Deformed blocks

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From Graeme Orr:

I found this children’s toy at a local newsagency.  The manufacturer has the class to ape Lego and Minions, but not to hire an English translator.

I wonder what went awry.  ‘Deformed’ might connote blocks that can take any form?

The Chinese says:

bǎibiàn jīmù ràng háizi chuàngzào wúxiàn kěnéng

百变积木  让孩子创造无限可能

"variable building blocks    let your child create endless possibilities"

If you want to say "deformed", you'd better write "biànxíng de 变形的".

But Chinglish translators seem to have a penchant for "deformed", especially as in "deformed man" (i.e. "cánjí rén cèsuǒ 残疾人厕所" ("accessible / 'deformed' toilet"), cf.:


  1. Phillip Minden said,

    October 10, 2020 @ 10:50 am

    Risking to be deleted again without explanation: is this a back-translation from "despicable"?

  2. Tom Dawkes said,

    October 10, 2020 @ 12:31 pm

    The word 'blocks' and the epithet 'deformed' reminded me irresistibly of the anecdote in the envoy to James Sutherland's 'Oxford book of literary anecdotes'.

    "In his autobiographical volume 'Memories' Charles Began Paul tells of a writer who had occasion to describe a tract of land between the base of a volcanic mountain and the sea, and who did so to his own satisfaction by relating that 'the whole plain was strewn with erratic blocks'. But the printer must have been thinking of something else, for when in due course the book was published, the author was dismayed to find that he had been mades responsible for stating that 'the whole plain was strewn with erotic blacks'. And we complain about Google…

  3. Martha said,

    October 10, 2020 @ 1:14 pm

    I feel like they were going for something like "unformed" – you haven't put them together yet to form something.

  4. unekdoud said,

    October 10, 2020 @ 3:58 pm

    I'd count these as Super Deformed blocks.

  5. Anthea Fleming said,

    October 10, 2020 @ 10:34 pm

    'Erotic blacks' for 'erratic blocks' sounds to me like a dictation error.

  6. Mark Metcalf said,

    October 11, 2020 @ 9:53 pm

    "Deformed" might be associated with Lego-style blocks. There are also quite a few Transformer-like (vehicle-to-warrior) toys that are described as "Deformation blocks". Perhaps "deformation" is being used where "transformation" is intended?
    A few examples;disc|2437519393;disc|2437519393;disc|2437519393

  7. Victor Mair said,

    October 12, 2020 @ 6:32 am

    I agree with Mark Metcalf that these "deformed" blocks have something to do with "transformer" toys / figures. I actually had that thought in mind when I began to write the post, but didn't quite know how to express it in a persuasive way. So I'm grateful to Mark for assembling all those links which demonstrate the connection between "deform" and "transform".

  8. Nick Kaldis said,

    October 12, 2020 @ 9:02 am

    The name may be associated with the "Transformers" franchise, but the image–and probably the idea of "deformed"–come from the "Minions/Despicable Me" franchise, implied in Phillip Minden's question.

  9. Adam F said,

    October 13, 2020 @ 2:05 am

    My first thought was that "deformed" might have something to do with injection moulding.

  10. jackjohnson said,

    October 13, 2020 @ 3:51 pm

    I think @unekdoud above has it right: I suppose it refers to
    `super-deformed' characters in Japanese anime, cf eg

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