You aim too please

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From a men's room at the Beijing airport:


The Chinese says:

xiàng qián yī xiǎo bù, wénmíng yī dà bù 向前一小步,文明一大步
("one small step forward; one big step for civilization")

This is a meme that we have previously covered on Language Log, e.g.:

"Signs from Kashgar to Delhi " (10/11/13)

It is, of course, based on the famous Neil Armstrong quotation, which has been repeatedly examined on Language Log:

What is curious about this iteration of the Chinese men's room meme is the ingenious English translation:

we aim to please,
you aim too please.

Although this is more of a paraphrase than a translation, it gets the idea across quite effectively.

What the signmaker has done is to take a clever, preexisting English admonition (for examples, see the WeChat source cited above beneath the picture) and match it with a hackneyed Chinese injunction.  The result, at least to me, is both witty and effective, with the Chinese and the English mutually reinforcing each other.

[h.t. Apollo Wu]


  1. Ben Zimmer said,

    June 20, 2016 @ 10:14 am

    The "you aim too please" joke is pretty ancient. Eric Partridge's A Dictionary of Catch Phrases (1977) quotes an American correspondent saying it was a common graffito "up to, say, 30 years ago, above the urinals in a men's toilet (esp. that of a bar or a restaurant)."

  2. Y said,

    June 20, 2016 @ 12:27 pm

    I saw it about 20 years ago (at a café/gas station in Virginia, I believe.)

  3. Fritz said,

    June 20, 2016 @ 1:20 pm

    The play on words appears in several editions of Fromkin and Rodman's Introduction to Language in the 1970s.

  4. charles wells said,

    June 20, 2016 @ 2:45 pm

    I remember seeing that in rest rooms a long time ago, but not recently.

  5. Rube said,

    June 20, 2016 @ 3:29 pm

    Yes, this is an ancient joke. Seeing it in Beijing in the 21st Century is something I never would have expected – the world has changed a lot in my lifetime.

  6. David Marjanović said,

    June 20, 2016 @ 3:45 pm

    "Tritt näher!
    ist kürzer, als du denkst!"

    Disclaimer: I haven't seen this myself, I've only read about it.

    "Step closer!
    is shorter than you think!"

  7. George said,

    June 20, 2016 @ 4:23 pm

    @David Marjanović

    I have seen that one, in Swaziland as it happens. Toilet humour, uniting the world.

  8. Karl Weber said,

    June 20, 2016 @ 6:52 pm

    What is the Chinese equivalent of "Welcome to our ool"?

  9. Victor Mair said,

    June 20, 2016 @ 7:52 pm

    @Karl Weber

    Not exactly the same, but…

    "Please pee in the pool" (8/4/14)

    "Pwimming poot" (8/29/11)

  10. Keith said,

    June 21, 2016 @ 1:09 am

    There is a very common variant on this in the UK.

    "We aim to please. Will you please aim?"

  11. John said,

    June 21, 2016 @ 7:38 am

    Yes the version I saw at a pool in Scotland:

    "Welcome to our ool.

    You may note that there is no p in it.

    We would like to keep it this way."

  12. Thomas Ball said,

    June 21, 2016 @ 8:17 am

    My father, a veteran of WWII, recounted to me that this sign was in standard use in many military bathrooms during the war.

  13. Faldone said,

    June 21, 2016 @ 11:42 am


    We don't swim in your toilet. Don't pee in our pool.

  14. Ralph Hickok said,

    June 22, 2016 @ 7:56 am

    I saw it on a men's room sign (not graffiti) as a child, ca. 1947.

  15. Dave Cragin said,

    June 23, 2016 @ 9:40 pm

    During an election year while I was in college, someone with a good sense of humor put a "democrat" sign above one urinal and "republican" above the other urinal in a dorm bathroom. This allowed us to "vote" many times a day.

    Then someone with an even better sense of humor posted "Independent" on the wall space between the urinals.

  16. Ralph Hickok said,

    June 24, 2016 @ 7:19 am

    @Dave Cragin:
    That makes me think of the old saying, "fall between two stools."

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