English incorporated in a Sinograph

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From Jeff DeMarco:

In the topmost iteration of the Chinese character for "chá 茶" ("tea"), the designer has incorporated the English word "tea".  But the cleverness doesn't end there, since, in the two other handwritten occurrences of "chá 茶" ("tea") on this sheet, although they don't include the whole word "tea", they distort the vertical stroke in the middle of the bottom half of the character, making it look like "t".  They would be aware that the letter "t" is pronounced the same as the word "tea", so everybody who sees the distorted character for "chá 茶" ("tea") would think of tea both in Chinese and in English.

For those who haven't quite followed the argument I'm making, the vertical stroke in the middle of the Chinese character for "chá 茶" ("tea") normally has a distinct hook to the left at the bottom.  In the distorted version of the designer of this sheet, the hook has been removed, leaving just "t".  (Unfortunately, in some forms of lower case "t", the vertical stroke has a hook to the right at the bottom!)

As a tea aficionado and co-author of a book on tea (The True History of Tea, with Erling Hoh), I found this Sino-English writing of the word for tea particularly delightful.

Selected readings


  1. Krogerfoot said,

    November 19, 2019 @ 1:32 am

    At least in Japanese, the 茶 character doesn’t have a particularly distinct hook to the cross element, so I didn’t note any cleverness on the designer’s part there.

    I’m wondering if the company name “Long Run” is a play on the Chinese name, which appears as 龍潤 under the logo on the right. (龙 + the simplified 潤, does seem like it’d be “long” something in Mandarin.)

  2. Philip Taylor said,

    November 19, 2019 @ 4:31 am

    Same problem here :

    <img src="http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/~bgzimmer/tea.jpg">

    In both cases the URL should either commence "https:" (to force secure HTTP) or better and simpler "//" (to inherit the protocol from the referring page).

  3. Luke said,

    November 19, 2019 @ 7:46 am


    I'm certain that "LongRun" is just the pinyin rendition of 龍潤/龙润 (lóng rùn).

    Both 'Long' and 'Run' have meanings in English but I'm fairly sure those are just coincidences.

  4. Gali said,

    November 19, 2019 @ 8:44 am

    The absence/presence of a hook on the vertical stroke is a valid orthographic variation in every country. I'm afraid the author has read a bit too much into it.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    November 19, 2019 @ 8:49 am

    Don't be afraid.

    Whether the hook goes left or right makes a difference in Chinese calligraphy.

  6. Gali said,

    November 19, 2019 @ 8:56 am

    Certainly, but the questionable part is identifying the handwritten characters as "distorted" in a clever allusion to the letter "t" when they're perfectly unremarkable in how they're written. The logo is unquestionably innovative.

  7. Victor Mair said,

    November 19, 2019 @ 11:49 am

    Embiggen the photograph, then take a loupe or powerful magnifying glass and look at the two typewritten characters for "tea" in the bottom two lines, then ponder why they chose to handwrite the character for "tea" differently twice in the middle line on the sheet. "Perfectly unremarkable"?

  8. Victor Mair said,

    November 19, 2019 @ 11:51 am

    @Philip Taylor

    "Same problem here :"

    Same as what? Your reference is opaque.

    And what is the problem anyway? The photograph is showing up as desired.

  9. Philip Taylor said,

    November 19, 2019 @ 12:00 pm

    Same problem as reported in immediately preceding thread. The image is embedded using an <IMG> element which uses insecure HTTP as the protocol. The web page itself is served using secure HTTP (i.e., HTTPS). Many browsers (including mine) refuse to render insecure content embedded in a secure page as it is considered a security risk.

    <img title="Click to embiggen" src="http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/~bgzimmer/tea.jpg" alt="" width="475" />

    Page URL: https://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=45048

  10. Gen said,

    November 19, 2019 @ 2:05 pm

    Looks like the "handwritten" portions of the label are attempting a Clerical Script style, which appears to significantly de-emphasize the "hook" portion of a downward stroke when it doesn't impact the legibility of the word. You can also note that the downstrokes get much wider at the base, which may also imply a hook to a reader already primed to see the *cha* character. I have to agree that while the logo portion is ingeniously clever (the remaining dot on the lower half of the cha even looks like a tea leaf!), the handwriting is perfectly normal.

