Mind the gap

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Our previous post in the Chinglish Annals was "Mind your head" (8/28/15).  As promised, in this post we turn to the other extremity of the body.

The following sign is displayed on vessels of the Shanghai Ferry service:

Zhùyì gāodī kòngdàng 注意高低空档
("note the level / height of the gap")

More often, however, we encounter "mind the gap" notices when boarding and exiting subway cars.

I remember when I was living in Hong Kong that, on the wonderful MTR, the phrase "Please mind the gap" was announced in three languages, namely, Cantonese, English, and Mandarin.

cing2 siu2sam1 jyut6toi4 hung1gwik1 (Cant.)

qǐng xiǎoxīn yuètái kòngxì (Mand.)


You can hear these three versions of the announcement as spoken at four groups of stations here, with a slight variation in wording in the fourth iteration.

At some East Rail Line stations, you may hear "Please mind the gap and be aware of the difference in levels between the platform and the train".

cing2 siu2sam1 hung1gwik1 kap6 lau4ji3 jyut6toi4 jyu5 ce1soeng1 dei6min2 (citation: min6) ge3 gou1dai1

qǐng xiǎoxīn kòngxì jí liúyì yuètái yǔ chēxiāng dìmiàn de gāodī

The major reason for this more elaborate announcement, I think, is that the gaps between platform and train at East Rail Line stations are much larger than those of other lines, probably because the platforms are very long and sometimes curved (this is the line that goes out into the hills and mountains of the New Territories).  The sole difference in wording between the Cantonese and Mandarin versions is that Mandarin de 的 is replaced by Cantonese ge3 嘅 (both are attributive particles).

It was only in 1969 that "Mind the gap" announcements were introduced on the London Underground.  This Wikipedia article tells the fascinating story of how the phrase spread around the world.  Mindful of our recent discussion about differences in length for equivalent expressions in various languages, I find it particularly interesting that the French version is in the form of an alexandrine:

"Attention à la marche en descendant du train"
("Watch your step while getting off the train")

At the University City Septa train station, where I get on and off the train every day, stenciled in large black letters on the yellow strip at the edge of the platform it says:  WATCH THE GAP.  Day in and day out, I watch the gap.

[Thanks to Pui Ling Tang and Bob Bauer]


  1. Rubrick said,

    September 1, 2015 @ 3:39 pm

    Of course, the 1970s were also when we were contradictorily encouraged to "Fall into the Gap". It was a confusing time.

  2. Michael Rank said,

    September 1, 2015 @ 4:01 pm

    In Beijing it's "Mind the gaps." https://www.flickr.com/photos/ibisbill/5064878448/in/photolist-8HyPUu

  3. Victor Mair said,

    September 1, 2015 @ 4:17 pm

    From Bob Rauer:

    I remember 40 years ago when I was an exchange student at CUHK and took the old-style train that belched dirty black smoke to and from there, the announcement that was broadcast was quite different: Chē wèi tíng dìng qǐng wù shàng luò chē 車未停定請勿上落車 'don't board or alight the train until it has come to a complete stop'.

  4. Bathrobe said,

    September 1, 2015 @ 5:17 pm

    I did a post on Mind the Gap many years ago at Mind the Gap in Japanese, Cantonese, and Mandarin. I didn't manage to find any hilarious oddities like the Shanghai Ferry Service, though!

  5. cameron said,

    September 1, 2015 @ 7:23 pm

    In the New York subways, they have Watch The Gap signs. At the Union Square station, the platform used by the Park Ave IRT (the 4, 5, and 6 lines) is distinctly curved; to compensate for this they have a sort of metal lip that slides out to bridge the gap. The announcements on those platforms advise one to "stand clear of the moving platforms".

  6. Bob Ladd said,

    September 2, 2015 @ 12:58 am

    Part of what's interesting about the fact that this has become an international expression is that mind in this sense is decidedly British English, not American. So it's not surprising that some American adopters of the expression have changed it to Watch the gap. But some American places (like Seattle, according to the Wikipedia article linked in the post) have kept the original, which then becomes a whole not-entirely-compositional chunk. Maybe at some point people in Seattle will start saying things like Mind your head and Mind your step, but it's surprising how easy it is for chunks like this to survive without becoming more compositional. The now widespread English phrase passport control, which must be based on similar phrases in other European languages, really doesn't make sense in English – I don't think any Anglophone border guard would suggest they wanted to control your passport – but has survived and spread nevertheless.

  7. Robot Therapist said,

    September 2, 2015 @ 3:02 am

    Well, if we're discussing announcements on trains, may I briefly enquire why, nowadays in the UK, trains always arrive "into" stations?

  8. Michael Rank said,

    September 2, 2015 @ 3:29 am

    Why indeed? To irritate customers (as passengers are know known) is the only explanation I can think of. And they don't arrive into stations, they arrive into station stops. This strangulation of the language is very bizarre, there must be a reason…

  9. Chuck said,

    September 2, 2015 @ 5:22 am

    The Taiwan MRT uses jiànxì/間隙 rather than kòngxì/空隙 for "gap":

    Xiàchē shí qǐng zhùyì lièchē yǔ yuè tái jiànxì.
    "When you alight please mind the gap between the train and the platform edge."

    Listen here in Mandarin, Taiwanese, Hakka, and English: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5X7lh5qNLXk

  10. Daniel Barkalow said,

    September 2, 2015 @ 1:01 pm

    For some reason, this post made me wonder: What gap can you go right past without minding?

  11. Mr Punch said,

    September 2, 2015 @ 2:20 pm

    Ii's interesting that "watch the gap" isn't idiomatic American English. "Watch your head" (actually pretty much impossible, literally) is, but for anything not part of one's body it's "watch out for." "Mind" in this sense of "be aware of" is better usage even in the U.S., whatever SEPTA and the MTA think. Shoulda built their platforms straight. (The most natural phrase for signage would be "Danger – Gap," but that won't work for an announcement.)

  12. K. Chang said,

    September 2, 2015 @ 3:15 pm

    Found this picture on my local funnies file:


    It shows a headline "China may be using sea to hide its submarines"

    Wonder which editor let this go through AP?

  13. jodosto said,

    September 3, 2015 @ 8:33 am

    Mind the music and the step, and with the girls be handy.

  14. BZ said,

    September 3, 2015 @ 11:48 am

    In New Jersey, it's "Watch the Gap". The automated announcement is always "please watch the gap while exiting the train", and identifies a station with a high-level platform (on stations with low-level platforms you walk down steps from the car to the platform, so there is no gap)

  15. BZ said,

    September 3, 2015 @ 11:53 am

    Sorry, I missremembered. "Watch your step" is actually what's used.

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