Everywhere, anywhere

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From Duncan Smith, by way of William Gibson on Twitter (ultimately from Lee Unkrich):

Don't laugh at the English.  Except for the use of the word "poo", it's not bad, though I must admit that the notion of pooing and peeing everywhere is a bit odd.

Strange as it may seem, this type of public notice is fairly common in China.  Indeed, we've had a whole series of such signs on Language Log:

Today's post is about a subgenre of the type, viz., those that include the adverbial phrase suídì 随地, which is one of my favorite Chinese expressions.  Suídì 随地 is usually translated as "everywhere; anywhere", but it actually conveys the notion of "any old place; wherever you please".

bùyào suídì tǔ tán 不要随地吐痰 ("don't spit all over the place / wherever you please")  167,000 ghits

bùyào suídì biànniào 不要随地便溺 ("don't urinate and defecate all over the place / wherever you please") 45,500 ghits

The problem with the Chinese on this sign is that, to soften the negative injunction — "don't" — they added qǐng ("please") in front.  In so doing, however, they mistyped the character qǐng 请 ("please") as qīng 清 ("clear; clean; quiet").

Despite the fact that both the English and the Chinese on the sign are plausible in the context of China, I have a nagging suspicion that the way the sign is displayed in the photograph above may not be genuine.  It seems to be on a rug or carpet, which would be a strange place to put a sign.  Even if such a covering were on a wall, it's not clear how the sign is affixed to the surface.  Moreover, the identical sign is shown here on a chain link fence behind which there seems to be a grassy area.  Again, though, it's not apparent to me how the sign is attached to the fence, and somehow I get the feeling that it has been photoshopped or temporarily hung on the fence (it seems to be floating in front of the fence, not securely fixed to it).  Consequently, although the sign may be real (i.e., originally made for display in a public setting), I suspect that somebody got hold of it and is photographing and circulating it for a humorous purpose.

qīng bùyào suídì biànniào 清不要随地便溺 0 ghits

qǐng bùyào suídì biànniào 请不要随地便溺 2,810 ghits

I got this far in my post and checked again on the web to see if I could find the origin of this sign, and hit paydirt on Etsy, where I found that this sign is being offered for sale by Michael Bancroft of Melbourne, Australia, with this declaration:

All of my signs are inspired by ACTUAL, REAL-LIFE SIGNS, spotted by fans of humorous translation all over the world.

I should have known.  Although it does occur from time to time, "poo" is not a common Chinglishism for feces / defecation / excrement / bowel movement.  Furthermore, it's very unlikely that a native speaker of Chinese would mistype qīng 清 for qǐng 请.


  1. Sockatume said,

    January 29, 2015 @ 11:00 am

    The thing under the sign looks like a towel, which would put it appropriately enough in a locker room. Although even the filthiest locker room never descends to the point of becoming an open-plan toilet, and there's no reason for the sign to be propped up like that.

  2. Guy said,

    January 29, 2015 @ 11:20 am

    In addition to "everywhere" where one would expect "anywhere", we have "and" where one would expect "or" given how scope of negation over conjunctions usually works in English.

  3. Andrew Bay said,

    January 29, 2015 @ 11:53 am

    If you have young children, you understand the concept of "Please don't pee and poo everywhere!"

  4. Daniel said,

    January 29, 2015 @ 12:16 pm

    The letterspacing of the capital letters is also a giveaway that it isn't an "authentic" sign, but designed by someone who cares about the appearance of Roman letterforms.

  5. Ralph Hickok said,

    January 29, 2015 @ 12:41 pm

    I don't think "PLEASE DON'T POO AND URINATE ANYWHERE" is any better :)

  6. Jerry Friedman said,

    January 29, 2015 @ 12:48 pm

    Ralph Hickok: I definitely agree. "All over the place" might be more idiomatic, though not suitable for a sign.

  7. Jeff W said,

    January 29, 2015 @ 1:18 pm

    "poo" is not a common Chinglishism for feces / defecation / excrement / bowel movement.

    Just a few weeks ago, my pal in Shanghai used “poo” in reference to something that was going on with his two-year old kid, and another friend in China has used it within the past year in connection with his dog, so that word in itself would not have tipped me off—it would have actually given me more reason to think that the sign was authentic. (Both these people are familiar with South Park so maybe that has something to do with their usage.)

