Rodent spigot

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This one almost drove me nuts.

Marc Sarrel sent me the following message:

My wife and I have have found a strange translation from Chinese to English, and would be interested if you could help explain.  We recently bought a nebulizer, from Amazon in the US, for my wife’s asthma.  It came with the following set of instructions.  Once of the parts is referred to as the “Rodent Spigot.”  See the first figure, and several places in the text.  We would have just called it a mouthpiece.  You can see a photo of the rodent spigot on the side of the box.

Do you have any explanation of how such a translation might have been made?  All the text on and inside the box is in English.  We do not have the original Chinese.  The outside of the box says “Made in China,” but doesn’t tell what region or city.

We were quite puzzled and amused by the term, and would appreciate any isight you could give.

Since there is no Chinese anywhere in the materials that Marc sent, there's no point in my posting the pictures here, but you can easily find them online if you're interested, such as here (similar to the model that Marc and his wife purchased — see toward the bottom of the page) and here (you can see the parts — including the rodent spigot — labeled on several diagrams as you scroll down the page):

If I have the original Chinese to consult, I can almost always figure out what went wrong in short order when somebody asks me about garbled Chinglish.  But in this case, I only had the mangled English.

The first thing I did was to check how often this mistake occurs.

A Google search for "rodent spigot" yields 1,780 ghits, so it wasn't a one-off.  Since it occurs so often, I thought I would be able to figure it out without too much difficulty, despite the fact that I didn't have the Chinese original to work with.

I won't describe in detail all the hell I've been through for the last three hours, but I'll just mention a few of the tactics and sources I used to try to figure out how this mistranslation arose:

1. YouTube videos showing how to use these devices

2. charts and diagrams

3. instruction manuals

4. advertisements (hundreds of them)

5. dozens of online dictionaries

6. massive Google searches attacking the problem from every imaginable angle

7. research into laboratory mice and guinea pig water bottles

8. hookah and plumbing terminology

9. user reports and blogs that expressed dismay and amusement at the term "rodent spigot" (as well as much merriment over other aspects of the Chinglish instructions), but nobody made an effort to explain how they came about

etc., etc.

A big problem was that, even on Chinese websites, the drawings and instructions all seemed to be in English!  Another problem was that everybody seemed to be copying from everybody else, so since somebody came up with the outlandish term "rodent spigot", everybody else just started copying it.

After about two and a half hours, I started to get very frustrated, and after another half hour I began to panic, which almost never happens to me.  I was afraid that this was one I'd have to give up on.  I'd just have to admit that I was defeated by "rodent spigot".

Stubborn as I am, though, I decided I'd "just" check a few more places.

Bingo!!!  Eureka!!!  I came upon this site, where the part in question is referred to as — believe it or not — a "mousepiece"!

Some customer or supervisor must have complained to the manufacturer about that.  It can't possibly be a "mousepiece"!  So the company calls out its smartest, hotshot in-house translator and tells him / her to turn it into something more respectable.  Showing off his / her stellar command of advanced English, presto!  He / she comes up with "rodent spigot".  Ahh!, smiles of satisfaction all around.  People might look askance at "mousepiece" for a nebulizer part, but nobody's going to question "rodent spigot", are they?

The original English instructions would simply have referred to the part as a "mouthpiece".  When Chinese companies started to copy the designs for this type of device and printed up their version of the English instructions, a slip-up occurred, and "mouthpiece" morphed into "mousepiece".  The rest, as I've described it above, is history.

mouthpiece –> mousepiece –> rodent spigot



  1. Confused said,

    July 1, 2015 @ 5:14 pm

    I might suspect an intermediate step via Japanese, where "mousepiece" (or its katakana equivalent) will be the standard term.

  2. Fernando Colina said,

    July 1, 2015 @ 5:42 pm

    hehe! Beautiful.

  3. Chris C. said,

    July 1, 2015 @ 5:50 pm

    My knowledge of any Chinese language is next to nil, but does [θ] even exist in any of them? If not, it's pretty understandable how the original error came about.

  4. Rubrick said,

    July 1, 2015 @ 5:58 pm

    That is truly wonderful. And I'm glad you're willing to sync such effort into this, despite not being the host of a hugely-popular "Wacky Translations!" TV show. Which you should be. ;-)

  5. Noel Hunt said,

    July 1, 2015 @ 10:02 pm

    This inevitably reminds one of the `mouse-organ' sketch from Monty Python, I think in the first movie, `And Now For Something Completely Different'.

  6. julie lee said,

    July 1, 2015 @ 11:40 pm

    Hilarious. That's a feat, to figure out "mousepiece" from "rodent spigot".

    No, Chris C., the sound [θ] doesn't exist in Mandarin or Cantonese or any other Chinese topolect I've heard. I know an old Chinese gentleman who said "ze" for "the" and "sink" for" "think".

  7. neminem said,

    July 1, 2015 @ 11:50 pm

    I don't have any idea, and had indeed never heard the term in any capacity other than literally a rodent spigot. I just feel compelled, for that reason, to link to the description of a thing that you find in my favorite silly online game:!

