Les Baguettes à Pékin

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Pastry shops are very popular in Beijing and other Chinese cities. One chain is called Wèiduōměi 味多美 ("flavor-much-beautiful"). On the company website, they call themselves Wedomé, but the workers' uniforms sport the name Weiduomei.

Julien Paulhan sent in the following photographs taken at a Weiduomei bakery in Beijing:

(Click to embiggen.)

Before embarking upon an analysis of the Chinglish labels, since we will be talking about French breads we need to determine how to say "France" and "French" in Chinese. When I learned my Mandarin in the guise of Kuo-yü 國語 40 some years ago, the name for France was pronounced Fàguó 法國, and in Taiwan today that is how it is still pronounced, but now on the Mainland it is pronounced Fǎguó 法国. Although saying Fǎguó 法国 sounds strange and awkward to me, I will use that pronunciation in this post, because the locations of the shops I'm talking about are in the People's Republic of China. I should note, however that I used to play the French horn, and I always found it curious that — even when I learned to say Fàguó 法國 for "France" — the Mandarin word for my instrument was Fǎlánxī hào 法蘭西號, not Fàlánxī hào 法兰西号, where Fàlánxī / Fǎlánxī is the Mandarin transcription of "French".

Returning to our Chinglish lesson for today, the items under discussion are clearly the result of inconsistent translation techniques.

First we have these two:

gǎnlǎn fǎbàng 橄榄法棒 – "Olive law baguette"

jièmò fǎbàng 芥末法棒 – "Mustard law baguette"

And then we get these two:

suànróng fǎbàng 蒜蓉法棒 – "Minced garlic baguette"

yuán wèi fǎbàng 原味法棒 – "Original baguette"

The first part of each translation is not bad, and the second part of the latter two translations is accurate. For some odd reason, in the second part of the first two items, the translator has chosen to insert "law" before "baguette". Of course, the "law" in these two items comes from the surface signification of fǎ 法. However, since "baguette" (fǎbàng 法棒 ["French rod / stick"]) already accounts for the fǎ 法, it is a mystery why the translator duplicates it by inserting "law" between the flavor and "baguette".

I suspect that the first two items may be later additions to the offerings of the shop and that their translations, having been done later, have added a gratuitous "law" because someone with minimal English, seeing the fǎ 法 in the Chinese names and being troubled by its overt absence in the English, got the bright idea to insert it.

Though we cannot blame the faulty translations on several of the best known online translation software systems, they do expose the perils of rendering fǎbàng 法棒 ("baguette") into English.

Baidu Fanyi gives for these items:

Olive method best
Mustard method best
Garlic method best
The original method.

The bizarre translation of fǎbàng 法棒 as "method best" (instead of as "baguette") derives from the fact that fǎ 法 not only means "law" and can function as the phonetic transcription of "F(rance)", it also has the meaning of "method", while a colloquial usage of bàng 棒 ("staff, stick, rod, bar") is "excellent, super, great, fantastic, the best".

Google Translate:

Olive France rod
Mustard France rod
Garlic France rods
Flavor of France rods

I'm amused by the singular number of the first two items and the plural number of the second two.

Babel Fish (now Bing):

Olive law bars
Mustard law bars
Garlic law bars
Original law bars

One of the reasons for so much confusion over how to deal with "baguette" in Chinese is that there is no standard translation for the term, fǎbàng 法棒 ("French stick") being but one possibility. Perhaps more common is fǎshì chánggùn miànbāo 法式长棍面包 ("French style long stick / rod bread" [the word for "bread" at the end is usually omitted]) or Fǎguó chánggùn 法國長棍 ("French long stick / rod").

Regular readers of Language Log will already be familiar with gùn 棍 ("stick, rod, wand, bar, bastinado, stave; rascal, scoundrel"), since it occurs as the second element of the word for bachelor and was extensively discussed in this post and the numerous comments thereto (they continued on for many days after the original post).

Not only are Weiduomei's English names for some of their baguettes funny, a sign that greets the customer upon entering is also perplexing. The word tuī 推 ("push") is painted on both the left and right doors, but the English above reads "pull" on the left and "push" on the right. If you pull on the left-side door, it will not open; you have to push, as the Chinese directs you, but not the English.

Enough of Weiduomei! When I was in Beijing during the fall and spring semester of the past academic year, the most conspicuous pastry shops were called Paris Baguette. The name sounded slightly peculiar to me, yet attractive nonetheless, so I frequented them fairly often.