  8. John Rohsenow said,

    January 29, 2015 @ 3:05 pm

    WAY back in the dark 1960s, when there were still US forces stationed in
    TW, there was a little book locally published entitled "Poo-poo make prant (sic) grow", which — if my memory is correct — was a collection of columns from the base newsletter written by a US military wife about her adventures dealing with the locals out in the suburbs in Shihlin.

  9. David Morris said,

    January 29, 2015 @ 6:46 pm

    While I was in Korea I had a discussion with an American colleague as to what were the best all-round words to use for urination and defecation. Those two are probably too clinical, 'piss' and 'shit' are at least mildly rude and 'wee' and 'poo' are baby-ish. We decided on 'pee' and 'poop', but using the word 'poop' just isn't natural for me, and I can't imagine that any serious bathroom sign would use them.
    Also, during one restaurant meal with another American colleague, I asked the Korean waitress where the toilet was. The American colleague was *horrified* that I would say such a word in public. I asked him what he would say, and he said "bathroom". I said "I don't want to have a bath, I want to use the toilet". As it turned out, the toilet was an older squat-type toilet, so I had to make a dash for my apartment, which was close by, fortunately.

  10. Lazar said,

    January 29, 2015 @ 11:36 pm

    @David Morris: Horror sounds like an overreaction, but it's true that that usage of toilet – to refer to the room that contains the toilet – sounds odd, or at least uncouth, to American ears. It may seem silly that we call a room with no bath a bathroom, but toilet itself arose through euphemism in much the same way.

  11. richardelguru said,

    January 30, 2015 @ 7:08 am

    "Poo" and "urinate" so happily concatenated remind me of that old adage (that I might have just made up) that all references to human bodily functions come from the nursery, the laboratory, or the brothel.

    I have a photo I took in Brick Lane, London of a large, prominent and official sign with similar import "please use toilets provided"!

  12. scav said,

    January 30, 2015 @ 8:53 am

    On holiday in Crete, I found a restaurant (just off the square with the lion fountain, I think, if you know Heraklion) which had, on the toilet door:


    I think it must have been intentional though.

  13. Hong Zhang said,

    January 30, 2015 @ 1:26 pm

    The other problem is that it used the wrong Chinese character for "please" lol

  14. Dwayne Bartles said,

    January 30, 2015 @ 5:50 pm

    "Bathroom" for "room with the toilet" is not just for prudish Americans, either. In Spanish you would ask for "el baño" (the bath), never for whatever they might call an actual toilet in that region: "inodoro" (lit., odorless), "lavabo" (lit., I will wash), etc.

  15. David Morris said,

    January 30, 2015 @ 6:25 pm

    @Lazar: the interesting thing about the horrified colleague is that he was hearty bordering on crude most of the time (including talking about bodily functions, and deliberately crude some of the time (including talking about bodily functions).

  16. Chas Belov said,

    January 31, 2015 @ 4:02 am

    @David Morris: Odd that your American friend would say Americans say "bathroom." We do use that for the WC in the home, but in a restaurant or other public place we say "restroom" and even "bathroom" would sound a bit crude.

    Since this column is about Chinese, I'll mention that I was taught in Cantonese class that they have an at-home (chi-so, toilet) versus in-restaurant (sai-saau-gaan, wash hands room) for the WC.

    But what I wonder is, in most of America, the sink, toilet, and bathtub or shower or bathtub w/shower are in the same room. An exception would be in many of San Francisco's Victorians, in which the toilet is often in a separate room from the sink and bathtub or shower or bathtub w/shower. How is it where you speak from?

  17. David Morris said,

    February 3, 2015 @ 4:21 am

    In Australia, as far as I know, the plumbing fixture is always called 'toilet' (though there are slang terms for it). Equally as far as I know, the room is called 'toilet' if it has the plumbing fixture plus maybe a handbasin. In better establishments it may be referred to as 'restroom'.

    In a private house, the plumbing fixture and basin may be in 'the smallest room in the house' (euphemism) or share a slightly larger room with a shower and/or bath, in which case it is a 'bathroom' or 'en suite' (if attached to a bedroom), but one would still talk about 'going to the toilet'.

    Offense aside, there is potential ambiguity if I say 'I'm in the toilet'. I'm probably in the room, but I could just be in the plumbing fixture. Maybe 'The cat's in the toilet' is a better example of ambiguity!

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