BYD — the look and the sound

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Yesterday, Charlie Munger, the 99-year-old billionaire Vice Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, declared that the Chinese company, BYD, was beating Tesla in the electric vehicle (EV) market.  I had never heard of BYD, so I asked my students from mainland China what "BYD" meant.

They all seemed to consider the apparent initialism as though it were an English word, pronouncing it Beeyah'di, making the second syllable long and stressed.  I pursued by asking, "But what does it mean?  What does it stand for?"

They said, "It doesn't mean anything and it doesn't stand for anything.  It's just the name of a car company:  Beeyah'di."

Wanting to get to the bottom of this mystery, I asked, "How do you write it in characters?" 

They kind of shrugged, as though the characters were not important.  What was important was the look of the name in Roman letters and their sounds when pronounced.  The way they pronounced it evinced an attitude of insouciance, "You know, Beeyah'di," as though they might be saying BMW or Mercedes or Audi, or maybe KIA:

According to the company, the name "Kia" derives from the Sino-Korean characters (ki, 'to arise') and (a, which stands for 亞細亞, meaning 'Asia'); it is roughly translated as "Rising from (East) Asia".


That explanation sounds rather dubious to me, just as does this one for LG:

LG Corporation (or LG Group) (Korean엘지), known as LG and formerly Lucky-Goldstar from 1983 to 1995 (Korean: Leokki Geumseong; Korean럭키금성; Hanja樂喜金星)….

LG Corporation was established as Lak Hui Chemical Industrial Corp. in 1947 by Koo In-hwoi.[4] In 1952, Lak Hui (락희) (pronounced "Lucky"; now LG Chem)….


Anyway, I had to coax the characters for BYD out of the students, and they looked a bit sheepish when they wrote Bǐyǎdí 比亚迪, for they clearly were thinking of the letters and their sounds, not the characters and their sounds — Beeyah'di (where the second syllable is raised to a higher pitch) versus Bǐyǎdí 比亚迪 (where the second syllable is lowered to the lowest possible pitch.

A side-note on the sea changes of lifestyles that are taking place between my Chinese students and me may be seen in their attitudes toward financial instruments.  They do not use cash for any purposes.  They use their phones to pay for almost everything.  Today I had to reimburse one of them for an expense they incurred on my behalf, and they stared at it in disbelief.  They had never seen a check and had no idea what it was.  They even took a picture of me writing in my checkbook and said they were going to send it back to their parents in China, who also pay for everything electronically.

They've come a long, long way since the days of barter economy and solely sinoglyphic writing.  The vast majority of transactions are done electronically, and the alphabet is fast creeping up on the characters.


Selected readings


  1. Sam said,

    February 16, 2023 @ 9:56 pm

    It might be an English language backronym, but BYD claims it means “Build Your Dreams”. They are indeed an enormous company.

  2. magni said,

    February 16, 2023 @ 11:21 pm

    The founder Wang Chuanfu apparently chose "比亚迪", a "whimsical" ("怪") name, in the hopes of getting authorities to permit the establishment of his corporation, since there was a surge in startups in Shenzhen at the time of the foundation of his company, and that "weird names are more likely to obtain permission" ("容易通过注册"). So BYD is not so much some curious initialism as a mere by-product. Source (Mandarin video):

  3. AntC said,

    February 17, 2023 @ 5:24 am

    They had never seen a check and had no idea what it was. They even took a picture of me writing in my checkbook …

    In New Zealand, chequebooks were discontinued at least a decade ago — and I hadn't written a cheque for a decade before that.

    If I need to reimburse someone, I use the app on my phone to direct-credit. (I'm a decade younger than Prof Mair.) I'd heard the U.S. banking system is hopelessly antiquated, but you can still use actual paper cheques?

  4. George said,

    February 17, 2023 @ 6:48 am


    For some strange reason, cheques are resolutely refusing to die out in France as well. I was last in France a few weeks ago and saw somebody paying for their groceries in a supermarket with one. The tills are still set up for cheque payments. It's like stepping back in time.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    February 17, 2023 @ 7:50 am


    I write hundreds, if not thousands, of checks every year. That means I also have to write addresses and put stamps on hundreds, if not thousands, of envelopes every year. Writing the checks and taking care of the envelopes is an enormous drain on my time, and sometimes they get lost in the mail, but I am incapable of doing these things "the new way", and deep down inside I just don't trust them.

