One way to get rid of Chinglish

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From Chenfeng Wang:

These were signs in a student cafeteria in Tsinghua University, three years ago. They were taken down after the first day the cafeteria opened, because students were very, very angry about the improper English, and even thought that it was a shame for the top university to have these signs. (Obviously they were made by the staff who didn’t know much English.)

běn zhuō zàntíng fúwù
"service is suspended at this table"

shōupán chù
"place to return [lit., receive] [dirty] dishes"

gùkè zhǐbù
"staff only; customers refrain from entering this area; off limits to customers"

fēi gōng mò rù
"workers only" — double negative


  1. Laura Morland said,

    August 28, 2019 @ 12:56 am

    Far and away my favorite is "Not working mo into the".

    Practically surrealist poetry.

  2. B.Ma said,

    August 28, 2019 @ 5:11 am

    "Customers: Stop!" could be an appropriate translation.

    The last one could be fixed with some slight changes: "Not working here? No entry!"

  3. Mark Meckes said,

    August 28, 2019 @ 8:01 am

    Surely the most idiomatic English counterpart for either of the last two signs would be Authorized Personnel Only.

  4. John Swindle said,

    August 28, 2019 @ 7:27 pm

    The first sign, "This table to suspend service", is understandable enough in English and probably wouldn't have triggered a negative reaction if the rest weren't so bad.

    I just spent an hour or so trying to translate keywords from a flyer into Chinese without recourse to a Chinese speaker. Your post was very helpful in reminding me not to do that.

  5. Martha said,

    August 28, 2019 @ 9:24 pm

    Really, John Swindle? Even with the translation "service is suspended at this table" I still don't know what that's supposed to mean (at least not without a better view of the table itself). Is it a closed register? Will you not get served at the table, and if so, are there servers at the cafeteria?

    I actually like "customers stop." Customers don't always obey "employees only," so I'd like to see how "customers stop" would work out.

  6. John Swindle said,

    August 29, 2019 @ 5:14 am

    @Martha: If you take the first sign literally, the table might be about to suspend service at any moment or it might be a place where you go to suspend service. It seems more likely that the table is out of service, whether or not English would call it a table and whatever its accustomed service might be.

    When my residential co-op deployed magnetic signs in the laundry saying certain washers were "TEMPORARY OUT OF ORDER", I laughed at them and then felt a little foolish when the board spent money to buy new, corrected signs.

  7. SONIA FEOLA said,

    August 29, 2019 @ 4:01 pm

    The first sign, gives me the impression of something that is going to happen, such as the service at the table is going to be suspended at any time due to lack of personell, so it's quite funny, the second sign I don't get, the third one: CUSTOMER STOP, is a decisive imperative, imagine that there are very rude customers that don' follow the signs:)).
    The fourth sign is unfinished, could be interpreted as that if you don't work her, Well that is too bad:)))

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