The kitchen sink

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Randy Alexander asks:

How do you say this in Chinese?

This seems to be another one of those things where there is no standard name for it. Almost everyone I ask has a different name for it, and they have to think for a moment when I ask then how to say it in Chinese.

PRELIMINARY NOTE on basic terms (only the most relevant meanings are given):

pén 盆 ("basin")

chí 池 ("pool; pond")

cáo 槽 ("trough")

tái 台 ("stand; platform")

shuǐ 水 ("water")

xǐ 洗 ("wash")

wǎn 碗 ("bowl" and, by extension, "dish")

cài 菜 ("vegetable")

shǒu 手 ("hand")

liǎn 脸 ("face")

miàn 面 ("face")

I asked about a dozen people what they call the pictured object, and here are the answers I received (Romanizations added by me when they were initially absent):

From a Mandarin instructor who hails from the Mainland:

That "I have to think about it" situation certainly applies to me as well. When I was growing up, the typical apartment in China had only one sink, which was located in the kitchen, and we called it shuǐchí 水池. Nowadays when each apartment has multiple sinks, I call this one xǐwǎn chí 洗碗池, although I still use shuǐchí 水池 frequently when the context is clear.

From a Mandarin instructor who hails from Taiwan:

At home, we call kitchen sink "shui3 cao2", "xi3wan3 cao2".

From a Mandarin instructor who hails from Taiwan:

I would call it shuǐcáo 水槽 (sink) or bùxiùgāng shuǐcáo 不锈钢水槽 (stainless sink).

I think some people would probably call it xǐcài chí 洗菜池, which is the kitchen sink, while the bathroom sink is usually called xǐshǒu tái 洗手台 or xǐshǒu pén 洗手盆.

From a Mandarin instructor who hails from Taiwan:

shuāng cáo shuǐcáo 双槽水槽-Double Bowl Sink

From a Mandarin instructor who hails from the Mainland:

According to Jingdong (jd.com), the largest online store in China, it is called shui3cao2 or xi3wan3chi2/xi3cai4chi2. I would call it shui3cao2.

http://item.jd.com/1324909286.html (shui3cao2)
http://item.jd.com/1053483851.html (xi3wan3chi2, xi3cai4pen2)

From a person who's been away from China for about 40 years:

shui chi (水池)I don't know why this thing poses a problem — it's such a simple thing.

From an American who has been living in China for several decades:

Hm, it's not just shuǐcáo 水槽? I don't even know any other word for it.

From an American who has been living in Taiwan for several decades:

But how do you say it? I just showed my wife the photo and she said "Shuicao…. Shuichao? Shuicao? Shuichao."

From a Beijinger:

Yes, it has a lot of names, such as shuǐcáo 水槽, xǐcài chí 洗菜池, and táipén 台盆. I think shuǐcáo 水槽 is the most used one. I checked IKEA China's website, they also call it shuǐcáo 水槽.

For the sink used in a bathroom, we call it táipén 台盆, miànpén 面盆, or xǐshǒu chí 洗手池.

From somebody living in Hong Kong who is studying Cantonese:

In Cantonese, "kitchen sink" is sing1pun2 (sink盆/星盆; people seem to be unsure about the spelling of the first syllable), and "bathroom sink" is sai2sau2pun4 (洗手盆).

From VHM:

I lived together in a large Chinese family for more than four decades, and I never heard anyone refer to the kitchen sink by any name. We would just say, "Go wash the dishes", "Go wash the vegetables", and so forth. We did, however, refer to the bathroom sink as a xǐliǎn pén 洗脸盆, which none of the other respondents have mentioned.

On second thought, it's possible that, when my wife told me to scrub the kitchen sink itself, she might have referred to it as a xǐwǎn pén 洗碗盆, but that certainly was not a common word in our household.

It seems to me that the plethora of Chinese words for "sink" is due to two main factors:

1. it's a fairly recent Western introduction; before the advent of stationary sinks with attached plumbing, the all purpose, mobile basin was an essential, minimal belonging for practically everyone; such a basin could be used for washing one's face, one's clothing, vegetables, dishes….

2. regional and topolectal variation

I wonder if there is as much ambiguity over what to call the kitchen sink in other languages as there is in Chinese.

[Thanks to Mark Swofford, David Moser, Maiheng Dietrich, Mien-hwa Chiang, Grace Wu, Melvin Lee, Liwei Jiao, Jing Wen, Stephan Stiller, and anonymous]



26 Comments

  1. cameron said,

    May 31, 2015 @ 8:16 pm

    I assume there are vast depths to be plumbed if one were to search for the idiomatic equivalents for the metaphoric "kitchen sink"

  2. Gnoey said,

    May 31, 2015 @ 9:42 pm

    My Singaporean Chinese mother calls it 洗碗盆 (xi3wan3pen2). But she remarked that it might be a Hokkien (Fujian 福建 dialect, somewhat similar to that spoken in Taiwan) way of saying it. With so many speakers around the world, it is quite common for the same object to have a plethora of names in Chinese depending on the region.