Most people know the shops by their English (< French) name, but they also do have a Chinese name, so I thought that I might find some enlightenment from Paris Baguette about a good way to say "baguette" in Chinese. The Chinese name of Paris Baguette is Bālí bèitián 巴黎贝甜. To my mind, that didn't make much sense as a Chinese name for a shop specializing in baguettes (bèitián doesn't sound much like "baguette"), and the meaning wasn't right either: "shell-sweet". That, plus the rather un-Chinese, un-French atmosphere of the shops, made me suspicious. It turns out that the Paris Baguette chain is run by Koreans.

Paris Baguette is everywhere in Korea, and they are spreading across the world. The rapid expansion of the Paris Baguette chain has taken place mostly within the last half-dozen years or so. You can now find them in New York, and for those of you who live in the Philadelphia area, there is a Paris Baguette out in Elkins Park.

Once I discovered that Paris Baguette is owned by Koreans, I thought that perhaps 贝甜 might sound more like "baguette" if I pronounced it in Korean, but that doesn't work very well either. 贝甜 in Korean is p’aech’ŏm, quite far from "baguette".

In Korea, people normally use the transliteration of baguette, "paget’ŭ (바게트)" or "pagettŭ (바게뜨)", to designate this type of bread. The official Korean name for Paris Baguette uses the latter one.

So where does this bèitián 贝甜 ("shell sweet") of the Chinese name for Paris Baguette come from? In fact, p’aech’ŏm (the Korean pronunciation of the name) is not a Korean term that people use in daily speech. It seems that someone tried to coin a word for "croissant" in Sino-Korean, and p’aech’ŏm is the result of that effort. "P'ae (bei) is shell –> shell-shaped moon is "crescent" –> croissant (shell-shaped sweet pastry?). A further felicitous connotation of bèi 贝 is "money, wealth, riches", since this character (originally the pictograph of a cowry) often figures as a radical in characters having to do with pecuniary matters.

In Korea, Paris Baguette is sometimes called "Paris Croissant", which is the name of the parent company.

To summarize for the Korean:

巴黎贝甜 / Paris Baguette / 파리 바게트 / Pari Bageteu (Chinese / English name / Korean name /Korean romanization). However, Koreans usually pronounce this like "Ppari Bagetteu" / "Ppari paket‘ŭ." (빠리 빠게트), which is fairly close to the original French pronunciation because Korean has fortis such as "ㅃ (pp)", "ㄸ (tt)", "ㅆ (ss)" and so forth. Samuel Martin (the Yale grammarian of Korean) called them reinforced consonants. But others have called them "tense", "emphatic", or a variety of other names. Koreans refer to them as "thick sounds" (that is, "thick" as in a thick liquid), "double consonants", or "twin consonants".

The name "Paris Baguette" is actually somewhat misleading, since this is not a baguetterie but a typical bakery-cafeteria of Asia which sells a broad range of pastry products of French and Japanese-French style (Korean bakeries have been influenced by Japan from their early stages). There are probably two main reasons for the popularity of Paris Baguette in China, aside from its energetic marketing efforts. One is that it meets the needs for Asian cafe-culture and another is that Paris Baguette popularized and globalized French bread in Asia after Japan adopted and adapted it to Asian styles.

Finally, "baguettes" is the French word for chopsticks. That conjures up in my mind an odd picture of someone trying to eat Chinese food with a pair of long, French bread loaves.

[Thanks to Sungshin Kim, Eiren Shea Warneck, Kira Simon-Kennedy, Bill Hannas, Haewon Cho, Minkyung Ji, Daniel Sou, Matt Anderson, Tom Bartlett, Haitao Tang, Perry Link, Melvin Chih-Jen Lee, Yunong Zhou, Gianni Wan, Bob Ramsey, Gene Buckley, Laurent Sagart, and Vivian Corbin]


  1. HP said,

    July 2, 2012 @ 10:37 pm

    FYI, this is all North American English, so YMMV.

    When I was studying orchestration at IU in the 1980s, we were taught to refer to "French horn" as "horn in F" (aka cornu en Fa,etc.) when writing scores. The logic being that trumpets and trombones are not technically horns (having cylindrical bores), and cornets, euphoniums, tubas, etc. already have perfectly good English names, and are used rarely enough not to be an issue.

