as humid.

  2. Victor Mair said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 1:04 am

    From Leopold Eisenlohr:

    Of course it just says "slaughtered poultry." I found a couple of comments from 2010 here: It says the meaning of slaughtered here is that "they are not sold alive, already killed according to Islamic law." And it's either in Qatar or Oman.

  3. michael farris said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 2:05 am

    I'm getting really tired of this kind of thing.

    Step 1: impose your language on people (directly or indirectly) for whom it is profoundy alien

    Step 2: laugh at their charmingly awkward attemtps to use it.

    On the other hand, the question is what market are most of these english signs really serving?

    If, as I suspect, they're simply markers of 'modernity' then the actual content is irrelevant to the people they're really intended for (locals who don't need them).

  4. Levantine said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 3:21 am

    The word order is easy enough to explain (the adjective goes after the noun in Arabic), but I'm very confused as to why "murder" was chosen over "murdered", since madhbūḥa is unambiguously a passive participle that no dictionary or online tool would translate otherwise.

  5. Adam Roberts said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 3:54 am

    Am I the only one thinking of General Melchett's outrage at encountering the 'FLANDERS PIGEON MURDERER!' …?

  6. Levantine said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 4:08 am

    In case it's of interest, a word-for-word translation would be: "sale the-poultry the-slaughtered".

    The juxtaposition of two nouns in Arabic results in a possessive construction whereby the second of the nouns, which may or may not be definite (in this case it is), possesses the first, which is always definite though written without the definite article. Thus "sale the-poultry" means "sale of the poultry". An adjective that qualifies a definite noun in Arabic also takes the definite article, which is why we have "the-slaughtered". Because the Arabic word for poultry is actually in the plural form, and since Arabic non-human plurals behave grammatically in the same way as the feminine singular, "slaughtered" has a feminine ending (without which it would be written madhbūḥ).

  7. RP said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 4:08 am

    If you follow the link then – as a commenter there points out – France24 suggests that "chicken tights" ought to read "chicken ties"…

    @Levantine, dictionaries don't often include separate entries for inflected forms, do they? Is the Arabic form irregular? If not, perhaps one would not expect to find it in a dictionary. An online translation tool is a different matter.

  8. Krogerfoot said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 4:22 am

    "I'm getting really tired of this kind of thing."

    Michael Farris, I tend to agree that if the English is a good-faith effort to communicate, it's boorish to mock it. But as you go on to say, if the English, or any language, is being used as decoration, with little attempt to make sense, it deserves scorn. You might enjoy this site, surveying disastrously ill-considered "Chinese" tattoos on non-Chinese-speaking Westerners.

  9. Levantine said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 4:43 am

    RP, most words in Arabic dictionaries are arranged under their (usually trilateral) root letters, which in the of case of madhbūḥ(a) (slaughtered) are dh-b-ḥ. The forms produced from these letters are generally predictable, though any dictionary I've ever seen will still list all but the really rare ones. The word for "slaughter" itself is dhabḥ, which, as you can see, is very different from the passive participle, and impossible to confuse with it. Perhaps the individual attempting to translate the sign looked madhbūḥ up by its root letters and then didn't bother to identify the correct form before selecting an English equivalent. And even then, the English doesn't give the usual sense of the word, which is slaughter rather than murder. There's also the possibility that someone who thought they had enough knowledge of English to do so came up with the translation themselves.

  10. Levantine said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 4:45 am

    Sorry for the multiple posts, but I meant to write above that "sale the-poultry" means "the sale of the poultry".

  11. Sam Foster said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 5:24 am

    @michael farris

    I don't see the problem. No-one is judging the people who wrote the sign, it's just that the sign itself is funny. Should we avoid being amused owing to some kind of cultural guilt over the prevalence of English?

  12. GeorgeW said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 6:12 am

    FWIW, they did not use Google Translate which renders (correctly) 'slaughtered poultry.'

  13. /df said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 6:48 am


    But Google Translate might have "learned" this translation since the creation of the sign. (The quotation marks stand for possible manual hacking of the translation vs algorithmic learning).

  14. Victor Mair said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 7:40 am

    I am very grateful for all of the instructive, insightful comments on this thread. They amount to a lesson in Arabic, which we now understand much better than when we started. This is exactly what I hoped for when I made the original post, and it is what I hope for when I make every "Lost in translation" post, no matter what the languages involved.

  15. GeorgeW said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 7:58 am

    @/df: Good point. It may have even learned from this post and comments.

  16. Linda G said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 10:05 am

    @michael farris

    I can understand your point. But I really see that the intention is to point out the many inherent problems in translating from one language to another. The fact that the result of this attempt is amusing is not meant to belittle the translator in any way.
    Because the sign appears to be permanent, I assume it is meant as “we sell slaughtered chicken.” But if it were not, could it not also mean “selling slaughtered chicken at reduced price”? The American meaning of “sale”?

  17. Levantine said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 1:12 pm

    Linda G, the Arabic word does not imply selling at a discount. Also, what you call the "American meaning" is, as far as I know, found throughout the anglophone world.

    If the sign is indeed from Qatar or Oman, I would imagine it's intended primarily for the large number of non-Arabic-speaking Muslims (particularly South Asians) who work in the region.

  18. John said,

    February 25, 2014 @ 9:46 pm

    @Mark Mandel: Spend a few years in Dammam or Jeddah and you might reappraise that. 'Steam bath' is appropriate. Riyadh, on the other hand, is definitely 'Sauna'.

  19. a George said,

    February 26, 2014 @ 3:11 pm

    as to using a foreign language as "decoration", what about "haigendash" (I can't even spell it when I need to) or "Norscä". Both are in reality insults because they conjure up a non-existent material link to something Nordic-Alpine-exotic, but they are registrable trademarks.

  20. Levantine said,

    February 26, 2014 @ 4:36 pm

    a George, is it really such an insult to call an ice-cream brand by the pseudo-Danish name Häagen-Dazs? Who is it offending? What about the various fast-food restaurants with names like "Texas Fried Chicken" that one sees in non-anglophone countries? Unless a company is deliberately misrepresenting its product (Häagen-Dazs doesn't actually claim to be Danish) or evoking a disparaging national/racial stereotype, I don't see what the problem is.

  21. Stephan Stiller said,

    February 27, 2014 @ 3:09 pm


    What came to mind when I saw you mention Häagen-Dazs was that at least two people (they were Europeans!) told me (in Europe) that they thought it was "Danish ice-cream". It seems like the company's marketing wasn't quite kosher (here and here on Wikipedia). But that's marketing; can be annoying, but what can you do.

    (I won't attempt to comment on the question of offensive stereotypes; too complicated a topic.)

  22. Levantine said,

    February 27, 2014 @ 4:17 pm

    Stephan Stiller, I too am a European (a Brit, really), and I also used to think that Häagen-Dazs was a Danish product, but it was easy enough for me to find out that this wasn't the case when I bothered to investigate. I felt amused rather than deceived, perhaps because it didn't matter to me one way or the other if the product really was Danish. Whether this constitutes a deliberate misrepresentation on the part of the company or a harmless marketing game is a matter of personal opinion. I tend to take the more lighthearted view.

  23. Ammar said,

    March 2, 2014 @ 4:50 pm

    here is another instance of Saudinglish :)
    this sign is transcribed and translated as follows:

    istiraaħat as-sayyidaat
    ladies' waiting room

    literally "ladies' rest area"

RSS feed for comments on this post