Ted Cruz in big trouble

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Ben Hull writes:

In our Computational Linguistics class we were discussing different methods of segmenting Chinese character texts. Today I came across a terrific example of the problems of segmenting left to right, in the first sentence of the attached image. I hope you find it as amusing as I did.

The story is about Ted Cruz going on vacation to warm Cancun when his state was freezing from the Big Chill and suffering from rolling blackouts.

The title in Chinese characters — without spaces between words — is:


If you convert that to Pinyin, you need to put spaces between words, presenting you with two options:

1. "Dùjià gē yǒu dà máfan" ("Vacationing brother has big trouble")

2. "Dùjià gē yǒu dàmá fán" ("Vacationing brother has marijuana trouble")

One of the many good things about Pinyin is that it forces the writer and reader to be clear about what is being said.

Selected reading


  1. Chas Belov said,

    February 20, 2021 @ 3:58 pm

    Very funny. I was aware of the term mafan (and have used it myself in my limited Cantonese) but not of dama.

    I'm curious about the headline referring to Cruz as older brother. At what age does a stranger go from being older brother to uncle? Does this imply something about the age of the person writing the headline?

  2. Hang Zhao said,

    February 20, 2021 @ 6:43 pm

    @Chas Belov
    哥(older brother) is used very often when pointing to people who have done a unusual thing. It is always used like this example here, Ted Cruz is called 度假哥(vacationing bro) becuase he went to vacation when people in Texas is suffering. 一斤哥(500 gram bro) is because a young man can drink grams of baijiu, etc. When the people is a lady, 姐(older sister) will be used instead.

    The word 哥 is considered as honorific word to call a man at similar or older age since traditional Chinese society. I believe this have something to do with the tradition of respecting the elders.

  3. Steve Jones said,

    February 21, 2021 @ 2:16 am

    À propos, two classic stories from the commune era:
    1) 一次性生活补助
    “Just the once, a supplement for sex life”
    2) A magnificently garbled news item
    西哈努克亲王八日到京, 外交部长姬鹏飞到机场迎接

    Many more stories under my Chinese jokes tag,
    classified here

  4. Chas Belov said,

    February 21, 2021 @ 5:01 am

    @Hang Zhao, thank you!

  5. Chas Belov said,

    February 21, 2021 @ 4:57 pm

    Actually, comparing to the bus uncle. So guessing this is the similar usage for someone whose behavior is being called out. So why is the 51-year-old bus uncle an "uncle" and yet 50-year-old Cruz is an "older brother"? Or are these assigned randomly and I'm making too much of this?

  6. B.Ma said,

    February 23, 2021 @ 4:09 pm

    The bus uncle was arguing with a 20-something man, while the people criticizing Cruz are of all ages – and as a politician he should be setting an example, for example like your older brother might.

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