Magic grass of queerness

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The Chinese electronic commerce company called AliExpress offers for sale this unusual product:

Magic grass of queerness diy desktop mini plant bonsai mosquito radiation-resistant qu wencao

Because I know Chinese and am used to reading Chinglish, I could figure out this product name on the first go, but to provide an adequate exegesis for Language Log readers, I shall endeavor to recreate the Chinese upon which it is based, then retranslate it into more immediately intelligible and idiomatic English.
Before reconstructing what must have been the original Chinese, however, a few annotations are required.

The first and most important thing to do is figure out what "qu wencao" is.  Somehow or other, even though the Pinyin is divided incorrectly and lacks tones, I immediately sensed that this must be qūwéncǎo OR qūwén cǎo 驅蚊草 (lit., "grass that drives away mosquitoes", i.e., "mosquito repellant grass").  Here are some Chinese encyclopedia articles about this type of grass.

At the latter site, it is said to be Pelargonium X Citrenella.

Following the latter allegedly scientific name, we are led to this Wikipedia article.

Although this plant is supposed to be effective in driving off mosquitoes, note what is said about it in the Wikpedia article:

The "citronella plant" is a geranium plant marketed as "Pelargonium citrosum", but according to the American Botanical Council, " 'Pelargonium citrosum' is not a valid taxonomic designation."  "Pelargonium citrosum" is marketed as a mosquito plant, or citrosa geranium in stores in the United States and Canada, but research indicates Pelargonium citrosum is ineffective against Aedes aegypti mosquitos.  "Not only was the plant ineffective at protecting humans against Aedes mosquito bites, the mosquitoes were seen landing and resting on the citrosa plant on a regular basis."

So much for the mosquito repelling qualities of qūwén cǎo 驅蚊草 (lit., "grass that drives away mosquitoes").

Not knowing the common English name for qūwén cǎo 驅蚊草 (lit., "grass that drives away mosquitoes"), I checked:

Google Translate — M. buster

Baidu Fanyi — Mozzie buster

Bing Translator — Mozzie

Not having heard of "mozzie" before, I had to look it up.  Apparently "mozzie" is also spelled "mozzy" or "mossie", but none of that helped very much, since "mozzie buster" sounds like a Chinglishism.  At least it's not a plant name that I'd ever heard of before.  In my estimation, the names for this plant that are being bandied around are part of the marketing hype and do not have taxonomical legitimacy or sanction through long usage in English.

Moving backward through the name, how about "radiation-resistant"?  Does this mean that the plant can stand up to high doses of radiation?  I think, rather, that, preposterous as it may seem, the plant is thought to ward off or protect from radiation.  In Chinese, that would be fáng fúshè 防辐射.

But how can that be?  In the event of a nuclear attack, can we rely on this lowly plant to deflect radiation away from us and absorb it into its own body?  Well, here are "13 Natural Remedies For Radiation Exposure" from the Global Healing Center.  Note that #13 is Organic Germanium-132.  N.B.:  that is "Organic Germanium-132", NOT "Organic Geranium-132".  But read this description of Organic Germanium-132 from the site carefully:

An oxygen-rich, free-radical scavenging organic compound. When we are exposed to radiation, the rays from this exposure release harmful electrons the kill blood cells (haemoglobin). Organic geranium has been shown to snatch up these radioactive rays, allowing them to move freely inside the nuclear structure of the Germanium, instead of entering the human cells and bloodstream. This is related to geranium’s ability to protect the amino acid cysteine, in the human body. Other studies showed promising results involving the use of germanium-132 and a strong reduction in cell death in those cells exposed to cesium-137 and gamma rays. Currently, the Japanese are recommending 100 mg. per day.

Twice in this description, "Germanium" is spelled as "geranium"!  Note further that qūwén cǎo 驅蚊草 (lit., "grass that drives away mosquitoes") is a type of geranium.  What is still more mind-boggling is that geranium plants contain significant amounts of Germanium, even though "geranium" and "Germanium" etymologically are completely unrelated.

Continuing backward toward the front of the name of the plant, we can more or less figure out what "desktop mini plant bonsai mosquito" is supposed to imply, now that we know what qūwén cǎo 驅蚊草 (lit., "grass that drives away mosquitoes") is.

As for "diy", this is one of the highest frequency acronymic English borrowings into Chinese: Do It Yourself.  In the present context, this means that you can easily grow the grass yourself (it comes in a container like that used for making instant noodles / ramen; just add water [not hot!]).

Finally, reaching the beginning of the sentence, without even looking up anything, I know that "magic grass of queerness" must be shénqí gǔguài cǎo 神奇古怪草 because shénqí gǔguài 神奇古怪 is a common expression for something that is "wonderfully / amazingly weird".

