Puns to Make You Yuan

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In an article entitled "Yuan more pun" on The Economist's "Johnson" blog (Oct 28th 2010), Lane Greene Gideon Lichfield has tracked a long string of bad puns based on the name of the Chinese unit of currency.  The Economist's Yuan groaners stretch back several years.

OUR last post from the house style guide admonished writers about the use of clichés in titles. So I note with chagrin that The Economist's series of awful puns in stories about the Chinese currency has reached epic proportions:

A yuan-sided argument

Yuan small step

Yuan up, yuan down

Tell me what you yuan, what you really, really yuan

It's yuan or the other

Yuan step from the edge

Yuan-way bet

Yuan for the money

Should we stop, or should we take what is by now a house joke as far as it can go? And if the latter, can anyone suggest any yuan-based headlines we haven't used yet?

[A tip of the hat to Stefan Krasowski]


  1. Marcus Lira said,

    October 30, 2010 @ 11:30 pm

    "In the end, there can be only yuan."

  2. Angus Grieve-Smith said,

    October 30, 2010 @ 11:38 pm

    Since Dictionary.com gives [ˈjuːˈæn], my response is "Yuan me both!"

  3. Ben C said,

    October 30, 2010 @ 11:47 pm

    I think this trend is squarely in "so bad, it's good" territory. Hit me baby, yuan more time.

  4. Marcus Lira said,

    October 30, 2010 @ 11:54 pm

    Oh, I just realised you want more actual headlines with this pun. Here you are:

    Yuan for all, all for yuan – http://www.economist.com/node/8173920?story_id=8173920

    I don't think there are any more puns… but, in case I missed one, you can look for them here: http://www.google.com.br/search?as_q=yuan&hl=pt-BR&num=100&btnG=Pesquisa+Google&as_epq=&as_oq=&as_eq=&lr=&cr=&as_ft=i&as_filetype=&as_qdr=all&as_occt=title&as_dt=i&as_sitesearch=http://www.economist.com&as_rights=&safe=images

    After that horrible pun of mine in the first comment, however, I believe yuan me to get my coat now :)

  5. Yuan McGregor said,

    October 31, 2010 @ 12:09 am

    Stopping seems prudent, although I can think of more than yuan more. If yuan it, though, you better come get it. You'll yuanna hear it from closer than yuander.

  6. Fluxor said,

    October 31, 2010 @ 1:13 am

    Perhaps Prof. Mair can tell us when "yuan" went from one syllable to two syllables in English. "Yoo-ahn" is just so wrong.

  7. Victor Mair said,

    October 31, 2010 @ 1:49 am


    I presume you're talking about the pronunciation given in the first comment.

    Far be it from me to defend the way Americans pronounce Mandarin (and lots of other languages), nor, for that matter, how Chinese pronounce English and plenty of other languages (ditto for the Japanese, the Russians, the French, et al. and the ways they pronounce the words of other languages). For whatever reason, dictionaries do list \ˈyü-ən, yü-ˈän\ (Merriam-Webster), \yōōän, ywän\ (Free Online Dictionary), \yōōän, yüän\ (American Heritage Dictionary), \ˈjuːˈæn\ (Collins English Dictionary), etc. as the English pronunciation of YUAN.

  8. Alexei said,

    October 31, 2010 @ 1:56 am

    But why limit ourselves to the yuan? Other currencies deserve love, too!

    "To be perfectly franc…"

    "Dinar is served."

    "Trapped beneath the ruble."

    That last one sounds like it could be real story.

  9. q said,

    October 31, 2010 @ 2:15 am

    The worst part about all this is that in my head, YUAN is pronounced as it is in Chinese. And it sounds more like "ren" than "one." So none of these headlines made any sense to me.

  10. B.Ma said,

    October 31, 2010 @ 2:53 am

    The funny thing is that in Chinese, most currencies are called "yuan", at least if they are called Dollar in English. And in English everyone understands Dollar to mean the US Dollar, which is odd for me because I am an Aussie-Canadian who goes to Hong Kong and Singapore frequently.

