Office of Mayhem Evaluation

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From Francis Miller:

The sign says "shāngcán píngdìng bàn 伤残评定办", which is short for "shāngcán píngdìng bàngōngshì 伤残评定办公室" ("Disability Assessment Office").

The key to what went wrong with the translation lies in the range of meanings for shāngcán 伤残:

disability; incapacity; handicapped; crippled; invalidism; maim; mayhem

No matter how it came about, the solecism on this sign gave me a huge and much welcome guffaw on this gray, drippy, dreary morning.

Update [June 11, 2018]:

The original photographer is Ming Xia.

Called to my attention by Sara Scharf, Admin of Bad Translations group on Flickr, which contains this photo.


  1. Neil Dolinger said,

    May 18, 2018 @ 3:44 pm

    If the signwriters had been watching the Allstate commercials featuring the character named "Mayhem" they could be excused for thinking it was a synonym for "disability".

  2. john burke said,

    May 18, 2018 @ 4:03 pm

    As I remember from a long-ago skimming of Blackstone, an injury is considered to be mayhem if the injured party is thereby rendered defenseless, while if not, the injury is considered to be wounding. Thus knocking out someone's front tooth was mayhem but knocking out a back tooth was wounding only.

  3. Bloix said,

    May 18, 2018 @ 5:30 pm

    For mayhem is properly defined to be, as we may remember, the violently depriving another of the use of such of his members, as may render his the less able in fighting, either to defend himself, or to annoy his adversary. And therefore the cutting off, or disabling, or weakening a man's hand or finger, or striking out his eye or foretooth, or depriving him of those parts, the loss of which in all animals abates their courage, are held to be mayhems. But the cutting off his ear, or nose, or the like, are not held to be mayhems at common law; because they do not weaken but only disfigure him.

    Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England
    Book the Fourth – Chapter the Fifteenth : Of Offences Against the Persons of Individuals

  4. Victor Mair said,

    May 18, 2018 @ 6:05 pm

    Another pleasure of the day — making the acquaintance of Sir William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1765-69)!

  5. Victor Mair said,

    May 18, 2018 @ 6:08 pm

    From Xinchang Li:

    I always wonder where and how people get such translations for these signs, because even "google translate" can do a better job than this (the first translation that popped up on google is "Disability Assessment Office").

    It must have taken a lot of effort to translate it so wrong.

    I have tried almost every popular Chinese-English dictionary but none of them shows "Office of Mayhem Evaluation". So I suspect that the person who translated this sign has learned English, but tried too hard. He looked up in the dictionary word by word and chose the fanciest translations.

    A typical online dictionary gives the word "mayhem" when I put in "shāngcán 伤残":

    1. permanent disability

    2. mayhem

    3. maim

    4. invalidism

    I wonder if you know that nowadays people have created a lot of new four-character chéngyǔ 成語 ("set phrase; idiom"), like bùmíng jué lì 不明覺厲. It's an abbreviation of "bù míngbái nǐ zài shuō shénme, dàn hǎoxiàng hěn lìhài de yàngzi 不明白你在說什麼,但好像很厲害的樣子" ("I don't know what you are talking about, but it seems very sharp / terrible / formidable / fierce / powerful"). I think bùmíng jué lì 不明覺厲 can summarize what happened here in this sign.

  6. AntC said,

    May 18, 2018 @ 6:23 pm

    I can see this office having its work cut out in many contemporary political situations.

    Office of Theresa Mayhem Evaluation.

    Office of White House Mayhem Evaluation.

    Office of Voter Dismayhem Evaluation.

  7. Victor Mair said,

    May 18, 2018 @ 6:57 pm

    From Zeyao Wu:

    I cannot understand why shāngcán 伤残 is translated as "Mayhem"!! The translations made by Chinese translators are sometimes incredible!!

    I think the full name of shāngcán píngdìng bàn 伤残评定办 should be shāngcán děngjí píngdìng bàngōngshì 伤残等级评定办公室 ("disability rating office; office of disability grade assessment"), but I would say the more accessible way to name this office is shāngcán jiàndìng chù 伤残鉴定处. First, chù 处 is more straightforward than bàn 办 to indicate a place. Second, Jiàndìng shāngcán 鉴定伤残 ("identification of disabilities") is an idiomatic phrase. Píngdìng 评定 ("assess; evaluate; appraise") is more professional and it is usually used in the standard expression "shāngcán děngjí píngdìng biāozhǔn 伤残等级评定标准" ("criteria for assessment of disability"). I think the name of the office should be clear and simple, since its target audience are those who need to assess the degree of their injury, but not some experts.

    For the English translation, I checked a popular English dictionary and I find that "mayhem" is one translation of shāngcán 伤残 in this dictionary:

    1. permanent disability

    2. mayhem

    3. maim

    4. invalidism

    I think shāngcán 伤残 should be translated as "wound and disability" in the context under discussion, but this dictionary does not even offer this choice. I think when the translator used this word "mayhem", they even did not check an English-English dictionary.

    The problem about why we want to translate things like this into English has puzzled me for a long time. I always believe that we translate something into English because it looks cool; it is actually not because we want English speakers to read it.

  8. ajay said,

    May 21, 2018 @ 5:02 am

    This is a far superior alternative to "Bomb Damage Assessment" and I will be promoting its use forthwith.

  9. Sabine said,

    May 24, 2018 @ 2:03 am

    With permission (and full credit, of course), I would like to use this in my teaching materials on being careful when translating research data, as an example of what happens when we choose one of several possible translations, and how it alters meaning. It is hands down the best example I’ve seen…thanks for sharing!

  10. Victor said,

    May 26, 2018 @ 3:14 am

    Do translation errors sometimes introduce unusual capitalization?

    Saw this in Korea:

    The hangul is something completely unrelated, so I'm not really sure what phrase they were coming from.

    Sorry for tangent, couldn't find a submission or contact link.

  11. Victor said,

    May 26, 2018 @ 3:16 am

    Another interesting translation for your consideration, found in Seoul:

    Sorry if this double posts, it disappeared on submission for new.

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