When I googled for similarly sounding advertisements, I found plenty.  Here are a couple:

Summer the necessary * bonsai drives the mosquito grass seedling * indoor vanilla to drive the mosquito grass big seedling initial cost 10 Yuan

Magic DIY odd grass office desktop mini plant potted bonsai anti-mosquito anti-radiation drive midge grass

You get the picture.  There are tons of these things on the Web; I'm not about to explain how they all came about.  One thorough explication of the sort I've given above should suffice as a representative of the whole lot.

Now, it's time for me to close by reconstructing the Chinese original of this Chinglish name:

Magic grass of queerness diy desktop mini plant bonsai mosquito radiation-resistant qu wencao

The original Chinese was probably something like this:

shénqí gǔguài cǎo DIY zhuōmiàn mínǐ zhíwù pénjǐng fáng wén fáng fúshè qūwéncǎo
("wonderfully weird grass; do-it-yourself desktop miniature bonsai planting of mosquito repelling grass that wards off mosquitoes and protects against radiation")

I'm not going to buy any, even if they're on sale.

[h.t. Jeff Kallberg]


  1. Joseph Garvin said,

    July 26, 2013 @ 1:15 pm

    I believe that "mozzie" is a slang term, possibly Australian, for a mosquito. I've certainly heard it used in the UK, but I think it's been imported from overseas.

  2. Victor Mair said,

    July 26, 2013 @ 1:37 pm

    From a German friend who lives in Washington State:

    Funny about Germanium vs. geranium. This is another exercise in convolution!

    Add to that that geRAniums are used in Germany in window boxes and actually around doors of dairy barns in lieu of fly screens – and it works.

    Once a woman called in to Cisco Morris' TV program about how to keep
    flies from pestering when eating outside. Cisco was Seattle's arboretum
    gardener. I love his programs but he was stumped. So I called him
    and he now teaches it all over Washington and has my advice in one of
    his latest books (but made me an Austrian!). Not sure about this radiation
    business, that sounds a bit far-fetched.

  3. Michele said,

    July 26, 2013 @ 1:43 pm

    I just noticed that the seller's name is "Colorful Obama." Do you have an explanation for that one?

  4. GJP said,

    July 26, 2013 @ 1:55 pm

    When I visited southern China, I saw VERY few flies and VERY many mosquitoes. This is EXACTLY the opposite of what I see in L. A. , Cal. – at least during the summer.

  5. Dick Margulis said,

    July 26, 2013 @ 1:57 pm

    Adding to the confusion, the ornamental plants we call geraniums, including scented geraniums such as the citrus-scented variety being described, are not geraniums at all; they're pelargoniums, a different genus in the same family. The mosquito (aka mozzie) repellent citronella oil is distilled from lemongrass species, which are completely unrelated.

  6. Sili said,

    July 26, 2013 @ 1:57 pm

    But there's no such thing as Ge-132 – organic or otherwise. That would put 100 neutrons against only 32 protons. According to Wikipædia the highest naturally occurring massnumber is 76 and even that is (a bit) radioactive

  7. Avinor said,

    July 26, 2013 @ 2:08 pm

    What about the seller: "Colorful Obama's store", run by "Ms. Colorful Obama"?

  8. Theodore said,

    July 26, 2013 @ 2:14 pm

    I notice that the foliage in the (unfortunately low resolution) product photo of queerness does not resemble the Wikipedia photo of Pelargonium citrosum. Without a closer look, I'd guess the mini bonsai was actually a mint. Maybe even the mint Agastache cana, one of the species called Mosquito Plant on the 'pedia.

    @Sili: The link to the Germanium-132 article explains that it is actually bis beta-carboxyethyl germanium sesquioxide, not elemental Germanium which is of course "a toxic metalloid utilized in a variety of industrial applications."

  9. Eric P Smith said,

    July 26, 2013 @ 2:15 pm

    This is one heck of a tangent, but the germanium/geranium malapropism reminds me of a talk I gave around 1980 about computer chess to a group of very interested youngsters. One youngster asked me innocently, “How many variations of the Silicon Defence could a computer calculate?”

  10. GJP said,

    July 26, 2013 @ 2:23 pm

    Fortunately, there is no element (at present) called "Austranium", or, to take it even further south, none called "Australanium" either.

  11. John Wells said,

    July 26, 2013 @ 2:23 pm

    "Mozzie" is everyday colloquial British for "mosquito" (cf "prezzie" = present, "cozzie" = costume, "prozzie" = prostitute, etc.) It's in the OED under the spelling "mossie", and reported to be originally Australian.

