Big WHAT hall

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This Shanghaiist photograph taken at a gym was posted to Facebook by Tristra Newyear Yeager on October 13:

Sophia DeBeagle commented:

Many font sets puritanically don't display 肏 "fuck", so the similar sounding 操 "exercise" is often substituted for it. Thus we have some poor (overworked?) translator providing this sign to the gym… On the positive side, I'm sure gym memberships have increased beyond all expectations.

Sophia DeBeagle has covered the key points, but I'll do a Language Log style explanation to clarify and amplify a bit:

dàcāo tīng 大操厅 ("big exercise hall") — "big exercises" are those that involve whole body movement rather than just arms, legs, etc., so that you need extra room to swing / roll around, throw medicine balls, and so on

The second character does mean "exercise" (and more than a dozen other things), but it is widely used as a pun for cào 肏 (graphically "enter" + "flesh / meat" = "fuck"), as in the famous cǎonímǎ 草泥马 ("grass mud horse"), which is a pun for cāonǐmā 操你妈 ("fuck your mother"), where 操 ("exercise") is a graphic euphemism for cào 肏 ("fuck").

We have previously covered puns and mistranslations involving cāo 操 in these posts, among others:

Notice that both of the last two posts were made on June 4, the anniversary date of the Tiananmen Massacre, when there is always a surge of vulgar and outraged puns against the government.

Incidentally, this mistranslation is totally separate from that flagrant one about dry vegetables and the like:

[h.t. Elliot Sperling]


  1. flow said,

    December 2, 2015 @ 7:00 am

    "dàcāo tīng 大操厅 ("big exercise hall") — "big exercises" are those that…"

    Am I wrong that this construct is ambiguous as to what 大 refers to? It could be either (大操)厅 "hall for 'big' exercises" or 大(操厅) "big hall for exercises", right? If one wanted to be clearer, one could write/say *操大厅, except for 操 sounding awkward on its own. Googling for 大厅 gives e.g. 政务大厅, 游戏大厅, both with two-syllable compounds in front. On the other hand, there's 大食堂, where the structure is 大(食堂), not *(大食)堂.

  2. Craig said,

    December 2, 2015 @ 9:47 am

    It's interesting how puritanical attempts to avoid "improper" words eventually leads to something inadvertent that's at least as bad.

    Another charming example of this (though not involving Chinese) comes from Victorian England. Back then, it wasn't polite to say "leg" because if people thought about legs, it might lead them to some very improper thoughts about what was between legs. So instead, people would refer to their "limb" rather than "leg". But eventually it was perceived that the word "limb", by being persistently substituted for "leg", had come to be just as bad. This led one English gentleman, in an attempt to find another suitable word, to remark that while visiting a local widow lady he had strained his "member"… which of course was even worse than if he had just said his "leg", which was what he meant.

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