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I remember Apple's Mother's Day advertising campaign for the iPad Air and iPad mini last spring:  "A gift Mom will love opening. Again and again."

I only found out yesterday, in this article, that the Mainland Chinese translation of this tagline is the following:

Ràng māmā kāixīn de lǐwù, kāile yòu kāi.


The grammar cannot be faulted, and the meaning superficially seems to make sense, but the more you think about it, the odder it becomes.  If forced to translate the Chinese translation back into English, I'd come up with something like "A gift that will make Mom happy.  She'll open it again and again."  (Or, for the second sentence, less forced but more awkward:  "She'll be hap[py] again and again.")  That's not what the English says.

N.B.:  The first part of the sentence, as I indicated above, simply means "A gift that will make Mom happy". In the word kāixīn 开心 (lit., "open-heart" –> "be / feel happy"), the kāi 开 syllable no longer means "open" and should not be connected to the word "opening" in the English original, but the Chinese translator got stuck on this syllable and used it a total of three times within twelve syllables, evidently thinking that he / she had achieved a clever effect by linking up "open-heart" with opening of the iPad.  Unfortunately, the translation falls flat on its face.

The Hong Kong version is this:

Zhè fèn lǐwù, mǔqīn zuì ài yī kāi zài kāi.


"This gift is one that Mother will love most of all to open and reopen."

And here's the Taiwan version:

Yī fèn hǎo lǐ, měi cì dǎkāi dōu ràng māmā gǎn nuǎnnuǎn àiyì.


"A nice present that will make Mom feel warm affection every time she opens it."

I think that a better translation than any of the above would be something like this:

Ràng māmā yīcì yòu yīcì lèyú dǎkāi de lǐpǐn.


"A gift that will make Mom happy to open again and again."

The friend who called this to my attention styled the Mainland Chinese version "Applenese".

Never having heard of Applenese", I googled it and found that there is actually a language called Applenese that some people (or creatures) speak:

"applebloom speaks applenese for 14 minutes",

while others do not:

"Twilight Sparkle – Sorry, I don't speak Applenese".

Whether the Mainland Chinese version of the Apple tagline is Applenese or not, it is enough to give one a headache, just like that video of Applebloom speaking Applenese for 14 minutes (I dare you to watch it all the way through without going mad).

[Thanks to Jing Wen]


  1. Sockatume said,

    September 10, 2014 @ 8:10 am

    The expression loses so much of its appealing, Apple-esque punchiness in the process of translation that one has to wonder why they were so beholden to it in the first place. Can't they come up with slogans for each language that parse a bit more gracefully?

  2. Brett said,

    September 10, 2014 @ 8:28 am

    Actually, I don't find the English very good at all. I can't put my finger on it, but there is something about that I find quite awkward. Maybe it's the fact that I don't think of opening a present as an especially thrilling activity, and that brought me up short even before I even got to the joke. In contrast, "She'll open it again and again," sounds a lot better.

  3. Yuanfei said,

    September 10, 2014 @ 9:46 am

    Not sure what it means in English. Does it mean it's like press the "repeat" button again and again of the scene of mommy opens the gift?
    There is a Chinese equivalent, 复读机模式; but not applicable in this context.

  4. JQ said,

    September 10, 2014 @ 11:11 am

    I read the 开 in the mainland / HK versions as meaning "to turn on", rather than "to open" [a box], whereas 打开 in the Taiwan / VHM's version clearly only means to open. Although if I had looked at the (mainland) news article first, with the picture of the device and a cover, then I would have taken it to mean opening like a book.

  5. Howard Oakley said,

    September 10, 2014 @ 11:46 am

    For the benefit of those who do not see the original pun in English: the 'opening' referred to is both the opening of the wrapped gift, and the opening of the cover of the iPad, i.e. its use.

  6. Gregory Kusnick said,

    September 10, 2014 @ 1:14 pm

    I thought the whole point of tablet computers is that they don't have covers that need to be opened before use.

    But maybe we're meant to assume that Apple users are accessory fetishists who wouldn't dream of leaving a naked iPad lying around uncovered.

