Atomic Enema

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Medical apparatus and preparation from Taiwan:

Source:  "Atomic Enema Gwoyeu Romatzyh", Pinyin News (8/17/22)

Name of the product:

yuánzǐ guàncháng 原子浣腸 ("atomic enema")

Pronunciation note:  I hear 浣 pronounced huàn, wǎn, and huǎn, even guàn, but in the latter case that would normally be written with a different character as guàncháng 灌腸, another word for "enema"


浣腸 22,400,000 ghits    灌腸 1,620,000 ghits

The results may be skewed by the first form also being used in Japanese.


That's what the name is, yuánzǐ guàncháng 原子浣腸 ("atomic enema"), so it's not a translation error or Chinglish.

As for why it has that peculiar name, I'm not sure, but I think it's for the same reason why some Chinese call ballpoint pens "atomic pens":

yuánzǐbǐ 原子筆

(chiefly Taiwan, Hong Kong, dated or regional in Mainland China) ballpoint pen


Ballpoint pens are also called "ball / bead pens":

yuánzhūbǐ 圓珠筆

 (chiefly Mainland China) ballpoint pen


More rarely, they are known as "rolling / running bead pens":

zǒuzhūbǐ 走珠筆


There are various theories about how the ballpoint pen got its plethora of names in Chinese (see Wikipedia), but the most plausible, or at least widespread, explanation for how it got the "atomic" designation is that the Hong Kong firm that imported the first ballpoint pens styled them "atomic" because that word conveyed high-tech images such as "atomic energy", "atomic bomb", and so forth.  Calling this new type of writing instrument an "atomic pen" signified that it was innovative, breakthrough, and cutting-edge technology.

In various regional forms of English, ballpoint pens are known as biro (Great Britain), ball pen (Hong Kong, India, and Philippines), or dot pen (Nepal). (source)

Selected readings


  1. maidhc said,

    August 20, 2022 @ 4:38 am

    László József Bíró, Hispanicized as Ladislao José Biro, was a Hungarian-Argentine inventor who patented the first commercially successful modern ballpoint pen. Bíró was born to a Hungarian Jewish family in Budapest, Kingdom of Hungary, within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in 1899.

    Bíró presented the first production of the ballpoint pen at the Budapest International Fair in 1931. During World War II, Bíró fled the Nazis with his brother, moving to Argentina, in 1943. In 1945, Marcel Bich bought the patent from Bíró for the pen, which soon became the main product of his BIC company. Bic has sold more than 100 billion ballpoint pens worldwide.

    A ballpoint pen is widely referred to as a "biro" in many countries, including the UK, Ireland, Australia and Italy. [Wikipedia]

    I recall many anecdotes about the introduction of ballpoint pens into the postwar world. You can see why they may have been called "atomic pens" because atomic bombs were new and in the news. There is a film "Atomic Cafe" that documents this era.

    Yet still I recall (and can be found in Peanuts cartoons) that it was sort of a ritual to teach children to write with fountain pens in the 1960s.

    I still like to write with fountain pens, but I suppose I am a bit of a back number.

  2. Cervantes said,

    August 20, 2022 @ 8:21 am

    In American English, "atomic" is a slangy way of labeling something as extreme or powerful, e.g. "atomic wedgie." I would expect an atomic enema to have a very impressive effect.

  3. V said,

    August 20, 2022 @ 8:57 am

    > I still like to write with fountain pens, but I suppose I am a bit of a back number.

    I still have a fountain pen, and was sort-of-taught to write with them* — not exclusively, unlike my grandparents.

    I actually prefer to write with pencils rather than ball-point pens these days (unlike earlier), in the rare occasions that I have to. I was cleaning up and found a pencil sharpener! (and pencils).

    My favourite are still mechanical pencils, though. Mostly useless now with how easily available computing power makes CAD, but cool. We used both CAD and mechanical pencils in Uni, for the sake of tradition, I guess.

    *In the late '80s.

  4. Gene Hill said,

    August 20, 2022 @ 12:17 pm

    Does use of the Atomic Enema require any special care to avoid fall out?