    On the anecdotal side, I had many friends who played French Horn, and when I referred to the instrument as "French horn," I was subjected to enough dirty looks that peer pressure sufficed to change my usage. For me, that weird, double-keyed, almost unplayable brass instrument is "horn." If you want to correct me, play Til Eulenspiegel without a mistake, and I'll take it under advisement.

    So, I'm led to believe that Modern Standard Mandarin or Taiwanese are really not sufficient for determining the "proper" translation of "French horn," or, for that matter, "French bread."

  2. marie-lucie said,

    July 3, 2012 @ 12:19 am

    Contrary to what foreigners might think, the original meaning of baguette is not 'long, thin loaf of bread' but 'small, thin stick'. An orchestra conductor wields a baguette, not a bâton which is a longer, thicker stick, suitable for use as a cane, for instance, but somewhat thicker. Drummers also use baguettes to hit their instruments. So baguettes is totally appropriate for "chopsticks".

    The type of bread loaf called baguette is relatively recent (historically speaking), and there is even a thinner loaf (barely thicker than a cane) called ficelle 'string' (for tying packages, for instance). These are often used to make French-type sandwiches, meant to be eaten right away before the bread hardens. Even the baguette does not tolerate a wait of more than a few hours. But real traditional French bread of any kind does not include olives, let alone mustard or garlic.

  3. Julien said,

    July 3, 2012 @ 12:29 am

    Congratulations for such a great post! I am impressed once more at the amount of thought you put into this and how far it went…

    Regarding Paris Baguette / 巴黎贝甜, I think the localization process when entering the Chinese market is a bit similar to its main competitor, the Korean chain Tous Les Jours (I see there is also a US website so there are shops in the US too) is known in Korean as 뚜레쥬르, which is the Korean transliteration of the French name; while in China once more the choice was to attempt both 音译 and 意译: the Chinese name is 多乐之日. I personally find it to be a very good translation, like the Paris Baguette one, as it contains a positive meaning (I guess it could translate as "Day of many joys"?) while retaining a pronunciation relatively close to the French one: http://www.gudumami.cn/img_u/shop/sregist/cb31149_01.jpg

  4. D.O. said,

    July 3, 2012 @ 1:32 am

    @marie-lucie. But bâton as you describe it was used by conductors in older times. I am thinking of maybe Jean-Baptiste Lully. Here's what Wikipedia has to say

    On 8 January 1687, Jean-Baptiste Lully was conducting a Te Deum in honor of Louis XIV's recent recovery from illness. He was beating time by banging a long staff (a precursor to the baton) against the floor, as was the common practice at the time, when he struck his toe, creating an abscess. The wound turned gangrenous, but Lully refused to have his toe amputated and the gangrene spread, resulting in his death on 22 March.

  5. marie-lucie said,

    July 3, 2012 @ 8:17 am

    D.O. , I did not know this sad story, but indeed Lully had been using a real bâton. But a bâton does not have to be made for a purpose, you could just pick up a more or less straight branch of the desired length and thickness off the forest floor and use that for whatever purpose you wanted it.

    For conductors, the bâton (a word already adopted in English) must have been replaced by the lighter and more visible baguette around that time, but the English just kept using the word baton since they only knew it within the musical context.

    As for baguette, in other contexts it can refer to the forked twig used by dowsers, and of course magicians and fairy godmothers use a baguette magique – a magic wand.

  6. Victor Mair said,

    July 3, 2012 @ 8:25 am

    From a friend in Cleveland, Ohio:

    How did Mandarin pick up the unfortunate habit of modifying the instrument's name (Horn, corno, kurt, …) with an inappropriate adjective (French)? The International Horn Society worked hard to get rid of the incorrect modifier, to little avail (HP, IU, and HP's horn-playing friends notwithstanding). Perhaps music comedienne Anna Russell (who was for a time married to a hornist) put it best: "The French horn — which is German — is not to be confused with the English horn — which is French." A genealogically accurate name for the modern instrument would be the French-Bohemian-German horn (to which German craftsmen contributed the most significant improvements), but that's a mouthful. -C

  7. marie-lucie said,

    July 3, 2012 @ 9:30 am

    The French French horn: le cor

    The French English horn: le cor anglais

  8. D.O. said,

    July 3, 2012 @ 10:20 am

    Interestingly the word bâton was adopted by Russian for a type of bread. Entering батон in google search will give you an idea.