  3. Andy Bay said,

    May 31, 2015 @ 11:13 pm

    I came here expecting to find a discussion as to what the item is in the Chinese equivalent to "Throw in everything including the kitchen sink." It is still an interesting topic on the unexpectedly hard to name.

  4. ahkow said,

    May 31, 2015 @ 11:20 pm

    To back up what Gnoey said: 洗碗盆 is the standard way of calling a sink in Malaysian and Singaporean Mandarin.

    From a Singapore newspaper (Apr 2014) (http://www.wanbao.com.sg/local/story20140411-26293): "我洗碗碟时,… 将油腻的放进洗碗盆中" (my emphasis)

    From a Malaysian newspaper (Sep 2009) (http://mykampung.sinchew.com.my/node/77427?page=256#ixzz3bmTQiB2r): 北馬歌手…的老家浴室和洗碗盆水龍頭有“屍蟲”爬出來?

    A bathroom washbasin is a 洗脸盆 in these dialects.

  5. APOLLO WU said,

    June 1, 2015 @ 12:30 am

    In Hongkong, I believe most people use the term 洗碗盘 (xiwanpan)for kitchen sink.

  6. K Chang said,

    June 1, 2015 @ 1:30 am

    Kitchen sink in Cantonese can be 碗盘 or 碗漕, depending which region. I can't tell you for sure, but I think regular Cantonese use the former and and Toishanese may tend to use the latter.

    Bathroom sink in Cantonese is 洗面盘 (facewashing basin)

    For the longest time there was no sink and laundry / face washing / dishwashing was done with little plastic tubs where you get your own little bit of water and go do your thing elsewhere. There's a couple scenes in Steven Chow's Kung Fu Hustle in the Pigsty Village that shows this way of life. Sink is a relatively recent innovation to Chinese life, and if there is it'd be a sort of "one sink per street" kinda thing almost like a village well.

    IMHO, that's why there's no standard term for "sink (n)" in Chinese. Instead, you have functional descriptions like face-washing vs. dish-washing.

  7. leoboiko said,

    June 1, 2015 @ 7:36 am

    In Japanese 水槽 suisō would be a fish tank. 水池 feels kind of redundant to me because 池 is “pond, small lake” (like the ones in gardens), so that I read 水池 as “water lake”; but it occurs in 貯水池 chosuichi "artificial lake, reservoir" (a “store-water lake”).

    As for the object depicted, there are words like 流し台 nagashi-dai “pouring-stand (or simply 流し nagashi “pouring, flowing”), though I expect the usual one would be just shinku (< Eng. “sink”).

  8. julie lee said,

    June 1, 2015 @ 3:07 pm

    Victor Mair writes:

    "I lived together in a large Chinese family for more than four decades, and I never heard anyone refer to the kitchen sink by any name. We would just say, "Go wash the dishes", "Go wash the vegetables", and so forth."

    Exactly my experience. Also, in Hong Kong, Sichuan and Guiizhou in China, Singapore, and Taiwan, where I lived, we had servants (when labor was cheap and everyone had servants except the servants), and actually were never told "Go wash the dishes" or vegetables. So when I read Prof. Mair's post, I racked my brains to see if I'd ever heard the Chinese word for "kitchen sink" among my Chinese family and friends.

  9. neko said,

    June 1, 2015 @ 4:43 pm

    I've never heard of 碗盘 used colloquially in HK. In conversation, in my family, that thing is known as the 升盆. the first character is not quite how I remember it, but the sound is the same, which is to say, it sounds like "sink" in English.

  10. Graeme said,

    June 2, 2015 @ 4:14 am

    Interesting how the everyday can be, unexpectedly, hard to pin down.

    In a parallel vein, an older colleague who grew up in Lancashire England was to stay whilst we were absent from our Australian house. I'd emailed to say the house key was 'under the laundry tub', under our house (which sits on stilts). He ended up sleeping the night on our trampoline. To him a 'tub' was what is a 'bucket' to me; and a basin or sink was the generic term. But to me a laundry has a tub, a kitchen a sink and a bathroom a basin. 3 words to segregate functional equivalents. Items of which our house, a century ago when first built, would have possessed just one.

  11. mondain said,

    June 2, 2015 @ 4:53 am

    No one mentioned (不锈钢)水斗?