  11. Randy Alexander said,

    October 31, 2010 @ 4:37 am

    My theory on why it is given in English dictionaries as two syllables is that English lacks not only [y], but can't even approximate it with [jw]. I don't know why they don't try something like "ywen" though, because that spelling might get people closer to the Chinese pronunciation.

  12. D said,

    October 31, 2010 @ 7:46 am

    Most people probably don't talk a lot about the Chinese currency in their daily interactions, and so they've only seen the name in written. That's yuan theory *shoots self*

  13. Charlie C said,

    October 31, 2010 @ 8:05 am

    It would be interesting to hear a couple of native Mandarin speakers pronouncing this word. Does someone know how to post that?

  14. D said,

    October 31, 2010 @ 9:16 am

    No idea if these are correct, but they are supposedly native speakers so…

  15. Charlie C said,

    October 31, 2010 @ 9:24 am

    Thanks, D! Very helpful!

  16. HP said,

    October 31, 2010 @ 10:03 am

    Well, I was going to suggest "Yuan peseta time," as double currency pun, but after listening to D's sound clips, I'm no longer comfortable using "yuan" as a pun for "one."

    Perhaps the Economist should go with "Let's yuan him fight" next time out.

  17. Ben Zimmer said,

    October 31, 2010 @ 10:12 am

    As I said in a comment on the Johnson blog, it sure beats trying to come up with "renminbi" puns.

  18. Spell Me Jeff said,

    October 31, 2010 @ 10:37 am

    Was it Yuan dos Pesos who wrote Manhattan Transfer?

  19. onymous said,

    October 31, 2010 @ 11:14 am

    I thought it was pronounced more as in "yuan some, you lose some".

  20. David Moser said,

    October 31, 2010 @ 11:29 am

    How about "With regards to the Chinese currency, the US government is playing a game of yuan-upmanship."

  21. xyzzyva said,

    October 31, 2010 @ 3:00 pm

    So with various the spelling-pronunciation influences and strategies to avoid both [ɥ] and the cluster [jw]*, the original /ɥɛn/ comes to how many different realizations in English? (some of these, I'm sure, are unattested):


    *Odd that [y~ɥ] is never unpacked as [w.j] instead of [j.w]. I suspect the English legacy of borrowing French [y] has something to do with this…

    In my time in China, I found this a most annoying word to use in English, because there was no suitably-established pronunciation likely to be understood by all. Actually, I think the other native-English-speakers eventually settled on just using kuai (an alternative Chinese word, somewhere between a countword and an analogue for buck), because it was easier to adapt into English as [ˈkwaɪ].

    Does anyone know if the French ever use ‹huènne›?

    And I always endorse a good pun. Or better: a bad yuan.

  22. KevinM said,

    October 31, 2010 @ 5:55 pm

    In NYC on W. Broadway there's a restaurant called Hwa Yuan. Needless to say, there's a pun that occurs to nearly everyone when the waiter comes to take your order…

  23. Victor Mair said,

    October 31, 2010 @ 7:11 pm


    Haven't you ever heard of the RMBling Wreck from Georgia Tech?

  24. GeorgeW said,

    October 31, 2010 @ 7:12 pm

    It could said that the Japanese have the Yen for travel.

  25. Ned Danison said,

    October 31, 2010 @ 7:39 pm

    The onset of "yuan" is what my mother, describing the French language, called the chicken butt sound. You round your lips (tightly I guess, though I've never really studied a French speaker's lips nor a chicken butt that closely) while making an eeee sound. Then you glide right into "en" just like the name of the letter n, while making your voice rise almost as if asking a question. Voila, yuan.

  26. Will Steed said,

    October 31, 2010 @ 9:07 pm

    @xyzzyva We used to joke in China that you could tell a newly arrived expat because they still talked about yuan and renminbi. Even those who could barely say 你好 would use kuai.

    It did actually take me a few seconds to work out the pun because I was pronouncing it as [yen] rather than [yu:wan].

  27. Victor Mair said,

    October 31, 2010 @ 9:10 pm


    Not to mention "RMBle in the Bronx."

