Tao vs. Dao: amazing restaurant sign near UPenn

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I've eaten in this hot pot (huǒguō / WG huo3-kuo1 / IPA [xwò.kwó] 火锅 / 火鍋) restaurant at 3717 Chestnut St. on a number of occasions, and each time I go, I am struck by the creative sign out front:

The thing that always grabs me first is that they put a fourth tone mark on the "la" for "spicy; hot" — Là 辣.  It's extremely unusual for tones to be marked on publicly displayed Hanyu Pinyin.  One reason that may have inspired them to do it here is the apparent trendiness for design diacritics and punctuation on English signs in the Sinitic world (see here and here).

The next thing that strikes me is that they use Wade-Giles "TAO", not Pinyin "DAO", for 道 ("Way").  I surmise that they do so because it makes their method for using spices seem more Taoistically profound or philosophical that way.  Much to my surprise, and the surprise of many other Sinologists, Chinese from the mainland often pronounce 道 as /ˈtaʊ/, not /ˈdaʊ/, and it seems that the more cosmopolitan and learned they are, the more they are apt to do so.

One of the most remarkable Wikipedia articles I follow is called "Daoism-Taoism romanization issue".  Much anguish has been spilled over this article, with one determined opponent trying hard to eviscerate it and even get it removed altogether and another camp maintaining that it has great informative and scholarly value.  Linguistically, historically, culturally, and lexicographically, this article constitutes a significant contribution to human knowledge, and it is one of the many reasons why I am such an ardent supporter of Wikipedia (which reminds me that I have to write my yearly check today).

Aside from the tone mark on "Là" and the matter of "Tao" vs. "Dao", I also noticed some other interesting features of the sign.  For example, I think that the "S" inside of the 首 part of 道 also stands for "spiciness".

Moving toward the left, the "o" inside of "pot" has the yin-yang symbol for the divided pot, which enables diners to choose between super hot (red at top) and bland (white at bottom) boiling broth in which to dip their morsels of meat, vegetables, mushrooms, and so forth.

Next comes the "o" of "hot".  Initially I thought I saw a "c" for "chili" inside the circle, but am not so sure of that now, though I do believe that they have drawn a curly pepper there.

Like the food and atmosphere inside, the LàTao sign gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling whenever I see it.  By the way, the restaurant is all-you-can-eat Sichuanese style with a generous assortment of sauces and condiments.

[Thanks to Diana Shuheng Zhang]


  1. Philip Taylor said,

    December 24, 2019 @ 5:52 pm

    Interesting to see that you write "Sichuanese" where I would have written "Szechuanese" — is this also HYPY v. Wade-Giles ?

  2. David Marjanović said,

    December 24, 2019 @ 6:43 pm

    is this also HYPY v. Wade-Giles ?

    No, Wade-Giles for si is ssu. I'm not sure if sze for si comes from any coherent system at all, as opposed to being made up on the spot, but of course there are more systems than I'm familiar with.

    The lack of any indication of tone on "TAO" may also be interesting; while Wade-Giles doesn't use diacritics, it does have the option of using superscript numbers (tao⁴ in this case). But they do seem to be omitted even more often than the diacritics of HYPY.

  3. E. N. Anderson said,

    December 24, 2019 @ 7:04 pm

    Sze for si goes back to ad hoc 19th-century romanizations.
    Reminds me of the sign often seen in antiwar demonstrations and other such contexts back int the 1960s: Tao not Dow!

  4. Michael Watts said,

    December 24, 2019 @ 8:55 pm

    Sze isn't purely ad-hoc, given that the form "Lao Tze" exists for 老子.

    I don't know where it comes from either though.

  5. Philip Taylor said,

    December 25, 2019 @ 6:42 am

    A quick comparison of Google hits for "Sichuan peppercorns" and "Szechuan peppercorns" suggests an approximate usage ration of 21:9, and a not dissimilar ratio for "S{i|ze}chuan cuisine". I was personally unaware of the "Si…" spelling until relatively recently, having known only the "Sze…" variant for most of my 72 years.

  6. Thomas Rees said,

    December 25, 2019 @ 6:48 am

    Isn't "Szechuan" an example of Postal Romanisation (郵政式拼音)?

  7. Philip Taylor said,

    December 25, 2019 @ 8:39 am

    This page would appear to confirm that hypothesis, Thomas.

  8. Rodger C said,

    December 25, 2019 @ 11:17 am

    Szechuan food will Szechuan fire.

  9. Andrew Usher said,

    December 25, 2019 @ 6:40 pm

    Yes, the Wikipedia article certainly is amazing in that their people in power think it actually might be appropriate for an encyclopedia to argue that a long-established English pronunciation – which Wiki's own dictionary lists without comment, as does every other reputable one – is 'wrong'.

  10. Ronan Maye said,

    December 26, 2019 @ 7:21 pm

    I think the TaoTeChing and "Taoism" are some of the most mainstreamed aspects of Chinese history, so the old romanization has a stickiness to it. I remember my high school history teacher calling it "the Tau Tay Ching" during the small sliver of our class that was devoted to Chinese history, and that's probably how most high school history teachers say it in this country, so I don't think the Wade-Giles romanization is going away for that word any time soon– specialists don't write the high school textbooks and that's the beginning and end of most people's exposure to Daoism and Chinese history.

  11. John Rohsenow said,

    December 31, 2019 @ 3:28 am

    Is it possible that the 4th tone mark on Là in Là Tao is meant to convey that it is not the French feminine article 'la' as in "(à) la mode", etc.?

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