Love me, then do not terrify me

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Posted to the Twitter thread that began with the Arabic menu full of spectacularly bad mistranslations into English featured here ("Accuracy of sheep meat" [5/26/20]):

The Chinese sign says:

Ài wǒ jiù bié kǒnghè wǒ


"If you love me, don't intimidate / threaten / frighten me".

The English is essentially a correct translation of the Chinese, yet the poster (robert affinity) says that the bad Arabic –> English translations remind him of it.

The only problem with the Chinese –> English translation here is that it does not explicitly express the conditional (if…, then…), expecting that the reader will extrapolate it from the syntax of the construction.

Seen in context (probably a zoo, perhaps a panda park), the sign makes perfect sense, whether in Chinese or in English.


  1. Philip Taylor said,

    May 28, 2020 @ 6:30 am

    For me at least (a native speaker of <Br.E>), the lack of the explicit conditional in the English text renders the remainder effectively meaningless, or at least the latter part. I would be willing to accept "Love me" as an injunction, but the latter part (starting "then") cannot to my mind be an apodosis in the absence of an explicit protasis.

    There are examples where initial "then" is not problematic, such as (e.g.,) a line from dialogue : « "Go then !", she exclaimed, the anger in her voice only too apparent. », and in contexts where it indicates serial (rather than resultant) action : "Carefully remove the screws, then lift the PCB clear of its mounts", but I can think of no examples parallel to the English text under discussion where "then" can legitimately introduce an apodosis with no parallel protasis.

  2. Bob Ladd said,

    May 28, 2020 @ 7:02 am

    @Philip Taylor: I agree these are hard to process given the punctuation in the original example, but broken up into two distinct prosodic phrases and punctuated with a question mark after the first phrase, they're completely normal in English. A few minutes of searching the web yielded examples like the following:

    – Enjoy singing? Sing with the Phil!
    – Trouble Hearing in Noisy Places? Train Your Brain
    – Looking for a change of career? Keep your eye on the new EUDAT Job Opportunities channel
    – Need a loan? Ask yourself these questions first

    In other words:

    "Love me? Then don't frighten me."

  3. Philip Taylor said,

    May 28, 2020 @ 7:07 am

    Bob, yes : 100% agree. The question mark indicates the implied conditional, which the comma does not.

  4. Ellen K. said,

    May 28, 2020 @ 8:36 am

    For me, as written, without mentally adding an "if you" or a question mark, it does have a certain odd meaning, though outside the realm of things I can imagine being said in any context. It's the serial action that Philip Taylor mentions. (First) Love me, then (second) do not terrify me. Odd to have a negative in such a list. But I can imagine the actions sequentially in my head, though I can't imagine a context for me.

    It's easy enough to extrapolate that it means "If you love me, don't terrify me". Even without context. So not really parallel to the odd translations on the menu.

    And I appreciate the zoo mentioned as a probable context. Imagining a context where the message fits makes it much less bizarre.

  5. Jerry Friedman said,

    May 28, 2020 @ 9:31 am

    Conditionals without anything like an "if" or inverted syntax aren't uncommon in informal American English. Detective stories are a good place to find them. "'I hear anything, I'll let you know,' Quirk said." (Robert B. Parker, Thin Air.) There's even the harder-to-understand "baseball conditional"; the prototype is "He catches that ball, the game's over," meaning "If he had caught that ball, the game would have been over." Or so I learned here.

    I still wouldn't understand "Love me, then do not terrify me," though. Maybe a "you" at the beginning would help. And "don't" to go with the informal syntax. And a different verb, especially "threaten". And some context.

  6. Gregory Kusnick said,

    May 28, 2020 @ 10:22 am

    Replace "then" with "but" and it makes perfect sense.

  7. Daniel Barkalow said,

    May 28, 2020 @ 11:40 am

    I find the prose style of many of the menu items similar to the prose style of "Love me, then do not terrify me". I could imagine the person who put up the zoo sign putting up a sign at a security checkpoint that said "metal suspicion". There's the additional aspect that, in the case of the menu, it fails to correspond to the intended meaning, but as samples of text, they seem similar.

  8. Coby Lubliner said,

    May 28, 2020 @ 11:49 am

    I assume that where the "correct" translation has lintels, lentils are meant.

  9. Twill said,

    May 28, 2020 @ 7:52 pm

    The conditional is possible to extrapolate from the Chinese, but not at all from the English, where "X, then Y" is not an equivalent construct to "X就Y". It's simply a case of overliteral translation failing to convey the same meaning, even with well-corresponding syntax and semantics.

  10. Michael Watts said,

    May 29, 2020 @ 12:50 am

    I might have had an easier time understanding the Chinese (or not – hard to say at this point) if it hadn't had the same comma that is present in the English. I note that Twill and Victor Mair both refer to what I thought would have been more normal Chinese: 爱我就别恐吓我。 But the sign definitely has a comma.

    My actual reaction was that I could determine that the English seemed to be a faithful reflection of the Chinese, but I had no idea what either half was supposed to mean.

    Should that comma really be there?

  11. Michael Watts said,

    May 29, 2020 @ 3:42 am

    The question mark indicates the implied conditional, which the comma does not.

    Well… I think the question mark is serving the more basic function of indicating a question. There is an implied conditional, but it's being implied by the apodosis, not the question mark.

    On my analysis, the first example includes this omitted language:

    1. [Do you] enjoy singing? [If so,] sing with the Phil!


    2. Enjoy singing? So do I!

    where there is no implied conditional.

  12. Bob Ladd said,

    May 29, 2020 @ 5:20 am

    Michael Watts – Good point. All I meant was that there's a close semantic/pragmatic connection between questions and if-clauses, and that the reduced question in English comes very close to matching the ordinary non-question syntax in Chinese.

  13. JJM said,

    May 29, 2020 @ 8:26 am

    Although some words are still mysterious in that Saudi hotel menu e.g., fattah, murtabak and shakshukah, you can now at least find a further description of them on the web.

    And they appear to be delicious (which is at least my experience with most Middle Eastern food)!

  14. Michèle Sharik Pituley said,

    June 1, 2020 @ 11:57 am

    @Ellen K. : And I appreciate the zoo mentioned as a probable context. Imagining a context where the message fits makes it much less bizarre.

    The zoo thing made no sense to me at all, until Ellen's comment, when I finally understood it to mean "if you love the animals, don't frighten them".

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