No Dogging

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The South China Morning Post (Feb. 13, 2011) carried this peculiar headline for an article by John Carney: "No sex please, our ancestors are resting, sign says." And here is a photograph of the sign in question:

The sign is situated in a remote location in Clear Water Bay, Hong Kong. But what in the world does it mean?

Well, we already know jim4 gam3 嚴禁 ("strictly forbidden") from my Nov. 10, 2010 post entitled "Don't Kettle".

From the picture above the warning in the rectangular box, it seems that one is being enjoined not to shake one's car. The inverted pair of shapely legs with a circle at the base is suggestive, but not immediately obvious. Combined with the shaking of the car, I suppose that — with a bit of effort — one could figure out what is being implied.

So, returning to the verbal Chinese warning inside the rectangular box, it states that what is being "strictly forbidden" is 車震 ("car shaking"), which is what we already figured out from looking at the picture above. For a Mandarin speaker (chē zhèn), this is mystifying: why would one be told not to shake one's car? In any event, chē zhèn is not a fixed expression or word in Mandarin. In Cantonese, however, 車震 does have a specific meaning. The entry from the handy CantoDict site:

ce1 zan3 jyutping
dogging inside a parked car

Level: 4
This term is used in Cantonese, not Mandarin/Standard written Chinese.

Characters in this word:
車 ce1 / geoi1 – cart; vehicle; car
震 zan3 – [1] [v] shake; quake; tremor; tremble, as an e[arthquake]

For those who are curious about the fuller explanation at the bottom of the sign, it says:

In front of the ancestors' graves,
Do not wildly steal pleasure;
Ghosts and spirits together witness,
The evil consequences will be born by yourself.

Now we know what the Chinese means (sort of), but what about the English? Both the sign and CantoDict inform us that ce1 zan3 車震 means "dogging." Until encountering this sign, I had never heard of the expression "dogging." So I asked some friends from Hong Kong and England if they had heard of it.   A British friend elucidated "dogging" thus: "I'm…aware of the term, which I understand to derive from 'I'm just going out to take the dog for a walk, dear', meaning 'I'm just going out to watch people shagging down at the park'. So, owning a dog is just a cover for all kinds of bad behaviour."

A Hong Kong friend added: "I know the term 車震 means to have sex in a car. Cantodict has 'dogging' as the English translation, too… and I think in British English 'dogging' means to have sex in public places."

Wikipedia has a remarkably detailed entry on "dogging"; the section on "Terminology" offers an alternative etymology to that given by Duncan Smith.

There are plenty of unusual non-Sinitic words in Hong Kong English, and it sometimes takes considerable effort to determine how and when they entered the language. For another example, when you pay the fee at a parking lot in Hong Kong, you are required to do it at the "shroff". When I first encountered this word, it struck me as vaguely Arabic, but it was only when I found this lovely etymology website, "Take Our Word For It," that I learned the real story of its origin:

[I]t is originally from çarraf, Arabic for "banker" or "money-changer" and derives from the Arabic verb çaraf, "to exchange" and is related to the Hebrew çaraph, "to refine", "to assay" [gold or silver]. The Arabic word was borrowed by Persian as saraf and from thence entered 16th century Portuguese (those Portuguese traders got everywhere!) as xarrafo. English picked it up either from the Portuguese or, even more indirectly, from the 17th century French form: cherafe. At any rate, it entered the Anglo-Indian vocabulary as shroff some time in the late 17th century although occasional English travelers in the East had used related words, such as xaraffo, a century earlier.

In the Far East, shroff acquired an additional meaning, that of "a native expert employed to detect bad coin". At the same time the verb to shroff, meaning "to screen coin for fakes", also came into being.

The meaning of "cashier's booth"… is obviously related to these other meanings of shroff but was probably coined (ouch!) fairly recently as we cannot find this meaning in any of our references. Perhaps it is a contraction of shroff-shop, a word which occurs in a Cantonese document dated 1882.

What a shame that such a venerable and well-traveled word should be reduced to working in a Hong Kong car-park!

