Please vomit here

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Here we go again.  With the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics coming up, China aims to eliminate Chinglish, and all sorts of negative examples are adduced.  We've covered scores of them on Language Log, but here's one I hadn't seen before:


"Beijing is trying to rid city of Chinglish before 2022 Winter Olympics:  Enjoy them while you can, folks!", by Alex Linder, Shanghaiist (12/4/18)

And there are many other compilations of Chinglish chestnuts popping up now, such as this one:

"Beijing Is Trying To Get Rid Of Bad Translations Before 2022 Winter Olympics", by Julia Banim, UNILAD

The subtitle of Linder's article indicates that he thinks the current Chinglish eradication campaign will rid China of this odious language beast forever.  Sorry, Alex, I don't think that's going to happen anytime soon.  The PRC authorities have sponsored such Chinglish eradication movements in the past — before the 2008 Olympics, the 2010 Shanghai Expo, and other major events.  Doesn't work.

They need to pay skilled, qualified translators to do the work — but such specialists cost a pretty penny, and it seems that the concerned authorities are unwilling to fork over the necessary cash.

The Chinese on the sign pictured above says:

qǐng zài cǐ ǒutù 请在此呕吐 ("please vomit here")

Aside from the wrong form of the verb, the translation is not bad.  They even use the polite request form "please" and jazz it up with the literary word cǐ 此 for "here" instead of the more vernacular or colloquial zhèlǐ 这里 or zhèr 这儿.

Anyone who is literate in English will be able to understand the meaning of "please vomiting here".  This points to another aspect of the perennial movements to weed out Chinglish.  Namely, it's not just a matter of having correct grammar and accurate translations.  One also has to take into account the sheer cultural difference in the subject of what is being written about.  Even if the sign said "please vomit here", visitors to the Middle Kingdom would still think it's weird.  I personally have never seen such a sign anywhere else in the world.

The closest parallel I could think of are the stories about vomitoria where decadent Romans would go to relieve themselves after their alleged gorge and purge cycles.  I actually learned about Roman vomitoria in high school history class and remember seeing historically oriented paintings depicting scenes of Romans at banquets and repairing to a nearby vomitorium to disgorge the contents of their bloated bellies, only to go back for second and third helpings.

So the stories go.

Turns out that this is all a myth.  In fact,

vomitorium is a passage situated below or behind a tier of seats in an amphitheatre or a stadium, through which big crowds can exit rapidly at the end of a performance. They can also be pathways for actors to enter and leave stage. The Latin word vomitorium, plural vomitoria, derives from the verb vomō, vomere, "to spew forth". In ancient Roman architecturevomitoria were designed to provide rapid egress for large crowds at amphitheatres and stadiums, as they do in modern sports stadiums and large theatres.


Thus, a vomitorium is an architectural feature of stadiums or amphitheaters through which crowds disgorge after a performance.

Selected readings


  1. Joshua K. said,

    December 8, 2018 @ 12:29 pm

    So why did they put up a sign that was supposed to say "Please vomit here"? What is the cultural context for this sign?

  2. Antonio L. Banderas said,

    December 8, 2018 @ 12:53 pm

    @Joshua The vomitorium, so the common "exit(ing) here".

  3. Jonathan Badger said,

    December 8, 2018 @ 12:55 pm

    But that really doesn't explain it, as "vomit" doesn't have that meaning in English, and nobody would even think of the connection unless they knew Latin. Are we to think that Chinese scholars of Western classics are writing the signs?

  4. Gregory Kusnick said,

    December 8, 2018 @ 1:19 pm

    I'm with Joshua and Jonathan. If the intended meaning is "exit here", then "please vomit here" is not a case of "correct grammar and accurate translation[]" with missing cultural context (as Victor seems to imply); it's an egregious mistranslation.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    December 8, 2018 @ 3:59 pm

    From a Chinese graduate student:

    I did a bit of research on the slogan and discovered some interesting facts about it.

    First, I myself have never seen or heard this slogan, neither in Chinese, nor in English. However, there are two types of contexts where the slogan is employed.

    1. In amusement parks. It is quite easy to understand why there are these slogans telling you where to vomit when there are roller coasters, hellevaltos, pirate ships, etc.