  9. marie-lucie said,

    July 3, 2012 @ 11:39 am

    Thanks for the link, D.O. Those loaves are far too thick and short to look like actual bâtons, but perhaps the name was chosen in contrast to the long and slender baguette? On the other hand, there is a type of loaf called (pain) bâtard which is shorter and heavier then a baguette, though not as compact as the Russian bâton. Its name comes from the fact that it is halfway between the baguette and the equally long but heavier pain de deux (livres) (\weighing approximtely two pounds). Perhaps bâton was chosen in Russian because many people knew the word bâtard, and bâton did not have the negative connotations, as well as being from the same semantic domain as baguette.

  10. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    July 3, 2012 @ 2:35 pm

    @D.O.: In Polish, baton is a chocolate bar ;)

  11. Ted said,

    July 3, 2012 @ 5:25 pm

    The French milky horn: le cor nichon

  12. Bathrobe said,

    July 3, 2012 @ 9:07 pm

    Actually, I just noticed the name Wedomé last Sunday in the window of the shop. I've only ever seen Weiduomei before, so it must be a relatively new attempt to make the name look more French (in Roman letters, at least). It seems to have been concocted by someone whose only acquaintance with French is the e acute. The 'wedo' has obviously come about because of English 'we' and 'do'. So no matter however fancy and French they try to be, they really seem to be more comfortable with their basic textbook English.

  13. Lugubert said,

    July 4, 2012 @ 3:36 am

    The батон also seems too be too thick to be favourably compared to a Swedish batong (= truncheon).

    A Swedish baguette sprinkled with poppy seeds is a "Pain Riche", supposedly named after the first restaurant to offer it on its menu.

  14. /df said,

    July 4, 2012 @ 6:02 am

    Why wasn't an existing Mandarin word (eg lǎbā) for a horn used for a "French" horn instead of hào (just a near sound-alike for horn, I suppose)? Was it that Western music is, or was, somehow conceptually differentiated in the minds of those who coined the translation?

  15. Mr Punch said,

    July 4, 2012 @ 6:22 am

    Since we're heading into the Olympics – what about that thing that relay runners hand off ("baton" in English)?

  16. Hugo said,

    July 4, 2012 @ 9:26 am

    I'm happy to learn that there is at least another type of horn; I thought there was only the French one. I've always heard of it as a "cor français", and can't remember hearing "cor" alone.

    As for baguette/bâton and conductors, there are situations where a large bâton is still in use: think of an orchestra that marches in the street during a parade. Conductors of these orchestras do use a bâton, obviously in order to be seen properly by everyone, while conductors in concert halls use the small baguette.

    Also, I laughed at cor nichon.

    The runners' baton is usually called "témoin" in French. I guess the stick is a witness that can testify the runner did wait for his teammate to start his part of the race, or something?

  17. D.O. said,

    July 4, 2012 @ 9:44 am

    @Hugo. The idea of relay is to get the (written) message from one place to another as quickly as possible.

  18. Victor Mair said,

    July 5, 2012 @ 11:33 pm


    "Horn" is actually one of the meanings of 号. Here are some definitions of 号 from Google Translate:

    number 数, 数目, 号码, 号, 编号, 数字
    name 名称, 名, 名字, 名义, 姓, 号
    horn 角, 喇叭, 号角, 号, 犄角, 篥
    mark 标记, 标志, 马克, 成绩, 记号, 号
    howl 吼叫, 号, 哮
    wail 哀鸣, 号, 啕
    day of a month 号
    roar 吼, 咆哮, 轰鸣, 咆, 哮, 号
    numeric 数字, 号

    cry 哭, 哭泣, 喊, 喊叫, 啼, 号
    coax 哄, 号

  19. /df said,

    July 6, 2012 @ 6:55 am

    OK, thanks for that clarification. So is the phonetic similarity of horn vs 号 hào just accidental and its "horn" meaning not a borrowing from English or German?

  20. Jim Dew said,

    July 6, 2012 @ 6:17 pm

    Re uses of the term 'baguette' — Recently reading "… a L'ecole des Sorciers" I was surprised to see that the young wizards' 'wands' were called 'baguettes magiques'. I think if I had read this discussion of 'baguettes' earlier I would not have been surprised.

    I was also surprised at the small size of these baguettes, about 17 to 27 centimetres, but this is not a language question. It was also good to learn that "c'est la baguette qui choisi son sorcier, pas le contraire!"

