Chile has nuclear prunes

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From Joel Martinsen:

The Chinese says:

Zhìlì yǒuhé xī méigān


Zhlean unpitted prunes

The English translation given above is taken verbatim from Baidu Fanyi.

At least the translator got "zhìlì  (lit., "knowledge / wisdom benefit / interest / advantage / profit") right as the transcription of the name "Chile".

Where it went went wrong is in splitting up "yǒuhé 有核" (lit., "has pits", i.e., "with pits; pitted") into "has" and "stone / pit / kernel / nucleus".

Xī méigān 西梅干 ("Western dried plums", i.e., "Western prunes").


  1. Philip Spaelti said,

    January 24, 2019 @ 3:38 am

    If prunes are "unpitted" are the pits still in there, or are they removed? I find it hard to tell.

    As to the Chinese, is "Zhìlì yǒuhé xī méigān" a relative clause? Or does Chinese allow a sentence as a product description? I'm pretty sure that English does allow that. In fact I find even nouns with relative clauses to be poor as product descriptions in English.

  2. Philip Spaelti said,

    January 24, 2019 @ 3:45 am

    I wrote: As to the Chinese, is "Zhìlì yǒuhé xī méigān" a relative clause? Or does Chinese allow a sentence as a product description?

    That was obviously a stupid question, since "xī méigān" is the head noun here.

  3. Michael Watts said,

    January 24, 2019 @ 5:26 am

    Indo-European style relative clauses really confuse Chinese speakers. Their equivalent is the marker 的 de. Occuring before a noun, it marks that noun as being described by the phrase which occurs before 的, and it permits gaps in the manner of English relative clauses:


    (gap)-wearing-yellow-clothes-的-that-person "that guy [who is] wearing yellow clothes"

    But the usage of 的 goes well beyond that; I like to think of it as a good match for English's all-purpose descriptive marker "with":


    yellow-clothes-的-that-person "that guy with the yellow clothes"

    When there is no noun following 的, one is implied, making the descriptive phrase substantive:


    you-should-do-的 "what you should do"

    If you see a Chinese speaker use the English clitic 's in what seems to be a bizarre way, they are probably thinking of 的.

  4. Linda said,

    January 24, 2019 @ 7:17 am

    I'm with Philip Spaelti in wanting to know if the stones are still in the prunes or not. In British English pitted means that the stones have been removed, but I don't know if that applies in other regions.

  5. Ellen K. said,

    January 24, 2019 @ 7:35 am

    The post does note that the Chinese means literally "has pits", which is how the translation went astray. That's quire unambiguous.

  6. Michèle Sharik Pituley said,

    January 24, 2019 @ 9:39 am

    @Ellen: the post says “(lit., "has pits", i.e., "with pits; pitted")”.

    Linda, Philip, & I are confused because “pitted” generally means “has had the pits removed”, so can’t mean “with pits”.

    Perhaps Victor meant to write “(i.e., “with pits, unpitted”)”?

  7. BZ said,

    January 24, 2019 @ 10:28 am

    According to pitted (in the relevant sense) can only mean having pits removed. (The other sense, having pits, only applies to "pit" meaning "hole"). My intuition agrees with this. This is similar to how "peeled" works, although something can peel (lose its "peel") on its own (intransitive), while there is no intransitive "pit" in this sense.

  8. Ellen K. said,

    January 24, 2019 @ 11:12 am

    Regardless of how pitted is actually used, the statement that the Chinese means literally "has pits" makes it clear that these have pits. And we do, after all, know that words such as pitted, as a group, are ambiguous as it if they mean "with" or "without", and some individual words are even ambiguous.

    If you want to correct Victor Mair's choice of English word, fine. But there really isn't any ambiguity here on if they have pits or not, which was the question posed by a couple commenters.

  9. ===Dan said,

    January 24, 2019 @ 11:26 am

    Sometimes ambiguity is an inflammatory issue.

  10. Don said,

    January 24, 2019 @ 11:34 am

    Man, this translation is the pits.

  11. Michael Watts said,

    January 24, 2019 @ 1:51 pm

    Yes, the Chinese is quite explicit that the prunes have pits, and this is noted in the post.

    The translation "unpitted" derives from the verb pit, meaning to remove the pit from a pit-bearing fruit. This hasn't been done to the prunes.

    The gloss "pitted" derives from the noun pit, in the same way that you might describe a monster as being "two-headed" or "three-eyed".

  12. Jichang Lulu said,

    January 24, 2019 @ 4:10 pm

    Guess what else has a core (yǒuhé 有核).

  13. Viseguy said,

    January 24, 2019 @ 8:39 pm

    @Jichang Lulu: Somehow, I was sure that your link would point to a nuclear reactor. (But I suppose that, indirectly, it does. ;) )

  14. Chas Belov said,

    January 25, 2019 @ 3:32 am

    Pitted has always meant to me "without pits" so here I would expect "unpitted." US, get most of my usage from Western Pennsylvania.

  15. Linda said,

    January 25, 2019 @ 4:16 am

    @Chas Belov
    That answers part of my question, UK and US usage don't differ in this case. And pitted doesn't appear to be one of those words like ravel which mean both one thing and its opposite.

  16. Philip Spaelti said,

    January 25, 2019 @ 6:07 am

    Just to be clear, I understood full well that the prunes being sold have the pits in, and I wasn't criticizing Victor's phrasing. I was really wondering about the English.

    @Linda: "pitted" does not seem to have both meanings, but "unpitted" does. "to pit" and "to unpit" seem to mean the same thing.

  17. EvelynU said,

    January 25, 2019 @ 9:47 pm

    Ha, i get it! "has nuclear" = has its nucleus = has pits. Took me a while.

  18. Anthony said,

    January 29, 2019 @ 4:08 pm

    I was taught that when 核 means a pit in fruit, we always say Hu2 instead of He2.

  19. Victor Mair said,

    January 29, 2019 @ 5:35 pm

    Not always:

    If listed, hú is specified as spoken topolectal (kǒuyǔ cí 口语词), as in zdic and in Xīnhuá zìdiǎn 新华字典

    MDBG doesn't even list that sound:

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