    2. In restaurants, particularly, izakayas. It is also understandable that people may drink too much in an izakaya, and the restaurants find it disturbing to have customers vomit in the wash basin. Therefore, they skillfully employed the slogan telling customers to vomit in a particular place.

    The following is a photo from weibo. Any using of it may need further authorization.

    [VHM: Respecting the author's intention, I am not including the photograph here, but I can disclose that it is clearly from a fancy establishment (nice wallpaper and fixtures, etc.), the exact same words — Chinese only, no English — are written vertically on a wooden plaque next to the sink, and it is obviously designed as a vomit sink, not a regular basin with small drain for washing one's hands.]

    As for Chinglish, it has been a problem for many years, and I don't think it is a big problem. English is not a Chinese mother language, thanks to generations' struggles against colonization. It is neither a necessary skill for all Chinese, in the same way that there is no reason for all Americans to learn Chinese. Furthermore, neither should Chinese government give translation a priority among all the huge amounts of matters in Beijing. Any one of those emergencies–environmental protection, traffic congestion, too many migrants, etc–matters more than translation.

    But Beijing is a huge and an international city, the eradication of Chinglish is at least quite important. As long as English is the world language, then Beijing has the obligation to use the right way to inform those who aren't familiar with Chinese. Translation partly leads to communication, while whether it occupies a priority compared to many other affairs in Beijing, it is another matter of fact. I think the slogans are okay, as long as it could be understood within a certain context. When it comes to documents, treaties, no mistake then is allowed.

  6. Victor Mair said,

    December 8, 2018 @ 8:21 pm

    From another graduate student:

    For this sign, I have seen it before in an amusement park. I cannot remember which park, but this sign was set up near a roller coaster. So I think it makes sense since the crazy roller coaster will make people vomit, but I just cannot understand how to hold back when you want to vomit and walk to their designated place.

    [The student sent along a photograph of a plain, blurry sign with this wording:

    qǐng zài cǐ chù ǒutù 请在此处呕吐 ("please vomit in this place"; the English on this sign is identical with that of the sign in the o.p.) — yet another word for "here"; cf. "Multilingual voting signs" (11/9/12)

    It is to the right of another sign that has what I take to be the name of a wild ride fēngkuáng huǒlóng zuān 疯狂火龙钻 ("Crazy Fire Dragon Drill") and beneath that the words "chūkǒu 出口" ("way out") with an arrow pointing to the left.]

  7. Victor Mair said,

    December 8, 2018 @ 10:52 pm

    From Francis Miller:

    This reminded me of something from The Hunger Games, a recently popular book and movie series in which the wealthy elite drink a clearish liquid to induce vomiting so they can eat more. Nasty.

    See here:

    "In order to have a good time at a party and eat as much as they want, Capitol residents drink a liquid (similar to ipecac) that causes them to vomit, thus providing enough room in their stomachs for more food. The residents seem oblivious to the fact that, although they go through lots of food and still have plenty left over, many of the districts' residents are starving. The food Capitol residents eat is extremely rich and appears in exotic and beautiful patterns, such as bread rolls shaped like flowers and oranges served with a sauce. Everything is luxurious and overwhelming for the tributes that arrive from the poor districts (for example, food dispensers and showers with over a hundred buttons)."

  8. Adam Roberts said,

    December 9, 2018 @ 2:42 am

    I hate to be to the one to mythbust your mythbusting, but you're wrong about Romans and vomiting. They may not have dedicated a special room in their villa for this purpose (I guess the toilet served perfectly well, as it does today) but Romans did like to vomit, before and after meals. Cicero talks about how Julius Caesar habitually did both, and Seneca notes (admittedly with Stoic disapproval) "they vomit that they may eat, and eat that they may vomit" [Conf. ad Helv. 9] They did this to clear the stomach so they could continue eating, but also because they believed it strengthened the constitution. According to Suetonius, the Emperor Vitellius, a famous glutton, attributed his relative longevity to his practice of repeated vomiting.

  9. Steve Jones said,

    December 9, 2018 @ 3:25 am

    A modest contribution to your fine Chinglish series: with some signs spotted at a Shanxi temple

  10. Victor Mair said,

    December 9, 2018 @ 8:55 am

    @Adam Roberts

    Go back and reread the o.p. carefully, then remove the first sentence and the first clause of the second sentence of your comment. It would be much improved without them.

