Allstate in Chinese hands

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In "Our hands, your mystification" (3/12/16), Mark Liberman found an English translation of the Chinese version of the iconic Allstate slogan, "You're in good hands with Allstate", in a 2003 Chicago Tribune article, and it comes out as "Turn to our hands to be worry-free."

I found the Chinese version of the slogan at several places on the web, which leaves me feeling not so confident about the quality of its translation into English given by the Chicago Tribune.

Here's the official Chinese version of the slogan:

Bāolǎn yīqiè, wěncāo shèngquàn! 包揽一切,稳操胜券!

Broken down into its component parts, that yields:

bāolǎn 包揽 ("take care of it all; take on everything; undertake the whole thing; a clean sweep")

yīqiè 一切 ("all; everything; every") — this was anciently a translation of Sanskrit sarva

wěncāo 稳操 ("operate stably; stable operation; stability and control; handling [and] stability; steady fuck*")

shèngquàn 胜券 (lit., "victory / winning ticket / voucher / certificate", i.e., "confident of victory; confidence in victory")

*This amazing rendering of wěncāo 稳操 is from Bing Translator (the only option they give!) and is actually one possible, but obviously very vulgar, meaning of the term.  See the following posts:

"Big WHAT hall" (12/1/15)

"The further elaboration of a flagrant mistranslation" (8/31/13)

"Beginning of the Semester Blues" (9/5/10)

"When intonation overrides tone" (6/4/13)

"Love <–> hate" (7/22/11)

"Polysyllabic characters in Chinese writing" (8/2/11)

In fact, wěncāo 稳操 is actually a clever and suitable choice of language for an automobile industry slogan, since it is often used to describe stable handling of vehicles.  By the same token, shèngquàn 胜券 is used in car racing to express the confidence in victory of drivers and their teams.

Here's what we get when we ask the online translators to render the Chinese slogan into English:

Google Translate:  "Everything and, shoo!" (I love that!)

Baidu Fanyi:  "Everything in."

Bing Translator:  "Do everything to win."

Bāolǎn yīqiè, wěncāo shèngquàn! 包揽一切,稳操胜券! ("[We / Allstate will] take care of everything [so that you can] drive with assurance [and be] confident of winning!") is not the sort of thing you'd say in typical, daily, running conversation.  It has the sententious air of a slogan that is to be remembered as a special chunk set off from the surrounding prose.  It's rather literary and pompous in tone, so I suppose it would work as well in Cantonese as it would in Mandarin, though, of course, one could think of more natural, colloquial ways to express "you're in good hands" in Cantonese, Mandarin, Taiwanese, Shanghainese, Hakka, etc., and they would all be radically different from each other and from the literary version chosen by the ad agency.

In case you're interested, the Chinese name of "Allstate" is Hǎoshìdá 好事达 ("good deed[s] achieved / attained").  If you say it quickly in Mandarin, it sounds vaguely like "Allstate", but I think that it would sound more like "Allstate" in other Sinitic languages.


  1. Bathrobe said,

    March 13, 2016 @ 8:11 pm

    操 as 'fuck' is, of course, pronounced cào, not cāo.

  2. liuyao said,

    March 13, 2016 @ 8:25 pm

    Just to add, 稳操胜券, or 胜券在握, may seem literary, but are very common in sports news (not just in car racing) in PRC, and may be considered part of MSM vocabulary. If one only hears this word a lot on TV but has not seen it written, he may have trouble coming up with the correct character or interpretation for quàn.

  3. Victor Mair said,

    March 13, 2016 @ 9:10 pm

    Just so that people don't get confused, when 操 means the usual "conduct, run, control, manage, operate, drive, grasp, hold," etc., which it does in the Chinese Allstate slogan, it is pronounced cāo. In fact, it is hard to find the pronunciation cào for 操 in most dictionaries (e.g., Xinhua zidian, Hanyu da cidian, Oxford Chinese Dictionary, etc.). It is only when 操 is standing in for another extremely vulgar character that it is given the pronunciation cào. I once used that other character in a Language Log post years ago to make this point, and it has haunted me ever since, in the sense that a few individuals blamed me for actually printing it.

    See the usage note on 操 here:

  4. Jason said,

    March 14, 2016 @ 12:07 am

    肏 is the vulgar character. I'll take the heat.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    March 14, 2016 @ 6:02 am

    The vulgar character is "graphic" in two senses of the word:

    1. "of or relating to writing or other inscribed representations"

    2. "sexually explicit" (rù 入 ["enter"] + ròu 肉 ["flesh; meat"])

  6. Mark Metcalf said,

    March 14, 2016 @ 11:46 am

    The DeFrancis ABC dictionary (and others) identifies 稳操胜券 as a fixed expression meaning "have full assurance of success." And the Duogongneng Chengyu Cidian (via Plecodict) includes the expression as a 成语, defining it as 比喻有把握取胜。也作“稳操胜算"。

    Guess that's why it might sound literary and pompous.

  7. Patrick B said,

    March 14, 2016 @ 3:02 pm

    Like a good neighbor, Collective Agricultural Monopoly is there!

    Guess it's a few decades too late to use that one…

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