  7. John said,

    September 10, 2014 @ 2:02 pm

    Wow, I completely disagree here–I think the pun between 開心 and 打開 in the mainland version is very effective. Groanworthy, but effective. The HK version is the most faithful to the English text and the TW version is basically an entirely new tagline that contains some of the building blocks of the English one (which is closer to what Sockatume likes).

    This may be interesting: Apple's iPhone 6 advertising copy in HK/TW/CN, presented side by side. I would love to hear Professor Mair's and other LLers' thoughts on the wildly different approaches taken.

  8. tsts said,

    September 10, 2014 @ 2:41 pm

    Actually, I love the mainland translation. It seems to take something that was ambiguous (open box versus open cover) and through the use of "kai" makes it, uh, tri-ambiguous? (Or amtriguous?) Anyway, for me it just works — despite, or quite possibly because of, my limited Mandarin.

  9. Victor Mair said,

    September 10, 2014 @ 4:49 pm

    More multilingual Applenese craziness, this time a mix of Chinese, English, and Pinyin — all badly mangled:

  10. Jason said,

    September 10, 2014 @ 8:47 pm

    I also feel that there's something very wrong with the English original too. I thought it was a play on the concept of "opening" a window or application or file, but it doesn't work for me because IPads aren't really ever "opened". They may be "booted" or woken up, but they aren't opened. Applications, in Apple jargon, are "launched." If the concept is that of "opening" the cover, the cover is an inessential part of the device and people frequently use Ipads without it.

  11. Akito said,

    September 11, 2014 @ 12:25 am

    Off topic, but is -nese an allomorph of -ese? If so, what are the conditions? We don't say journalnese or legalnese.

  12. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    September 11, 2014 @ 6:08 am

    I think the -nese here is specifically from 'Chinese': it's a portmanteau form. (Though I must admit that before reading the post I assumed it would be from 'Japanese'.)

  13. Brett said,

    September 11, 2014 @ 8:22 am

    @Andrew (not the same one): I also thought it should have been a portmanteau of "Apple" and "Japanese," because of the stress pattern. "Apple" and "Chinese" feels a lot less natural.

  14. Andrew said,

    September 11, 2014 @ 12:10 pm

    This redubbed episode of My Little Pony might answer some of your questions, or might create a few more.

  15. Howard Oakley said,

    September 11, 2014 @ 12:25 pm

    Jason (and others who may have missed the features of recent iPads including the iPad Mini): although the original iPad was generally sold 'naked', subsequent models have incorporate optional but almost universally-used slatted covers, a bit like continuous slatted blinds, which when rolled back automatically wake the device from sleep. The ad agency was bang on target with the slogan in English, stressing one of the more obvious features that sets Apple's tablets apart from most other competitors, as well as coining a neat pun in the process.
    (MacUser writer for a couple of decades.)

  16. Sockatume said,

    September 12, 2014 @ 9:23 am

    Apple also tends to use flipping open the cover as a little flourish in its video ads, and near-universally shows the tablet in the cover in ads. they really want you to associate having an iPad with having one of those things attached to it.

    For me, it comes off a bit weird in English because of the Apple-ism of taking what should really be the last clause of the sentence and turning it into a sentence of its own. That has never parsed particularly elegantly to me, but it's a deeply ingrained part of their corporate language.

  17. Victor Mair said,

    September 12, 2014 @ 10:46 am

    I see this flipping of iPad covers over and over again on trains and planes, as my neighbor on the flight up to Boston did yesterday repeatedly.

  18. Bruce Humes said,

    September 14, 2014 @ 3:12 am

    I frankly don't see what all the fuss is about.

    Translated marketing material always needs to be localized, and for consumer items like this, has to be very snappy and memorable.

    The use of 乐于 is terribly bookish and simply doesn't fly. And piling all that wordage in front of 礼品 is a drag, never mind the fact that 礼品 is something retailers sell while 礼物 is something we give to those we cherish.

    开了又开 and 开了再开 both have a nice ring, but I prefer the HK phrase with its multiple rhyme/near-rhyme of 最爱/开了再开 in Cantonese.

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