Ethanol tampons

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Nicki Johnson sent in the following photograph taken in the local Carrefour in Haikou, Hainan, along with this comment: "I was rather horrified until I realized they were not what they claimed to be."

The Chinese on the bottle reads:

jiǔjīng miánqiú 酒精棉球 ("alcohol swab; alcohol cotton ball")

The Chinese word for "ethanol" would be yǐchún 乙醇.

Words for "(sanitary) tampon" include miánsāi 棉塞, (wèishēng) miántiáo (衛生)棉條, zhǐxiě (mián) sāi 止血(棉)塞, etc.

I have to agree with Nicki that the term "ethanol tampons" sounds pretty horrifying — unless you were going to use them to stanch a wound.


  1. Jason said,

    December 6, 2014 @ 12:26 am

    Empirical confirmation of the the "vodka tampon" "teen craze" that hit the tabloid media (ie, all of it) a few years back?

    It was enough to inspire someone to do a medical study:

  2. Chris Waigl said,

    December 6, 2014 @ 3:00 am

    For once I had no particular hesitation over this one. Clearly this would have to be tampon in some wider, lateral-thinking sense (and to call a tightly bunched up cotton ball a tampon belongs for me in the category of unidiomatic rather than outright wrong). And ethanol is the most widely used medicinal alcohol and therefore arguably correct.

    I much appreciate your posting about Chinese in its various forms — it's not a language area I would otherwise have much of a chance to learn about.

  3. amandachen said,

    December 6, 2014 @ 4:11 am

    Maybe it's from the French.

  4. Keith said,

    December 6, 2014 @ 5:10 am

    Carrefour being a French hyper- and supermarket chain, this is almost certainly a translation from the French.

    In French, the word "tampon" is used for a variety of things such as a rubber-stamp (e.g. for stamping "PAID" on an invoice), for the buffers on the ends of railway wagons, for balls or pads of cotton wool, etc. It's visibly related to the English verb "to tamp".

  5. Nathaniel Mishkin said,

    December 6, 2014 @ 9:29 am

    How can no one have commented on the Barbie cotton swabs? :-)

  6. Jean-Michel said,

    December 6, 2014 @ 9:05 pm

    Carrefour being a French hyper- and supermarket chain, this is almost certainly a translation from the French.

    This doesn't appear to be an in-house brand, though. Here's the same product on the website of the Jiuzhou Drugstore chain, and Carrefour isn't mentioned on the label (as I would expect it to be if it were manufactured for them).

  7. Victor Mair said,

    December 7, 2014 @ 8:18 am

    Thanks to Jean-Michel, I was able to read all four sides of the bottle. Here are some specifications from the left side:

    CONTENTS: defatted cotton balls for medical use; 75% sterile alcohol

    USAGE SCOPE: to be used for sterilizing the surface of the skin

    1. use with caution where skin is broken
    2. not for use by those who are hypersensitive to alcohol

    WARNING: put cotton balls in a place where children cannot reach

  8. David Eddyshaw said,

    December 7, 2014 @ 8:25 am

    "Tampon" in medical use is not confined to the "feminine hygiene" sense; it's just that anglophone lay people are mostly unfamiliar with any other meaning.

  9. Jean-Michel said,

    December 7, 2014 @ 1:39 pm

    I plugged 棉球 into Google Translate and it came out as… "tampons." "Cotton ball," "cotton balls," and "cotton" are offered as alternative translations. Baidu Fanyi renders it as "cotton," with "cotton ball" and "tampon" as alternatives. Both sites also give "ethanol" as an alternative translation of 酒精, though the primary translation is "alcohol."

  10. jb said,

    December 11, 2014 @ 2:07 pm

    I recall a story about a 'bacon tampon' made its way around the health sites earlier this year:

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