  8. Max said,

    July 2, 2015 @ 3:56 am

    Chris C, Julie Lee: The Qingdao dialect has a [θ] says

    the Qingdao dialect often adds a θ ("th") sound to Mandarin's ʂ ("sh"), ɕ ("x"), and s ("s")

    but I'm not sure what "adds" is supposed to mean; a friend of mine from Qingdao simply says /θ/ instead of Putonghua /s/, at least in some words.

  9. Victor Mair said,

    July 2, 2015 @ 5:49 am


    The page to which you referred us is empty.

  10. AntC said,

    July 2, 2015 @ 5:58 am

    Even more bafflingly, Victor's source of Eureka!!! actually has mouthpiece correctly spelled under the list of Accessories. So it's only the diagram label that's wrong.

    Victor's supposition about a customer's/supervisor's complaint, whilst plausible prima facie, can't be right.

  11. MattF said,

    July 2, 2015 @ 7:38 am

    What's really odd is how common the error is. Suggests that none of the manufacturers ever reads the instruction leaflets.

  12. Mac A said,

    July 2, 2015 @ 8:00 am

    I actually cheered out loud when I came to Professor Mair's eureka moment in the article. When I started reading, I at one point said to myself "I wonder if someone could have heard 'mousepiece' for 'mouthpiece.' Nah, that's too crazy."


    I don't think that "mouthpiece" being spelled correctly on the website necessarily means that much. It looks like an English language website for products from a variety of companies. It would not be surprising for them to have their own in-house translating department, staffed by native English speakers, who would know to call it a mouthpiece instead of a mousepiece. The diagram, on the other hand, is almost certainly scanned out of the actual product manual, and would be difficult to correct.

  13. DWalker said,

    July 2, 2015 @ 9:37 am

    "nobody's going to question "rodent spigot" " for a nebulizer part. Really? Nobody? :-)

    I am amazed at the lengths you will go to research these things. Well done!

  14. julie lee said,

    July 2, 2015 @ 11:40 am


    Thank you, that is fascinating. I had thought of mentioning that I had a colleague (Caucasian-American) named Susie whose license plate was "Thoothie". Our boss asked her if that was Susie and she said, smiling: "Yes, when I was a toddler I'd say Thoothie, and so people started calling me Thoothie." I thought he was so clever because I never knew what Thoothie meant.

  15. Jason Eisner said,

    July 2, 2015 @ 1:09 pm

    We have an actual rodent spigot at home. It's presumably quieter.

  16. Victor Mair said,

    July 2, 2015 @ 3:50 pm

    @Jason Eisner

    That's why, in doing the research for this post, I looked under "guinea pig water bottles" (item #7 above).

  17. Rubrick said,

    July 2, 2015 @ 5:05 pm

    Did I really type "sync"? Wow.

  18. Stephen said,

    July 2, 2015 @ 5:38 pm

    And of course a mouse piece should never be confused with a mouse organ, especially as the latter is marvellous & mechanical!

  19. Michael Watts said,

    July 2, 2015 @ 9:27 pm

    I finally get to feel vindicated in my awkward-looking habit of always separating punctuation from URLs. The page neminem referred to isn't empty; the comment software here has mangled the URL, which ends in a nonalphabetic character:!

    If more people were like me, we'd have uglier sentences and better autolinking in comment software.

  20. Michael Watts said,

    July 2, 2015 @ 9:30 pm

    This is the second time the comment preview function has displayed a preview that didn't reflect the actual published comment. So here's my second attempt: this is the link neminem wanted to supply, the KoL rodent spigot.

    If it doesn't work this time, just know that that trailing ! is part of the URL.

  21. neminem said,

    July 2, 2015 @ 9:36 pm

    @Victor Mair: it has been pointed out to me that languagelog's link parser is being overly "helpful", in removing an exclamation mark that actually exists in the link I linked: this (with the ending punctuation) is the *correct* link in this rare case. (In any case, it links to a thing in a silly game, wherein a literal rodent spigot, officially named the "rat faucet", is encountered. No idea whether the guys who wrote that adventure knew "rodent spigot" was a real thing or not.)

  22. Anthea Fleming said,

    July 3, 2015 @ 5:51 am

    In Australia we have a grotesque nocturnal bird called the Frogmouth with a short wide beak for catching moths and other prey. When young, our children had trouble pronouncing this and so called the bird the Frogmouse, plural Frogmice. With the result that in our family idiolect the birds in the plural are now known as Frogmithe.
    Try explaining that to a non-English speaker.

  23. rpsms said,

    July 7, 2015 @ 2:30 pm

    More likely a google image search for "rodent water bottle". Very similar profile.

  24. AG said,

    July 11, 2015 @ 6:50 pm

    This is hilarious!

    Everyone here probably already knows this, but I only recently learned that the Japanese (and, I assume Chinese) for spigot is, indeed, "snake mouth".

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