    This goes to show how limited reading and general ignorance can set a person up for pleasant surprises and welcome edification.

    Jim Dew

  21. Victor Mair said,

    July 6, 2012 @ 6:43 pm


    At first I was just going to say, not in any dismissive way, that the resemblance between "horn" and HAO4" is fortuitous. But I learned long ago never to take lightly any question or comment from Language Log readers, except a small minority of interlopers that irritate Geoff Pullum. So I started to think about your question in a serious way, and I see that I may have to write a separate post to do it justice. Stay on the line. I'll get back to you. Hope I can do it before I leave Singapore tomorrow.

    For the moment, I'll say only that, if "horn" and HAO4 are related, it would be at a very deep / early level, not a borrowing from modern English to Modern Standard Mandarin.

    Thanks for the very interesting question! Now you've really got me thinking. Stay tuned.

  22. marie-lucie said,

    July 7, 2012 @ 10:11 pm

    Hugo: I've always heard of it as a "cor français", and can't remember hearing "cor" alone.

    Where are you (from)? I am talking about the use in France, where there would be no point in calling the instrument "français".

    There are other, older types of cor, used for signalling more than music:
    le cor de chasse 'hunting horn', originally an actual cow horn, a very simple instrument that was used to signal to other hunters during large-scale mounted hunts such as deer or boar hunts (these are less common than in past centuries, where they were a privilege of European aristocracy, but are still practiced in some countries).

    – another cor, with a single loop, was carried by mounted royal couriers or messengers before the invention of the telegraph; it was used to warn the next courier to be ready to pick up the message and gallop away until he met the next messenger. You can see this type of horn in some very old pictures.

    – finally (though not chronologically), in the Chanson de Roland which relates a battle in the Pyrenees at the time of the Muslim conquest of Spain and advance in Southern France, Roland, Charlemagne's nephew, has a large cor made of an elephant tusk (and therefore called olifant), the sound of which can carry at a great distance. Roland strains so much blowing the olifant that he bursts a vein in his neck and dies, but Charlemagne's army has received the warning.

  23. marie-lucie said,

    July 7, 2012 @ 10:30 pm

    Lugubert: a Swedish batong (= truncheon)

    Yes, this is also a bâton, not very long but definitely thicker than a (non-bread) baguette.

    Policemen carry these for practical purposes such as directing traffic, but there are also ornamental ones carried by certain grades of officers for ceremonial purposes, the highest-rated being le bâton de maréchal, maréchal being the highest grade in the French armed forces.

    Jim Dew: Yes, those baguettes magiques seem a little short, but if I understand rightly they are made for children.

  24. Glen Gordon said,

    July 8, 2012 @ 4:27 pm

    I was simply taught Fǎguó, the good ol' communist way, with the low tone and wasn't aware of an alternative pronunciation. Now I know just in case somebody trips me up with a falling tone. Lol. Chinese is an amazingly rich language in so many ways.

    The Asian-EuroAmerican melting pot going on is also inspiring. It seems to me that the Chinese are increasingly reveling in Western culture and aesthetics while the Europeans and North Americans have been drawing ideas from Eastern influences. It's a small small world.

    Now I'm hankering for some Parisian baguettes. Off to Chinatown I go then!

  25. grniewnie said,

    July 9, 2012 @ 8:45 am

    oh, I love 味多美。 I would instantly attribute that "law" to Google translate (or equiv) mixing the meaning of 法国的法 (france fa) with 法律的法 (law fa). Seen much worse there, will have to take a photo next time.

  26. David said,

    July 18, 2012 @ 4:29 am

    This is interesting!
    For the Fǎguó vs Fàguó, modern Pinyin (at least the variety I'm learning in Beijing at the moment) realises the 3rd tone like this:
    3rd before 1st, 2nd or 4th -> 4th tone (ǎ -> à)
    3rd before 3rd -> 1st (and the second 3rd tone gets a 4th tone) (ǎǎ goes to áà)
    3rd before nothing -> stays as 3rd
    So although the pinyin has changed, the characters and pronunciation have not. I'm not a fan of the Paris Baguette bread though, all the varieties I've tried are much too sweet for my tastes!

  27. Mylène said,

    August 16, 2012 @ 2:18 pm

    French horn in France is indeed "un cor anglais", which is funny because it looks like it doesn't know which side of the English Channel it belongs too. It is actually a misspelling of "corps anglé" because the instrument possesses, indeed, an "angled body"!

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