Annals of redundancy and masochism

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Two gems from Chris Brannick via Facebook (the first is from the site of the Immortality Pills in Guangzhou and the second is from the Langham Place Hotel, also in Guangzhou):


yánjìn xiédài 严禁携带 ("it is forbidden to carry")

wéijìn wùpǐn 违禁物品 ("prohibited items")


xǐngshén zhī xuǎn 醒神之选 ("wake up selection")

dāndiǎn zǎocān 单点早餐 ("à la carte breakfast")

In making effective translations, one must not only not slavishly follow dictionaries and machine translators, one must also exercise common sense.  Unfortunately, that means one must have a good command both of the language from which one is translating and of the language into which one is translating — a combination that requires extensive training in both languages.


  1. Phillip Minden said,

    July 17, 2017 @ 1:10 am

    wake me up = knock me up
    knock me up = beat me up

    wake me up = beat me up

  2. John Swindle said,

    July 17, 2017 @ 1:46 am

    @Phillip Minden: That's probably it, although in the USA "knock me up" can only mean "make me pregnant."

  3. Phillip Minden said,

    July 17, 2017 @ 3:03 am

    Yes, the classic of an Englishman saying to an American house guest "Good night then. I'll knock you up around seven."

  4. ardj said,

    July 17, 2017 @ 3:31 am

    @Phillip Minden: But even the Chinese instruction sounds confused to me – so this is a correct translation, no?

    Incidentally googling does not enlighten me, so what is the site of the Immortality Pills in Guangzhou ? Clearly a building site, or so I imagine, and presumably they are not going to manufacture actual pills of that nature but merely trade on the Chinese myth of the Yellow Emperor's discovery, to add lustre to whatever they do do. But is the location of a future pill box so established a feature – has it been that long in construction ?

  5. richardelguru said,

    July 17, 2017 @ 6:41 am

    Phillip & John
    As a Briton in the US, I have delighted (I hope) friends for many a year by telling them all about the old occupation of being a 'knocker-up', a person paid to knock people up every morning.

  6. chris brannick said,

    July 17, 2017 @ 8:00 am

    Even having visited The Site of the Islet of Immortality Pills I could find no online information about it, sorry, @ardj.

    It's the last site to visit on the Beijing Road Cultural Tourism Zone and the leaflet says 'Liu Yan the founding emperor of the State of Nanhan during the Five Dynasties commanded Taoists to make immortality pills on the man-made islet. Thus, it is so named. The site was the royal gardens of the State of Nanhan'.

    More than that I cannot tell you. It's a small, not unattractive garden with a pond and some engraved stones.

  7. Q. Pheevr said,

    July 17, 2017 @ 9:18 am

    Prohibited items are prohibited. Likewise, personnel who are not authorized to be in the hangar are not authorized to be in the hangar.

  8. Guy said,

    July 17, 2017 @ 11:00 am


    I'm still tickled by the time a friend of mine, from India and studying in the US, asked the girl next to him in class if she had a rubber.

  9. maidhc said,

    July 17, 2017 @ 5:05 pm

    Our local school has a sign reading:


    Blah blah smoking unleashed dogs etc. …


    Aren't illegal drugs prohibited everywhere?

  10. ardj said,

    July 17, 2017 @ 5:44 pm

    @chris brannick – many thanks for this, not what I expected, and rather more interesting, particularly since “not unattractive”, as one usually fears the worst of state efforts along these lines. But my ignorance of China and people/things/ideas Chinese is only exceeded by my ignorance of the rest of the world, so I am grateful for any enlightenment. But it is intriguing since, from what you say, the garden does not seem to be an attempt at an overwhelming political assertion of Han dominance.

  11. Ellen K. said,

    July 17, 2017 @ 6:18 pm


    Not by the school. It's implied, even if not stated, that the school is prohibited those things. Which is different than the law prohibiting them.

  12. richardelguru said,

    July 18, 2017 @ 6:39 am

    Guy, While it is OT, being non-verbal, I once suffered a really embarrassing experience of not knowing what was obscene over here:
    "Very early in my American period I was teaching Maths at a certain high school and we got on to the subject of calendars and the seasons and I was desperately looking around for some visual teaching aids when I noticed my hands, so without a second’s thought I balled my right hand into a representation of the Sun and held it up for the class to see. Then I did the same with my left hand to represent the Earth orbiting around it and (and I thought that this bit was inspired genius) I demonstrated the season-bringing tilted axis of the Earth by the obvious step of raising my middle finger. I even did little spirally motions of my Earth hand to show the Earth’s diurnal rotation as I moved it round my Sun hand. I was so proud of this bit of inspired teaching: that I could achieve so much with so little!!"

    You can probably guess the rest.

  13. ardj said,

    July 18, 2017 @ 12:11 pm

    @Ellen K: I think maidhc's school falls into the same kind of difficulty as the original sign did in Chinese. In other words, the school had no need to ban illegal drugs since they were already banned (sc. by the state). Your argument that they were not already banned by the school assumes that the school has a dispensation from some one or more of the state’s rules.
    Similarly the original Chinese, using the translation in Professor Mair’s note: “It is forbidden to carry prohibited items”, is supererogate, without an addendum of some kind, e.g. “such items to include fissile material, bears with four-letter names, …” The English translation on the sign is just silly

  14. DWalker07 said,

    July 18, 2017 @ 1:07 pm

    Re: the "Authorized personnel only" signs, or "personnel who are not authorized to be in the hangar are not authorized to be in the hangar".

    The sign could say "Are you authorized to be here?" or "personnel who are not authorized to be in the hangar will be prosecuted".

  15. DWalker07 said,

    July 18, 2017 @ 1:11 pm

    @Ellen K, @ardj: The steroid-abuse kerfluffle in US Major League Baseball (and NFL football) resulted in some commentators saying things like "these substances (steroids) were not banned by baseball" or "were not *explicitly* banned by baseball". As if that was an excuse.

    In the US, steroids are prescription substances, and cannot legally be "transferred" (or given, or sold) to anyone who does not have a prescription.

    I found it dumb that Major League Baseball had to explicitly say "illegal (or unprescribed) drugs are not allowed", or "illegal drugs are illegal".

  16. rwmg said,

    July 19, 2017 @ 10:13 pm

    @DWalker07 So, if a player had been prescribed steroids for some reason (genuine need or a less than scrupulous doctor), would that be acceptable to the sports governing bodies or would the player have to sit out some games?

  17. Marnanel said,

    July 20, 2017 @ 6:00 am

    I think "banned by the state" and "banned by the baseball authorities" are different concepts having different sanctions. If you're found to have substances banned by the state, you will be arrested. But if you're found to have substances banned by the baseball authorities, you will be suspended (or whatever happens to naughty baseball players).

  18. Ellen K. said,

    July 20, 2017 @ 10:16 am

    No, my assumption is simply that it's not the school's job to enforce the law. Which seems to be a pretty basic and obvious point.

  19. ardj said,

    July 20, 2017 @ 2:45 pm

    @Ellen K. "it's not the school's job to enforce the law": um … ? For instance I do not see how that gets round maidhc's argument that prohibited things are prohibited everywhere, unless you can argue that schools are not subject to the rules of the polity they are in. I can see that the school does not have to "enforce" the rule, but I do not see that they could say that a prohibited item is not prohibited.

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