  12. Victor Mair said,

    June 2, 2015 @ 8:41 am

    @ cameron, @ Andy Bay

    One of the reasons I made this post and titled it the way I did was with the hope that native Chinese speakers would try to come up with equivalents for the metaphoric usage that you allude to.

    @ Julie Lee

    Thank you for the memories of all those different parts of the Sinosphere in which you have lived with your family.

    @ Graeme

    Thank you for the lovely anecdote about the laundry tub under your house in Australia.

    @ mondain

    Ah, shuǐdǒu / shuǐdòu 水斗. What a merry goose chase you have sent me on for the last three hours!

    First of all, in the present discussion, we have to dispense with the shuǐdòu pronunciation of 水斗, since here dòu 斗 is being used as the simplified form of dòu 鬭 ("struggle; fight; compete; contend; contest"). For the many different graphic variants of dòu 鬭, including 鬥, see here, near the top.

    There really are shuǐdòu 水斗/鬭 in this sense: "water fight / battle; the jumbled confluence of two rapidly flowing rivers / streams".

    In the present note, I shall henceforth be concerned only with the shuǐdǒu pronunciation of 水斗. That literally means "water-peck [measure]").

    Before reading mondain's terse comment, I had only known shuǐdǒu 水斗 in historical contexts going back to the Ming period (1368-1644), where it had meanings like "bucket; dipper; bailer". However, looking into Hànyǔ dà cídiǎn 漢語大詞典 (Unabridged Dictionary of Sinitic), 5.856b, I see that, by the second half of the 20th century, it really had evolved into "kitchen sink", complete with attached plumbing.

    For those who want to take a quick look, the Hànyǔ dà cídiǎn entry on shuǐdǒu 水斗 has been copied in its entirety into zdic here and also in Baidu Fanyi here.

    Baidu Fanyi, citing Jīnshān cíbà 金山词霸, also gives "fountain".

    If you go to the entry for shuǐdǒu 水斗 in iCIBA, you'll not only find "bucket; rain water head; bailer; bail", but looking at the example sentences below, you'll find some very useful information about how shuǐdǒu 水斗 is used in modern technical terminology, and how it is distinguished from shuǐcáo 水槽, which has been cited by many commenters above as their word for "kitchen sink" (but it can also mean "cistern").

    This led me further afield to pursue shuǐdǒu 水斗 ("water peck / bucket / dipper / bailer") as employed in mechanical engineering and other technological appllications. Thus we find that it is a part of terms used for various types of turbines, such as the shuǐdǒu shì shuǐlúnjī 水斗式水轮机 (with images) ("Pelton turbine" [invented by Lester Allan Pelton in the 1870s]).

    Now, if we get into the topolectal usages of the term shuǐdǒu 水斗, that's "a whole nother world". See Hànyǔ fāngyán dà cídiǎn 漢語方言大詞典 (Unabridged Topolect Dictionary of Sinitic), vol. 1, p. 982b for starters.

  13. Victor Mair said,

    June 2, 2015 @ 9:31 am

    More than fifteen years ago, in a discussion of lèsè / lājī 垃圾 ("garbage; refuse; waste; rubbish; trash"), I wrote the following:

    =====

    In old Chinese houses, and still today even in the finest traditional Japanese houses, the swill and refuse from the kitchen is washed down with water and then swept up (sometimes into a hole sunk in the floor, from which it is then gathered up and carried out) to be deposited in the street, whence it may be collected.

    =====

    I still have vivid recollections of visiting the fabulous Shofuso Japanese House and Garden in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park. It's been about thirty years since I last visited, but one of the sharpest memories of the house that I have is that a central feature of the kitchen was a hole in the ground into which the garbage from food preparation was swept. Such a magnificent house, but that hole sunk in the center of the kitchen made a huge impact on me, both because of the contrast with the neatness and opulence of the rest of the house, but also because I had a keen sense that, without it, the business of such a house could not go forward.

    The paper to which I referred is this one:

    =====

    "On 'Transformationists' (bianjia) and 'Jumbled Transformations' (laza bian): Two New Sources for the Study of 'Transformation Texts' (bianwen): With an Appendix on the Phonotactics of the Sinographic Script and the Reconstruction of Old Sinitic." In Alfredo Cadonna, ed., India, Tibet, China: Genesis and Aspects of Traditional Narrative. Orientalia Venetiana, VII. Firenze: Leo S. Olschki, 1999. Pp. 3-70.

    =====

    For a pdf of this article, see "Sayable but not writable" (9/12/13)
    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=6939

    It's a rather large file, so download only if you're really interested in this subject.