  28. Yuan McGregor said,

    October 31, 2010 @ 10:09 pm

    @Ben, @Victor

    Stimpy (the cartoon character) walks in to a bar, bawling and fully decked out in hip hop gear. The bartender asks him what's wrong.

    "Ren mean, B!" Stimpy replies .
    "Sorry," the thoroughly confused bartender says, "we only take dollars here."

  29. Victor Mair said,

    November 1, 2010 @ 12:37 am


    With names like yours and his, Yuan, Yuan Stimpy can get away with puns like that!

  30. Andrew West said,

    November 1, 2010 @ 10:14 am

    None of the puns made any sense to me — surely someone must have been confusing the Chinese yuan with the Korean currency ?

  31. Rick Robinson said,

    November 1, 2010 @ 11:04 am

    What D said upthread. People pronounce it the way it is spelled; if the romanization were 'won' we'd pronounce it that way. I didn't even know the pronunciation until this thread.

    Not really on topic, but there seems to be a growing tendency in financial columns and the like to call China's money 'the renmimbi' instead of 'the yuan.' Does anyone know why? My impression is that this is like calling the dollar 'the Federal Reserve note.'

    Does Taiwan also call its money the yuan?

  32. Fluxor said,

    November 1, 2010 @ 11:47 am

    @Rick Robinson: The Chinese character for yuan (圓) is the unit of currency in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, and N./S. Korea, although in the case of both Koreas, the actual character is no longer used. In China, the simplifed character 圆 is used while in Japan, another simplified character 円 is used.

  33. Victor Mair said,

    November 1, 2010 @ 1:36 pm

    CORRECTION: Lane Greene has sent me the following note:

    (Oh and by the way, that one was my colleague Gideon Lichfield – slightly confusingly, my posts have my three initials RLG for Robert Lane Greene…)

  34. Johanne D said,

    November 1, 2010 @ 1:49 pm

    Pronunciation in French – from fr.wiktionary.org/wiki/yuan :
    yuan /jɥan/ ou /ɥan/ masculin
    The second is easy to pronounce, but the first is rare, I believe (it would exist in a word like "feuillure").

  35. tablogloid said,

    November 1, 2010 @ 2:02 pm

    A Chinese/Mexican marriage resulted in the birth of a baby boy named Juan Yuan.

  36. Doc Rock said,

    November 1, 2010 @ 3:31 pm

    The Korean (ROK) currency would fit those puns much better:

    won (pronounced "wawn")

  37. Aaron Davies said,

    November 2, 2010 @ 5:29 pm

    @Rick: i gather that "yuan" in (modern?) usage sort of means "money", while renminbi is specifically the name of the PRC currency. it's a distinction that english doesn't really make, though you sometimes see something similar when "dollars" is used for "wealth" in such a way that you can see someone from a country using a currency without "dollar" in its name described as "chasing dollars" without any implication that they're specifically after e.g. american business. a little more detail available here, where it's also compared to the difference between "pounds" and "(pounds) sterling".

    the official ISO currency code is CNY. i'm surprised anyone in finance uses "renminbi" in writing, given the amount of time they must spend staring at forex tables using CNY.

  38. q said,

    November 2, 2010 @ 9:44 pm

    "Does Taiwan also call its money the yuan?"

    Not sure what it's called officially, but at least colloquially, it's called 台幣 (tai2bi4, Taiwanese dollar).

  39. q said,

    November 2, 2010 @ 9:46 pm

    Though I should note when written, "yuan" is often used (the alternative being $). I think China is similar; it seems pretty rare to ever use "yuan" when speaking and I think "kuai" and "renminbi" are preferred.

  40. Terry Collmann said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 2:11 pm

    When these puns are finished with, could some modern Byron work them into an epic poem, "Done Yuan"?

  41. Elizabeth Braun said,

    November 28, 2010 @ 2:36 pm

    Mm, I was thinking that you would pretty much have to pronounce 'yuan' wrongly (more like 'you-on') on order for these puns to really sound good. But then, many of our North American friends *do* pronounce the Mandarin 'a' more like an 'o', so…..


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