Here's the definition of "shroff" from Webster's New World College Dictionary (2010):

in Asia

1. a banker or money-changer
2. an expert in testing coins

Origin: Anglo-Ind sharaf < Hindi sarrāf < Ar ṣarrāf, money-changer < ṣarafa, to issue, disburse

transitive verb
to examine (coins) to separate the genuine from the counterfeit

Hong Kong English is particularly colorful and rich in words from a wide variety of sources. Practically any word in the world is liable to end up in Hong Kong English because of the sailors, merchants, entertainers, shoppers, tourists, teachers, students, bankers, and all sorts of other people who pass through this most wonderful and cosmopolitan of cities.

[Many thanks to Bob Bauer, Genevieve Leung, Wicky Tse, Stefan Krasowski, Gordon Chang, Mark Swofford.]


  1. AnonymousHoward said,

    February 20, 2011 @ 8:09 am

    If you're English and follow the Australian construction industry, this is hugely funny:

  2. John said,

    February 20, 2011 @ 8:32 am

    "borne", right?

  3. Vicki said,

    February 20, 2011 @ 8:48 am

    "Shroff" isn't limited to the car parks, of course.

    When I visited Hong Kong (in 1997), we were sent to a shroff to pay the exit tax at Kai Tak airport. (The word had been mentioned in my Lonely Planet guidebook, but that was the only time I saw it on a sign.)

  4. John said,

    February 20, 2011 @ 9:06 am

    I'm rather surprised by the assertion that 車震 is "not used" in Mandarin, because it's become a fairly unremarkable part of the vernacular in Taiwan and I'm quite sure it's been used in newspapers since the 1990s. 車震 gets you over 700,000 results on I'm guessing that it came over as a borrowing from Hong Kong tabloids?

  5. Harry Campbell said,

    February 20, 2011 @ 9:11 am

    So "dogging" is not known in the USA? Is there a different term?

  6. Bobbie said,

    February 20, 2011 @ 9:12 am

    The picture and sign remind me of a bumper sticker seen in the US on various vehicles and even on houseboats, "If this truck [or boat] is rockin', don't come knockin! '"

  7. Harry Campbell said,

    February 20, 2011 @ 9:13 am

  8. Harry Campbell said,

    February 20, 2011 @ 9:16 am

    Er… I should probably have labelled that YouTube link NSFW, assuming you're using speakers.

  9. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 20, 2011 @ 10:49 am

    @Harry Campbell: I've never heard this sense of dogging or any slang term for it in America. Wikipedia says the movie Dogging: a Love Story was retitled Public Sex here.

    The other etymology in Wikip is "dogging people's steps" to spy on them. As I understand it, dogging can be either the exhibitionistic or the voyeuristic side of this pastime. So maybe the etymology is having sex in public like dogs. Or some combination of those.

  10. DonBoy said,

    February 20, 2011 @ 10:57 am

    By way of whatever this phenomenon is called: I heard this usage of "dogging" for the very first time 12 hours ago, in the BBC America broadcast of the UK series "Being Human", and wondered about it.

  11. Nicholas Waller said,

    February 20, 2011 @ 12:32 pm

    American guests on the BBC's Graham Norton show generally and noticeably don't know the dogging term, which, whatever its source, I take to mean watching a public act of sex, usually in a car at a ca park. The doggers are the ones watching, not the ones sexing. The ones sexing are aware that there is or might be an audience.

  12. JP Villanueva said,

    February 20, 2011 @ 12:57 pm

    I grew up in Olympia, Washington, and we have a strong and specific definition for "dogging" "to avoid someone in a disrespectful way." For example, "X owes me money, so he's been dogging me." When you finally catch up with X, you can say, "Man, why are you dogging me?"

    I'm not sure that the students that I teach here in Seattle such a concrete definition for "dogging" as my generation does.

  13. Maggie said,

    February 20, 2011 @ 1:18 pm

    What about "yeah"? In most contexts, it functions as an informal "yes," but it's perfectly plausible to answer a strong imperative with "Yeah, yeah" (or in combination, "Yeah, OK"). It's a little less meek and more dismissive, but it still works, right?

  14. Janice Byer said,

    February 20, 2011 @ 1:25 pm

    Am I naive to take "no dogging" to mean "no hounding"? That to me implies no tail-gating. Shaking is what your car does when rear-ended. Limbs in the air suggest a collision.

  15. Linda said,

    February 20, 2011 @ 1:44 pm

    @Janice Byer.

