Potable and Non-Slip

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A few weeks ago I stayed in the Xiányáng hángkōng dà jiǔdiàn / Xianyang Aviation Hotel (a more idiomatic English translation of that would be Xianyang Airport Hotel) 咸阳航空大酒店 near Xi'an, Shaanxi, China. When I went to the bathroom, I was much intrigued to see this sign over the sink:

and this sign on the wall above the bathtub:

The sign over the sink reads:

Cǐ shuǐ jiārè kě yǐnyòng
This water may be drunk after being heated.

The sign on the bathtub wall reads:

Qǐng zhùyì fáng huá
Please pay attention to guard against slipping

In both cases, the Chinglish rendering of the Chinese conveys almost exactly the opposite of the intended warning:



This is a good example of the need to have someone who is versed in both Chinese and English do translations that are intended for posting in public places. People's health and safety may depend upon it.

[With thanks to Maria Khayutina for taking the photographs]


  1. Observation said,

    November 27, 2011 @ 6:01 am

    The second picture is rather blurry. Perhaps Mr Mair was doing some Hua Dao thanks to the sign?

  2. scav said,

    November 27, 2011 @ 7:29 am

    I would have interpreted both signs as a warning (slightly paranoid as I am), and then assumed they were mis-translated. My first guess for HOT POTABLE WATER was a typo for NOT POTABLE WATER.

    The second one just doesn't make sense as a warning that a surface is NOT slippery, so I guessed the meaning correctly. At the worst case, if it was literally true, I'd still be OK because I don't usually try to skate around hotel bathrooms in my socks.

  3. Janice Byer said,

    November 27, 2011 @ 12:31 pm

    I'd have inferred the hot tap flows from something somebody, rightly or wrongly, assumes heats water hot enough to render it safe for foreign guests to drink thereafter.

    Telling foreign guests tap water needs to be made simply "hot" to be drinkable suggests the signage company wants not only a bilingualist** but someone who knows more than I do about just how hot.

    **my spellchecker auto-corrected "bilingualists" to bilingual STD.

  4. jhh said,

    November 27, 2011 @ 12:55 pm

    I don't read Chinese, and it is not clear to me whether this post includes any "correct" translations.

    Should I just skip trying to follow the posts on Chinese?

  5. Britta said,

    November 27, 2011 @ 2:36 pm


    The second translations below are pretty accurate. The first sign basically means water is only drinkable after heated (though heated implies boiled), and the second means to be careful not to slip.

  6. jhh said,

    November 27, 2011 @ 4:47 pm

    Thank you, Britta :)

  7. Victor Mair said,

    November 28, 2011 @ 9:02 am

    @jhh The main point of my posts on Chinglish, of which I've written quite a few over the years, is to correct errors. I'm very careful to provide the following for each Chinglish expression:

    1. pinyin romanization

    2. Chinese characters

    3. correct translation

    Did you not read my post?

    For those of you who don't understand the meaning of HUA DAO in Observation's comment, it means "slip and fall down".

  8. Ellen K. said,

    November 28, 2011 @ 10:23 am

    I think it wasn't clear that the English given in the text was your correct translation, not what was written on the signs. It was not initially clear to me, though I did quickly figure it out. Still, I can see why it wasn't clear to Jhh whether or not the post included the correct translations. The lead in "The sign over the sink reads:" makes it incorrectly sound like all the red text below was on the sign.

  9. Boris said,

    November 28, 2011 @ 1:08 pm

    Oddly I kept reading "Hot" as "Not" in the sign until I got to your transcription. I suppose it's because I don't expect hot potable water to be coming out of the tap at a hotel.

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