  11. Scott P. said,

    December 9, 2018 @ 1:06 pm


    I hate to be the one to to mythbust your mythbusting of their mythbusting, but I don't think the ancient literature points in the direction you suggest. The website below provides a good overview, but to specifically address your attestations: Caesar was on emetics due to doctor's advice, not because he wanted to eat more. Suetonius was hostile to Vitellius and is known for his salacious gossiping — attributing longevity to Vitellius when he died (at 54) in the year of the Four Emperors is I think mainly a joke. Similarly, Seneca is adopting a moralistic tone and should not be considered an unbiased sociological observer. It's true that the stories of Roman 'decadence' comes from the Romans themselves originally, but that doesn't mean we ought to treat it as gospel.

  12. Sven said,

    December 9, 2018 @ 4:18 pm

    Actually in Germany occasionally you can find specific installations for vomiting. As far as I know they are not very common, you can find them mostly in rustic bars that encourage heave beer drinking, and, more often, in student fraternities (that also encourage heavy beer drinking). See second picture in

  13. Victor Mair said,

    December 9, 2018 @ 5:24 pm

    Nice find, Sven!

    But it seems they don't have a sign directing vomiters to the Speibecken.

    At first I thought that the English translation of "Speibecken" would be "spittoon", which we used to have all over in the old days, though I haven't seen any lately. I wonder why? People still chew tobacco, but perhaps not so much as in the past.

    The common German word for "spittoon" is "Spucknapf". Their history goes all the way back to Sumerian times.

    "Speibecken", in contrast, is designed specifically for spewing into, and comes equipped with a water supply to wash down the chunks and bits of semi-digested food that don't go down the drain on their own. You're not supposed to vomit into a spittoon. Differently intended devices.

  14. Adam Roberts said,

    December 10, 2018 @ 6:47 am

    Victor, you instruct me to "go back and reread the o.p. carefully, then remove the first sentence and the first clause of the second sentence of your comment."

    I have reread the o.p. as ordered. The part that caught, and continues to catch, my eye is: "turns out that this is all a myth", the 'all' suggesting to me not just that 'vomitorium' is a piece of nomenclature that has been misunderstood by later generations, but that all the stories of Romans vomiting before/after meals were false. The tone of the comment you addressed to me, shorn as it is of a "you might" or a "please", reads, rather, as a rebuke. Fair enough: it's your post, and if my comment seemed to you phrased impolitely or brusquely I certainly apologise.

    @Scott P. That's a very interesting link. I hope I don't appear mulish if I say I'm not wholly convinced by it. I suggested that Romans were in the habit of vomiting to free up their stomachs for more food, and also because they thought it was good for their health. You point out that Caesar vomited because his doctors prescribed him emetics. Presumably they did so because they thought vomiting good for Caesar's health. I'm not sure that contradicts what I said. I do see what you mean about Suetoniuis and Vitellius, but I'd read it differently: Vitellius was unusually tall and unusually corpulent, red-faced and unhealthy; it seems to me perfectly plausible that the claim he lived long enough to be assassinated as emperor (mid-50s is not a bad age for the 1st century, surely) was a fact he attributed to his habit of vomiting. I agree entirely that Seneca is adopting a moralistic tone, although I also tend to think there'd have been no ground for him to do so unless he was talking about something hs contemporaries recognised as a topic upon which moralising was viable.

    I'm conscious, though, that none of this has anyhing to do with the Chinese sign that is the occasion for the o.p., and won't add anything further to this thread.

  15. Adam F said,

    December 11, 2018 @ 4:14 am

    This is the most interesting & informative discussion of barfing that I've come across, especially with the link to the blog debunking the "Romans vomited a lot so they could stuff more food in" myth (which I'd always believed). I'm sure the passage in the Hunger Games was intended to parallel that, since the country in those books consists of a degenerate class kept in luxury by repressing the productive people.

    Clearly I haven't frequented the right (?) establishments in my travels in Germany, although the first illustration in the Speibecken article shows something I've seen beside every dentist's chair.

    About 30 years ago, a friend told me that one of the fraternities at her university in Pennsylvania (I can't remember which one, though) had "the rude room" in the basement, which had a concrete floor with a drain in the middle and no furniture or decorations.

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