Oral what?

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Geoff Wade sent in the following banner:

The first thing I noticed was that the banner had something to do with Yīngyǔ 英语 ("English") and that it was announcing some sort of dàsài 大赛 ("big contest"). Then I saw the simple, yet conspicuous, character kǒu 口 ("mouth") twice — right in the middle of the two main lines — so I started to think that maybe the wording had to do with a contest for oral interpreting involving English and wondered, if that were the case, why there was no English on the banner.

At that point, instead of just glancing hurriedly here and there at the banner, I decided to slow down and read it carefully from beginning to end. When I did so, my jaw dropped, for this is what it says:

Shǒujiè quánguó kǒujiāo dàsài
First National Oral Sex Contest

Yīngyǔ jiāotì kǒujiāo Běijīng sàiqū fùsài
English Consecutive Oral Sex Beijing Division Semi-finals

It's just as well that they didn't translate the sign into English, I reflected, for if they had, no matter what they came up with, it would only have compounded the embarrassment caused by the unfortunate wording. Surely, I thought, what was intended must have been the following:

Shǒujiè quánguó kǒuyì dàsài
First National Oral Interpretation Contest

Yīngyǔ jiāotì kǒuyì Běijīng sàiqū fùsài
English Consecutive Oral Interpretation Beijing Division Semi-finals

N.B.: Normally I wouldn't put the "oral" in front of "interpretation" when translating kǒuyì 口 译, since "interpretation" by itself implies that it is done orally, but I've kept it in this instance to show the parallel with "oral sex".

Either someone was being awfully naughty when they made this sign, or somebody was playing tricks after the proper sign had been made.

Fortunately, the riddle is solved by looking at this website offering news about the actual competition.

The banner that is circulating widely on the Chinese web has been tampered with by some mischievous netizen. Though not of the sort that the organizers might have wanted, the expertly altered version has certainly generated a lot of publicity for the contest!

Note, however, that the report on the oral interpretation contest is dated June 30, 2010, and the date on the banner itself is June 26, 2010.

Perhaps, if some enterprising Language Log reader looks into the sina account at the bottom right of the doctored version of the banner, they might be able to figure who's responsible for this clever prank.

Brendan O'Kane, a translator who is active in China, quipped: "Passing this on to my interpreter friends. Yet another argument in favor of the 笔译 lifestyle." (VHM: bǐyì 笔译 ["written translation", lit., "brush interpretation"])

[Thanks to Fangyi Cheng and Gianni Wan]


  1. Rubrick said,

    April 5, 2013 @ 2:33 pm

    I believe the official record in the second category is 29. Someone once did 34 in the finals in Bangkok, but the 19th "English" turned out to be a Scotsman, so the competitior was disqualified.

  2. Brendan said,

    April 5, 2013 @ 10:00 pm

    This reminds me a little bit of the meme that went around a few years ago when Hu Jintao spoke of the need for "progressive education" (先进性教育 xiānjìnxìng jiàoyù), which people promptly misparsed as 先进 性教育 (xiānjìn xìng jiàoyù), "advanced sex education."

    …Which would have been only mildly funny on its own, had some wags online not appropriated standard Party-blather terms in calling for all those involved in "advanced sex education" to ensure that efforts were "一要深入,二要持久,三要上下互动" ("deeply penetrating, long-lasting, and employing top-down and bottom-up techniques"). (Slight poetic license on the last one there, but you get the idea.)

  3. Keith said,

    April 12, 2013 @ 7:40 am

    This reminds me of a comic sketch from the UK in the late 1970s or early 1980s. A stuffy, old fashioned manager or director dictating to a secretary uses the word "intercourse" to mean "discussion".

    Cf also "congress".

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