  14. Giga said,

    June 2, 2015 @ 10:48 am

    洗碗槽;洗碗池
    盆 is a moveable container. But southerners sometimes don't care its proper usage. for instance, to express liquid is hot (in tempreture 烫) chinese in singapre use 烧 (or even 骚 to judge from their pronunciation).

  15. K Chang said,

    June 2, 2015 @ 1:26 pm

    Speaking of lese 垃圾… Did any one notice people from Mainland tend to pronounce the word "laji"? Would you say that's an eggcorn, Prof Mair? Or is there a better term for the alternate pronunciation?

  16. Jim said,

    June 2, 2015 @ 1:36 pm

    "1. it's a fairly recent Western introduction; before the advent of stationary sinks with attached plumbing, the all purpose, mobile basin was an essential, minimal belonging for practically everyone; such a basin could be used for washing one's face, one's clothing, vegetables, dishes…."

    And even with plumbing a common form for this functions is a rimmed counter with a raised ring for the wok to sit on over the fire and a drain at one end. You put the chopping block or the wash basin on the counter as needed.

  17. julie lee said,

    June 2, 2015 @ 1:54 pm

    @mondain, @Victor Mair;

    Thank you for the term 水斗 shuidou "kitchen sink", which, it turns out, evolved from
    水斗 shuidou "bucket" of the Ming dynasty.

    Re 垃圾 LESE/LAJI (Modern Standard Mandarin) "garbage; refuse", it is pronounced LAXI in Hankow Mandarin

  18. K Chang said,

    June 2, 2015 @ 1:57 pm

    @ Victor Mair regarding "shuǐdǒu 水斗" — I've always mentally translated "dou" as a VERY large ladle, almost pot sized. After all, that's what the Chinese called the Big Dipper 北斗七星 (Seven Stars of the Northern Dipper)

  19. hector said,

    June 2, 2015 @ 3:51 pm

    If, indeed, the use of plumbed kitchen sinks is becoming common, surely plumbers and plumbing supply companies would have a standard name for it?

  20. K. Chang said,

    June 2, 2015 @ 10:59 pm

    I asked my dad and he lambasted me for my 爛 (lan) Chinese. He said basically what Giga said: 盆 peng is a portable basin. A fixed sink would have to be 槽 cao

  21. mollymooly said,

    June 3, 2015 @ 5:53 am

    My Irish experience is a bit like Graeme's: the kitchen and laundry have a "sink", the bathroom has a "wash-hand basin". How to generalise the scope of these terms, to e.g. industrial sinks and public restrooms? I feel that both form (steel-cuboid vs porcelain-ovoid) and function (washing self vs washing objects) are salient.

  22. Michael Rank said,

    June 3, 2015 @ 8:13 am

    "Wash-hand basin" must be an Irishism, as an English person it sounds quite strange to me.

  23. Vanya said,

    June 3, 2015 @ 9:56 am

    I find the German "Spülbecken" vs. "Waschbecken", like Irish and Australian English apparently, makes a much sharper distinction than American English "Kitchen sink" vs. "Bathroom sink". The American terms focus on location, but to my mind growing up the objects were still both "sinks", first and foremost. The German focuses on purpose – you rinse ("spülen") dishes and utensils in a "Spülbecken", you wash your hands in the "Waschbecken", and in the German mind you don't confuse the two.

  24. Brendan said,

    June 3, 2015 @ 5:36 pm

    I've also encountered the sink/basin distinction in Irish and British English, though I think the first time I ever consciously noticed it was one summer in Ireland when I was briefly mystified by a joke in one of my cousins' issues of Beano: "What's the difference between a buffalo and a bison? You can't wash your hands in a buffalo."

    Adding my own data point to the pile, in our household we say 水池 for a kitchen sink of the type in the photo above, and 洗臉盆 or 洗臉池 for the one in the bathroom.

  25. mollymooly said,

    June 4, 2015 @ 6:10 am

    "wash-hand basin" is not specifically Irish, but is rather old-fashioned; "wash-basin" is replacing it. The strangeness of "wash-hand basin" is helped by its unusual form (verb-noun as attributive). "hand-wash basin" would be more regular but has few google hits.

  26. Wentao said,

    June 8, 2015 @ 1:49 pm

    Like several of Prof. Mair's correspondents, I also feel 水池 is a common general term for a sink. I come across 水槽 often, but don't remember myself ever using it. Similarly, I would call a kitchen sink 洗碗池 and a bathroom sink 洗手池. I think I have heard of someone say 台盆 at least once, but had to stop for a moment to figure out what it refers to. Actually, it's a quite an ingenious construction once I think more about it.

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