  5. Philip Taylor said,

    August 20, 2022 @ 12:33 pm

    « Yet still I recall (and can be found in Peanuts cartoons) that it was sort of a ritual to teach children to write with fountain pens in the 1960s.

    I still like to write with fountain pens, but I suppose I am a bit of a back number. »

    So do I. In fact, I would never write a letter of condolence (or similar) using anything other than a fountain pen. And I can highly recommend the J.~Herbin range of inks, which come in a wide variety of colours and are available both bottled and in cartridge form (the latter compatible with, e.g., the Staedtler range of fountain pens found in their calligraphy sets). I will never use a ball-point pen, regarding them as the work of the devil, but when not using a fountain pen will happily and routinely use a Staedtler fineliner.

    If children are no longer taught to write using a fountain pen, then I despair — how can they ever hope to develop a good hand if they use only a ball-point pen ? What next, the abandonment of the teaching of elocution and deportment ?

  6. chris said,

    August 20, 2022 @ 7:39 pm

    Surgeon general's warning: may contain atoms.

  7. Hwa Shi-Hsia said,

    August 21, 2022 @ 12:22 am

    The funniest usage of "Atomic" for branding that I've seen is Atomic Demolition in Durban, South Africa.

  8. CCF said,

    August 21, 2022 @ 3:40 am

    In Taiwan we usually use "浣腸" or "灌腸液" as nouns and "灌腸" as a verb.

    You will probably find another similar product named "人生浣腸" (lit., "Life Enema") in a pharmacy, but the name of this product was translated as "Clyster Jensheng."

  9. Andreas Johansson said,

    August 21, 2022 @ 4:25 am


    I'm told at in some schools they don't learn to write with ballpoints either, but progress straight from crayon to touchscreen.

    Regarding terminology, some people I know refer to a mechanical pencil as a "bic".

  10. Victor Mair said,

    August 21, 2022 @ 7:28 am

    The bics that I used to use a lot decades ago were ballpoint pens, but I know they also make mechanical pencils, and I also had quite a few of those too.

  11. Tom Dawkes said,

    August 21, 2022 @ 3:07 pm

    For 'atomic' as a broad term suggesting advanced and superior quality, see Grahame Greene's vacuum cleaner salesman, James Wormold, in "My man in Havana".

  12. JOHN S ROHSENOW said,

    August 21, 2022 @ 10:17 pm

    I am old enough that I not only remember that the individual wooden desks in my elementary school (in Newton, Mass.) in the early 1950s had a round hole in the upper right hand corner, but also that that hole held a small bakelite (google it) cylindrical container with a brass flap cover over the little pen-sized hole in its top. The teacher would mix black ink powder (from the Carter's Ink Co) with water in a heavy metal (brass?) pitcher with a bill-like spout and fill the ink pots in our desks. We were then taught to write cursive hand-writing using the "Palmer Method"; we had already learned to print in earlier grades) with a steel NIB inserted in a pen-holder, and we blotted our work with absorbent cardboard like "blotters" supplied gratis by a local bank.
    Eventually we graduated to fountain pens, which had a small rubber tube reservoir inside
    their main shaft, which we filled by lifting a small lever on the outside of the pen, which com- pressed the rubber tube inside, creating a vacuum, which would then suck ink up into the tube. Fountain pens by then (early 1950s) were not as expensive as they had been in my parents' generation. Just about then, cheap ball point pens appeared, but we were not allowed
    to write essays with them b/c the ink smeared on the paper after we had written (whereas "real" ink could be blotted dry). There was a brief period in the interim when one could buy 'rechargeable' fountain pens with throw-away 'cartridges pre-filled with ink which you snapped inside the main shaft of the pen where the rubber tubes had been, By the time I got to high school in the later1950s, ball (point) pens were reliable enough that we all used them, and fountain pens went out of general use by most students, except for calligraphy classes.

  13. KeithB said,

    August 22, 2022 @ 8:10 am

    For a while there were "Space Pens", supposedly developed by NASA with a pressurized cartridge so it could write in 0 g. They were advertised as being able to write upside down.

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