    Yes, you may be naive, my first thought was the "No sex" implication.

    The OED's earliest citation for dogging as watching or engaging in sex in a public place is 1986, and the quote given implies it's an established usage.

  16. Allen Garvin said,

    February 20, 2011 @ 2:30 pm

    I assumed the sign was about joy-riding, especially with the image of a car bouncing around. In rural east Texas, "dogging" (or mud-dogging) was a term for joy-riding your truck through a muddy pasture or dirt road.

  17. Mark F. said,

    February 20, 2011 @ 2:42 pm

    Harry – No, I don't think there is a different term, and this may in part be because the phenomenon itself is (at least somewhat) less common here. This New York Times article explains it to us ignorant Americans:

    In some contexts, "parking" can refer to amorous activity in a parked car, but that's more about teenagers getting away from parents.

  18. Bobbie said,

    February 20, 2011 @ 2:49 pm

    It's the watching part that seems to be novel for [some of ] us Americans. Having sex in the bushes, in the sand dunes, or in the car (or truck or van ) has been happening in the US for many years.

  19. aaron said,

    February 20, 2011 @ 3:45 pm

    @JP Villanueva:

    Are you sure it wasn't just a local pronunciation of "dodging"?

  20. Janice Byer said,

    February 20, 2011 @ 4:26 pm

    Bobbie, also novel for this American is the concept of a certain behavior otherwise legal being "strictly forbidden" in one's vehicle. Is not a person's car his or her castle?


  21. Vasha said,

    February 20, 2011 @ 4:37 pm

    This American, too, was unaware of the voyeuristic side of the public sex phenomenon until finding a reference to it in a Japanese novel just recently (a certain Tokyo park apparently being a well-known site for dogging). I presume we must have voyeurs in this country too, it's just more hidden, less known, for some reason.

  22. John Atkinson said,

    February 20, 2011 @ 7:47 pm

    As an Australian, I'm of course familiar with "dogger" for a crane chaser, and "dogging" for what they do (makes sense — they dog the load, follow it closely). But having been brought up in the country, I'm also familiar with "dogging" for getting rid of dingos (by trapping, poison baiting, or shooting), and "dogger" as the job title of a professional who specialises in this.

  23. Jonathan D said,

    February 20, 2011 @ 10:48 pm

    I have that meaning for "dogging", too, here in Sydney, Australia. It might come from dodging, but it's more than a local pronunciation.

  24. minus273 said,

    February 21, 2011 @ 12:52 am

    And it's certainly comprehensible in trendy PRC Mandarin, too.

  25. Alan Palmer said,

    February 21, 2011 @ 7:21 am

    The word "dogging" possibly came to more mainstream British attention around five years ago, when a moderately well-known former footballer was caught engaging in the pastime. Wikipedia seems to indicate a "craze" around 2003, but I imagine most people (apart from readers of the more lurid tabloids) had never heard of it then.

  26. Victor Mair said,

    February 21, 2011 @ 12:51 pm

    From Bob Bauer:

    After googling 車震 and reading a number of postings that include this term on a variety of websites, I've concluded that the expression is being used by Web writers on the mainland, in Taiwan, as well as in Hong Kong with the meaning '(for a couple) to engage in sex in the car in a secluded place with the possibility of being observed by a third party'. I take this to mean that it is not semantically equivalent to British English "dogging", because its dominant meaning seems to be from the point of the view of the voyeur (who goes dogging).The two meanings are related by being two sides of the same coin/word.

    Here is a link to a HK website where the writer has explained in Cantonese the background story to the sign in Sai Kung (he includes two photos of the sign), the meaning of 車震, and how it is linked to British "dogging".

  27. Keith said,

    February 21, 2011 @ 9:12 pm

    From reading this, it seems like the English wording of the sign forbids voyeurism, whereas the Chinese wording forbids the commission of sex acts in a car…

    In other words, "Chinese can't do it, English can't watch it".


  28. JP Villanueva said,

    March 14, 2011 @ 4:09 am

    @aaron 100% sure it's not a local pronunciation of "dodging." For us "to dog" is fully productive ("look, I know you totally dogged me.")

  29. Norman said,

    March 14, 2011 @ 10:18 am

    Here's an example of the US usage of 'dogging' – from the WSJ

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