The Chinese character for "XXX" translates as "YYY"

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Today's "Get Fuzzy":

I won't get into the dynamics of the complicated interrelationships between the steppe and the sown of Eurasia here, since Bucky's assertion of "fact" in the fourth panel of this cartoon is quite enough to chew on for now.

Note that the first comment is a correction to the cartoon, with R Mahn pointing out:

Spray paint (any color) in Chinese is: pēnqī 喷漆
Muppet: tíxiàn mù'ǒu 提线木偶
Camouflage: wèizhuāng 伪装

I sometimes think that there is more misinformation about Chinese characters floating around out there than reliable information, e.g., the widespread belief that "the Chinese character for 'crisis' is composed of 'danger' plus 'opportunity'". Although I've done my best to debunk this myth, it persists, and quite vigorously so. (See here for links to Language Log's coverage of the "crisis + danger = opportunity" trope.)

[Tip of the hat to Adam Funk]


  1. Zackatoustra said,

    February 21, 2013 @ 12:56 pm

    Got on board recently. So, I'm happy to be offered reminders of your efforts to debunk the not-yet-debunk-until-now "Opportunity" myth.
    I feel now entrusted with the sacred mission of preaching and convincing people around me about the Truth.

  2. Faldone said,

    February 21, 2013 @ 1:22 pm

    I think it's pretty funny that anyone would try to correct one of Bucky's rants with anything as mundane as facts.

  3. Rube said,

    February 21, 2013 @ 1:27 pm

    @Faldone: Funny, isn't it? The talking cat doesn't bother him, the Muppets invading China doesn't bother him, but getting a Chinese character wrong? That needs to be straightened out.

  4. Svafa said,

    February 21, 2013 @ 2:12 pm

    I thought it amusing that the most lauded response to the correction was an ad hominem, rather than the first response that Bucky obviously doesn't know what he's talking about (and that's the point).

  5. Nathan Myers said,

    February 21, 2013 @ 4:26 pm

    Rube: Wait, are you saying the muppets didn't sweep down from Siberia into Mongolia? Who was it, then, that drove the Mongolians out, thence to invade China, Persia, and all of western Asia?

    While we're correcting the ravings of mentally (and dentally) deficient cats, perhaps this is a good time to note once again that China's "Great Wall" has no objective existence.

  6. Nanani said,

    February 21, 2013 @ 11:07 pm

    It's LANGUAGE log, not history log or anti-muppet-defamation log, after all.

    On topic, How could one even think that one Chinese character would correspond to a multi-part concept like "green spraypaint" in the first place? Even without knowing Chinese it's a stretch.

  7. cameron said,

    February 21, 2013 @ 11:45 pm

    I was once in an army/navy in Port Jefferson, NY and heard a kid come in and ask the guy at the register whether they had any "camouflage spray-paint".

  8. Robert said,

    February 22, 2013 @ 3:29 am

    I guess this might be worthy of note as an example of the implied titular (yes I did see that post) snowclone but otherwise it seems like some folks left their sense of humo[u]r at home.

  9. Adam Funk said,

    February 22, 2013 @ 4:08 am


    You can get camouflage make-up, but it comes as a pack of 2 or 3 sticks. I guess camo spray paint could be 2 or 3 cans packed together.

  10. richardelguru said,

    February 22, 2013 @ 7:40 am


    Did the counter clerk counter that with "Yes, but it's so good we can't find it"?

  11. john said,

    February 22, 2013 @ 7:57 am

    Am I the only one who thought it was a joke? As in, he never actually thought that there was such a character but was just making something up because it's funny?

  12. Rube said,

    February 22, 2013 @ 8:29 am

    As Dr Johnson once observed: "An insane talking cat's declaiming upon the Chinese is like a woman's preaching. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all."

  13. Brett said,

    February 22, 2013 @ 9:26 am

    @cameron: In Ralph Steadman's book, I, Leonardo, a young Leonardo da Vinci, just having arrived from the countryside to work in a master artist's studio, is sent by the other apprentice painters to pick up some striped paint. He learns that this is a prank, but, being Leonardo, he decides to make some actual striped paint.

  14. Rube said,

    February 22, 2013 @ 10:14 am

    @john: I'm pretty sure that most people thought that. The conversation has just taken a slightly surreal turn.

  15. Victor Mair said,

    February 22, 2013 @ 11:36 am

    Of course it was a joke, but what was the joke about?

  16. Robert said,

    February 22, 2013 @ 12:32 pm

    About being wrong in pretty much every possible respect?

  17. Robert said,

    February 22, 2013 @ 12:38 pm

    … and, I guess, the deluded confabulation of the absolutely convinced.

  18. Faldone said,

    February 22, 2013 @ 1:48 pm

    This is just a continuation of a rant Bucky had in late December and early January. In that earlier rant the Muppets were the result of Soviet genetic research.. Bucky isn't even consistent in his paranoia.

  19. Ken Brown said,

    February 22, 2013 @ 5:16 pm

    What was the joke about? Its about people who make silly comments about Chinese characters, like the one about challenge and opportunity.

  20. julie wei said,

    February 23, 2013 @ 2:39 am

    The first time I heard the Chinese characters for WEIJI "crisis" explained (or mis-explained) as "danger and opportunity" was in the 80s in the auditorium of the University of Michigan School of Business. George Schultz, U.S. Secretary of State, had been invited to give a talk. I went across campus to see and hear him. I can't recall the crisis he talked about, but remember him telling us not to be unduly anxious because, as the Chinese say, the characters for "crisis" mean "danger and opportunity". We must not forget the opportunity. I was quite taken by that.

  21. Jean-Michel said,

    February 23, 2013 @ 6:54 am

    As far as I can tell, 提线木偶 is a generic term for marionettes. In Taiwan and mainland China the Muppets are 布偶 (bù ǒu "cloth puppet") and in Hong Kong they're 布公仔 (bou3 gung1zai2 "cloth doll").

  22. Jean-Michel said,

    February 23, 2013 @ 12:34 pm

    (n.b.: 布偶 could also be translated as "cloth doll," with the Hong Kong title replacing 偶 with the specifically Cantonese 公仔. Not sure which came first.)

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