    Here's one OED citation: 1996 New Scientist 27 July 59/1 She was an excellent companion for field work, because she always lured the biting midges, mossies and whatever else was in the air.

    I don't think "~ buster" can be Chinglish: see, for example,
    According to the Australian site there's a cultivar of Pelargonium called "Mozzie buster".

  12. Vicki said,

    July 26, 2013 @ 2:54 pm

    I've seen "mozzie" as slang for "mosquito," but I don't recall where; it's not part of my native dialect (New York City).

  13. JS said,

    July 26, 2013 @ 2:55 pm

    Machine translation of bolded text above photo here?

  14. Bob Ladd said,

    July 26, 2013 @ 3:05 pm

    "Mozzie" is normal for mosquito in British and (I think) Australian English (it certainly sounds Australian).

  15. Rubrick said,

    July 26, 2013 @ 5:37 pm

    Living in the SF-bay area, I have no doubt I could pick up some high-quaility magic grass of queerness at a nearby street corner.

  16. GJP said,

    July 26, 2013 @ 5:51 pm

    With English being so widespread, its expressions can easily differ from one country to the next. But even accents within a country, if its big enough, can differ. Accents in a country as diverse as China, just within the Mandarin-speaking parts, can be different from one area to the next. The word for Australia, "ao da li ya", can be abbreviated to just ao zhou (or Australian continent), but it can, often is, confused with the Chinese for Europe, "ou zhou", or European continent. Note that my computer keyboard doesn't have the facility for easily reproducing any of the Chinese tone marks, let alone the written characters (or "han zi).

  17. David Morris said,

    July 26, 2013 @ 6:24 pm

    "Mozzie" is "Ozzie". I don't know which other countries use it.
    I have never (consciously) seen it rendered as "Mossie", who was the guitarist in a leading Aussie rock band in in 1980s. And I have never (consciously) seen "Ozzie" to refer to the country, the people or a person – either it's "Aussie" (pronounced "Ozzie") or "Oz".
    Though Wikipedia has a photo of "Ossie the Mossie", which just looks wrong to me:,_New_South_Wales.

  18. Robert said,

    July 26, 2013 @ 8:18 pm

    Ah, the Hexam Grey, Australia's last line of defence.

  19. Robert said,

    July 26, 2013 @ 8:21 pm

    bah, Hexham

  20. Ray Girvan said,

    July 26, 2013 @ 9:32 pm

    "Mozzie" is used in UK English too. It may be regional; I'd never encountered it (I'm from the south coast), but I've heard it in the vocabulary of my wife and mother-in-law, who are from Birmingham.

  21. techtock said,

    July 27, 2013 @ 4:00 am

    The mosquito/mozzie link seems to go back as least as far as the second world war, given that 'mozzie' was the nickname for the bomber.

  22. Lugubert said,

    July 27, 2013 @ 4:53 am

    Mossies and mozzies together bring ca. 2000 hits on the India aficionado site Indiamike.

  23. JQ said,

    July 27, 2013 @ 7:16 am


    not sure what the Chinese names of Australia and Europe have to do with repelling mosquitoes, but to stay off topic, I've never heard anybody say aozhou in Mandarin, it's always aodaliya(zhou). The problem is with all the HKers thinking they know Mandarin, and in Cantonese 澳 is pronounced similarly to Mandarin 欧, and vice versa. c.f. pronunciation of the letters g and j in English and French.

  24. Victor Mair said,

    July 27, 2013 @ 7:35 am


    I"d be happy to try to solve the "Colorful Obama" problem for you, but I don't see it on the site of the original seller. Please give me the exact link where you saw it.

  25. Avinor said,

    July 27, 2013 @ 10:45 am

    It is written on the right side of the original page that you linked to:
    Sold By
    Colorful Obama's store
    China (Mainland) (Zhejiang)

    If you follow the link, you'll eventually reach a page listing "Ms. Colorful Obama" as contact person:

  26. julie lee said,

    July 27, 2013 @ 11:03 am

    I'm always on the lookout for mosquitoes here in Marin County (the Bay Area) ever since I read recently that West Nile Virus has come to the U.S. (and to California), but I've not seen a single mosquito this summer though seen a few flies in the house. Anyway, really good to learn about the fly- and mosquito-repelling effects of geraniums, and about geraniums on the window sill being used in Germany to repel flies. "Germanium in geranium" —fact is stranger than fiction.

    (Off topic: I was overjoyed to see one BUTTERFLY on 2 days in a row flitting among our lavender in the garden some days ago. Small yellow ones. It's so rare to see butterflies now, unlike when I lived in the Orient as a child and the garden was always full of them, including lots of big ones with beautiful colours.)