  11. Victor Mair said,

    November 19, 2019 @ 3:27 pm

    Hundreds of ways to write the Chinese character for "tea".

    Feast your eyes.

  12. Benjamin E. Orsatti said,

    November 19, 2019 @ 3:27 pm

    Dumb question, but I have to ask someone — Do left-handed people get to make the "swoosh" at the end of a stroke on the opposite side, or are we forced to work against our brush, as in most things in life?

  13. Toby said,

    November 19, 2019 @ 3:32 pm

    The hand written cha characters look perfectly natural in an artistic/archaicising sense (and in fact look very typically artistic Japanese). I think too much has been read into the handwritten vertical strokes. The proof is in the other handwritten characters – all of them have pronounced verticals as an artistic choice, not to look like Roman alphabet characters.

  14. Jonathan Smith said,

    November 19, 2019 @ 5:42 pm

    @ Benjamin E. Orsatti I'm afraid that no you must do it "standardly", but don't fret as everyone knows in advance that characters produced by left-handers will "look all wrong". A shame we were not born in China and forcibly switched at a tender age :P

  15. Dumaresq said,

    November 19, 2019 @ 9:39 pm

    But there is a long tradition of writing it without a hook:


    Note, for example, the Mawangdui specimen in the first row.

    So what we're seeing on the tea label is certainly not "distorted". At most it is a canny artistic choice by the designer.

  16. Chris Button said,

    November 19, 2019 @ 10:35 pm

    In terms of evolution, it might be worth noting that 茶 *láːɣ < *láɣ is originally a variant of 荼 *láɣ (as discussed in the first reference in the OP)

  17. Victor Mair said,

    November 20, 2019 @ 12:17 am

    "a canny artistic choice by the designer"

    Indeed! They avoided the usual hook.

  18. Victor Mair said,

    November 20, 2019 @ 12:22 am

    Watch this mechanistic writing for a few clearly executed hooks, and it's not even being done with a brush — which is why characters have hooks in the first place (a stylish way to lift the brush tip off the paper, with flair!).

  19. Kevin M. said,

    November 20, 2019 @ 1:31 am

    I don't understand the comment about the character for tea being distorted. The larger, brush-written "chá" (which is duplicated) does in fact have a left hook which connects to the left "dian" in the normal stroke-order. Only the smaller, olive-green character that incorporates the word "tea" can be called distorted.

  20. Mimi K. said,

    November 20, 2019 @ 1:46 am

    From a design perspective it's understandable to use a more artistic font for the product name and use a more typical machine font for the full company names.

    Omitting the hook is common enough that it's unlikely it was a conscious choice for its resemblance to "t", and unlikely it would stand out to Chinese readers. Check out the 标 character in several of the fonts here: https://www.freechinesefont.com/category/handwriting/

  21. Victor Mair said,

    November 20, 2019 @ 8:49 am

    "unlikely it was a conscious choice"

    At least now some people are starting to see that there is a marked difference on the same sheet.

  22. Krogerfoot said,

    November 22, 2019 @ 12:05 am

    If the product name 普洱茶生茶 is rendered by a commercial font on the package, that would seem to put to rest the theory that the non-hooked 茶 character is supposed to evoke the letter "t."

    On the other hand, the company appears to take the calligraphy design on the packaging very seriously, and it's featured heavily in this promotional video. The company's designers seem generally partial to fonts with a clearly hooked-to-the-left 茶 character.

  23. Zack said,

    November 29, 2019 @ 4:49 am

    I argue that the designer who design the logo is trying catch our eyes and make the product full of cultural meanings.

    The Chinese character for “茶” in the topmost logo is incorporated with a English word “tea”. This really surprised me when I saw it at the first sight. I never see a logo that combines the same meaning word in Chinese and English. As for the other two handwritten Chinese characters of “茶”,
    the vertical stroke in the bottom of them is clearly artistry. However, I don’t think it’s made to look like “t” on purpose. Because the vertical stroke in the bottom of the “茶” is truly with a left hook in the picture. The distorted character make us aware of the word “tea” that may be a delighting happenstance, since the vertical stroke in the word “茶” actually looks like “t”.

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