Six God toilet water itching

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From the annals of Improbable Research, Marc Abrahams posted "Patent application of the day: six God toilet water itching" (11/24/15)

This is for Chinese patent application CN301200531 S, filed August 7, 2009 and published May 12, 2010.

The inventors (bless their souls!) are Yú Fāngfāng 于方方 and Shī Yì 施翼.

The original Chinese name of this wondrous product is:

liùshén zhǐyǎng huālùshuǐ 六神止痒花露水 ("Six Spirits itch stopping toilet water")

The translation given above is the same as that provided by Google Translate.

Baidu Fanyi has "Toilet water Liushen itching".

Bing Translator gives "Six itch toilet water".

I find it surpassingly weird that none of the translation software conveyed one of the key componenets of the Chinese, namely, zhǐ 止 ("stop"), which is what the toilet water is supposed to do to the itching (yǎng 痒).

Normally I would not write a post about a simple translation software error unless there are extenuating circumstances, such as that the results are intrinsically whimsical or poetic, or that they lead to other, interesting questions.  In this case, the translation itself is funny, and explaining it reveals a number of interesting things about Chinese civilization.

It's strange that this patent was only filed in 2009, since the product was already available for purchase in 1990, after which it quickly became famous throughout China.  According to this Baidu article, it is made by a Shanghai company and has captured as much as 70% of the toilet water market in China.  Perhaps they retroactively filed the patent in an (undoubtely vain) attempt to ward off imitators and imposters.

The main ingredients are said to be pearl powder and musk (zhēnzhū fěn 珍珠粉 shèxiāng 麝香).

"Toilet water" may sound strange in the context of the mistranslation of the rest of the name, but it's simply the English version of "eau de toilette".  If you want to know why it's called that, read this.

The standard Chinese translation for "toilet water" is that given in the name of the product under discussion:  huālùshuǐ 花露水 (lit., "flower-dew-water").  Here's the Chinese Wikipedia article on that subject.

It's curious that the English version of Wikipedia takes you to the venerable Florida Water, which is an American version of Eau de Cologne, Kölnisch Wasser, or Cologne (Water).

All right, I've kept you in suspense long enough.  What are those "six gods" or "six spirits" all about?  In traditional Chinese culture, the concept of liùshén 六神 ("Six Spirits") can refer to several different sets of six supposedly numinous entities.  These include these six organs of the body and their presiding spirits:

xīn 心 ("heart")、fèi 肺 ("lungs")、gān 肝 ("liver")、shèn 肾 ("kidneys")、pí 脾 ("spleen")、dǎn 胆 ("gall bladder")

"Six Spirits" may also refer to six supernatural creatures with astrological correlations.  If you want to know what they are, you can read about them here (in Chinese) and here (in English).

The notion of "Six Spirits" conveys the idea of power and well-being, so they are often employed in the names of various pills and prescriptions.

Suffice it to say for this "Six Spirits itch stopping toilet water", if you're feeling itchy and apply it to your skin, then you're bound to feel good all over because it has "the power".

[h.t. Alex Baumans]


  1. Rubrick said,

    November 25, 2015 @ 11:06 pm

    I, and I suspect many other people, first encountered — and no doubt giggled inappropriately — at "toilet water" in the English translation of The Diary of Anne Frank.

  2. Duncan said,

    November 26, 2015 @ 6:44 am

    From the "one character away crash blossom" dept…

    Primed by the title as I read the first line of the article, I had to look twice… Just not used to "annals" in the context of "toilet". It's much more naturally something else…

    So I went to comment and opened the link from the feed. One comment already, and when I saw Rubrick's "… first encountered… no doubt giggled inappropriately…" I was /sure/ he beat me to it, but no, his comment was on Anne Frank.

  3. John said,

    November 26, 2015 @ 7:33 am

    Why do translators just leave words out if they can't translate them?

  4. Francisco said,

    November 26, 2015 @ 3:59 pm

    Because sinning by omission is less grievous than sinning by commission?

  5. wasun said,

    November 26, 2015 @ 9:43 pm

    I wonder if it is etymologically related to or different from the use of 四神汤, the four flavors soup. There are also numinous TCM recipes called 六神. According to Baidu, the toilet water in question does use six TCM ingredients. The two named ingredients, musk and pearl, reoccur in the numinous recipes for 六神丸.

  6. Christian Saunders said,

    November 27, 2015 @ 10:23 am

    So this has nothing to do with the rapper Drake, his naming of Toronto "The 6" and his subsequent declaration that he is the "6 God" (also releasing a track of the same name)?

  7. Rodger C said,

    November 27, 2015 @ 12:51 pm

    Because sinning by omission is less grievous than sinning by commission?

    As translation errors go, they both provoke most justly my wrath and indignation.

  8. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 2:39 am

    > If you want to know why [toilet water]'s called that, read this.

    Oddly, the linked page never actually answers that question. But the answer is pretty straightforward: it's that the term "toilet" originally referred to personal grooming/washing/hygiene/etc.; its modern sense was originally as a euphemism.

  9. liuyao said,

    November 30, 2015 @ 7:53 pm

    One would think that 洗手间 or 卫生间,or the Japanese word 盥洗室 would not meet the fate of the English word toilet. Sadly the Chinese language (singular, to refer to the written language) is not completely prone to such phenomena. Example: biàn 便.

  10. BZ said,

    December 1, 2015 @ 2:49 pm

    Re: omitting stopping, that's actually not problematic in itself. I would, for example, interpret itch cream as something that prevents itching, not causes it.

    Re: "six God", does Chinese have the same situation as Hebrew where the same word used for "the God" can be used for the plural of god as in one of many gods? Even if this were true, wouldn't plural agreement disambiguate these two senses?

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