  27. julie lee said,

    July 27, 2013 @ 11:11 am


    All my Chinese friends say "ao zhou" for Australia, and not "ao da li ya". It may depend on age and where one grew up. We all left the Mainland as refugees from Mao around 1950. Of course we also know the longer word for Australia.

  28. Steven said,

    July 27, 2013 @ 12:12 pm

    You're not buying it, after all that work?

  29. Victor Mair said,

    July 27, 2013 @ 12:45 pm

    @julie lee on Aozhou and Aodaliya

    ditto for me (learned my Chinese in Taiwan in the 70s, but have very often heard people say "Aozhou", still to this day). Since my father was from Austria, I often have to refer to "Aoguo", and that sometimes causes confusion with "Aozhou", in which case I say the longer form for the latter, "No, not 'Aodaliya'."

    BTW, you'd be surprised at how often letters and parcels intended for "Austria" and "Australia" go astray to the wrong one.

  30. Victor Mair said,

    July 27, 2013 @ 1:56 pm

    On "Obama's Colorful Store"

    At first I thought it was because somebody mixed up the first syllable of his surname transcribed into Mandarin and the first syllable of "Australia" transcribed into Mandarin, though they are written with different characters:

    Àobāmǎ 奥巴马

    Àozhōu 澳洲 /Àodàlìyǎ 澳大利亞

    But when I did a search for Obama's Colorful Store, I found that it most likely was inspired by the Obama family's colorful clothing style, especially that of Sasha and Malia.

    There are a lot of other Chinese stores and products that take the name of our president in vain, and I recall a fake Blackberry ("BlockBerry") ad that featured him:

    "Real Fake"

  31. Douglas Bagnall said,

    July 27, 2013 @ 9:44 pm

    In New Zealand, "mozzie" for mosquito is normal. I could use it in conversation with anybody.

    It is often claimed that mozzie is also a term for Maori residents of Australia (a contraction of "Maori Aussie", not necessarily derogatory), but I don't think I have heard it so used outside of the act of making such claims.

  32. David Morris said,

    July 28, 2013 @ 1:33 am

    Douglas: I'd never heard of "Mozzie" as "Maori Aussie", but apparently it's used – eg the tv series "The GC" (about Maoris on the Gold Coast of Queensland) was originally "The Mozzies":

  33. David Morris said,

    July 28, 2013 @ 1:56 am

    My school principal in South Korea told me that the first president of the ROK married an Australian woman. I checked, and she was actually Austrian. I had to correct him very carefully the next time I talked to him.
    There should be less confusion between Australia and Austria in Korean than in English. Australia is almost always referred to as 호주/Hoju and Austria as 오스트리아 (though I have also seen the rather ponderous transliteration 오스트레일리아 (o-seu-teu-re-il-li-a) – eg the Baz Lurhmann movie). I think the problem is often one of pronunciation rather than geographical ignorance.
    My wife was just unable to tell me why the name Hoju is used in Korean. I vaguely remember reading that it means 'island', but nothing I can find now supports that. Our little Korean/English dictionary gives two other meanings: 'the head of a family, a householder' and 'heavy drinking', depending on the Chinese character. The second of those *might* be relevent, except 'Hoju' for 'Australia' is given another Chinese character, so maybe it's a question of Chinese language and characters, and not Korean language.
    Ha! I've just searched, and one blogger traces it to Japanese Chinese characters 'extraordinarily talented state'. I'll settle for that!

  34. David Morris said,

    July 28, 2013 @ 2:04 am

    Another blogger refers to 'Hojustanis' and 'Hojustani police/authorities' while discussing attacks on students, tourists or working holiday visa holders from Korea and other countries.

  35. John Walden said,

    July 28, 2013 @ 3:04 am

    Mozzie and Skeeter seem to represent two approaches when shortening words.

    Mozzie is also a way of saying Moslem. I think it's often derogatory.

  36. have said,

    July 28, 2013 @ 5:01 pm

    According to the Andy McNab pulp series ( UK army slang ) "mozzie rep" stands for mosquito repellent ( Deet ), "mozzie net" is mosquito net.

  37. Colin Fine said,

    July 28, 2013 @ 5:42 pm

    Australia means Southland, and Austria means Eastland. But for all that, it's very possible that they are ultimately cognate.

  38. Thalia said,

    July 29, 2013 @ 11:20 am

    In addition to "Pelargonium," the small plastic containers in the photographs are labelled "Morning Glory" and "Lavender." One of the pictures looks like flat leaf Italian parsley. Examining the original ad, I see that the color assortment includes army green, as well as "Sky Blue, Light gray, Light green, Dark gray, Pink, green, transparent."

    While the listing's use of text is reckless and grandiose, the photographs are more prosaic– little pots to grow herbs at the desk.

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