    But I never pay for things in stores with checks (though I still see lots of people who do). I only pay in cash, which I get out of ATMs. My students think it's strange for me to pay for everything with cash — except for major purchases like an automobile or a house, where I wouldn't want to lug around so much paper money. In such cases, I always pay with a check.

    Sometimes the checks get lost in the mail.

  6. 热心网友 said,

    February 17, 2023 @ 8:08 am

    Fun fact: byd is occasionally used as an pinyin acronym on the Internet, meaning 逼/婢养的(son of a bitch/maidservant) and it's (of course) a dirty word.

    Also, there's a small tool to look up acronyms

  7. Victor Mair said,

    February 17, 2023 @ 9:25 am

    It seems that most people, including in China, know this EV as BYD, though some are familiar with the Chinese name 比亞迪. Still, they suspect that these three characters were chosen to impart a foreign / imported flavor that might attract people.

  8. Phil H said,

    February 17, 2023 @ 9:49 am

    I've heard a folk etymology that BYD stands for "Build Your Dreams." But I suspect that it is a later invention.
    Yep, lots of urban China has been essentially cash-free for at least five years now, ten for some people. I haven't touched cash in a long time, except at Chinese New Year, when new bills are still used to stuff red envelopes.

  9. Taylor, Philip said,

    February 17, 2023 @ 1:02 pm

    Cash-user (and occasional cheque-writer) here. Cash for things like a bag of six jam doughnuts (£3·55), a game of table tennis (£2·00), a game of bowls (£2·00, £3·00, £3·50 or £5·00, depending on event and/or venue), a take-away Chinese or Indian meal (maybe £15·00), and for leaving a tip in a restaurant; and a cheque for larger amounts where I know the payee's name and address but not his/her bank details. Credit and/or debit card for most other things, plus the occasional standing order and/or direct debit. Oh, and telephone for making/receiving telephone calls — nothing else. As to "BYD", I immediately thought "Brigham-Young <something>", but I was clearly wrong.

  10. Anthony said,

    February 17, 2023 @ 1:11 pm

    Since the Postal Service now warns of the danger of using mailboxes on the street, after writing my checks I have to go to the post office to mail them. A year ago I wrote 3 checks (adding up to a couple of thousand dollars) and they were never cashed or deposited by anybody. Possibly I was lucky because I use a fountain pen and the thieves couldn't successfully "bleach" the checks.

  11. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    February 17, 2023 @ 3:27 pm

    My first time in the US was a 6-month scholarship in 2004. At the time, the online banking system in my post-communist home country allowed me to perform all the operations I needed, and more, totally seamlessly. The Bank of America system, in contrast, was squarely within the realm of comedy (interface included). The pinnacle was the scanned picture of a cleared paper check that showed up one day.

    On the other hand, the campus had campus-wide WiFi, and the library had tens of thousands of e-books. You lose some, you win some.

  12. mg said,

    February 17, 2023 @ 4:55 pm

    I never have to mail a check. For any payments that require check, I go to my bank's website and take care of it there. The bank cuts the check and mails it, no charge. I virtually never use cash these days, though I make sure I always have at least $20 in my wallet in case of emergencies.

    I admit to being uncomfortable at the idea of using a phone app for payments and just use my credit card.

  13. Chris Partridge said,

    February 18, 2023 @ 3:23 am

    My 93-year old mother in law gives me a check every month to cover household expenses. I take a picture of it with my mobile phone, which uses OCR to recognise it and pay the money into my account without my having to schlep all the way to the bank. Totally brilliant.

  14. Peter said,

    February 18, 2023 @ 11:12 am

    Since moving to Cambridge UK last August I have written no cheques/checks, and used cash only to pay my barber. With the advent of cheap card machines with 4G data even buskers take cards. The contactless card limit is now £100 for most banks and no limit with a phone, so I don't even use chip and pin very often. Payments to individuals, or to – eg – clubs or charities – I do using an app. I'm visiting the US in May – sounds like I better get some $$.

  15. Ben said,

    February 18, 2023 @ 7:45 pm

    In the US, you occasionally find services where the only accepted means of payment is a check. Usually in equally antiquated local bureaucratic offices

  16. Thomas said,

    February 19, 2023 @ 11:19 am

    I actually thought cheques did not exist anymore. At least here in Europe it's been decades since I last saw one. I vaguely remember my parents using them back in the 90s. As for reimbursing expenses, in my age bracket (30s), everyone I know just uses regular bank transfers, which are easily done on your phone and cost nothing. Younger people will probably have some other app for this.

  17. Keith said,

    February 20, 2023 @ 8:58 am

    I have bank accounts in the UK, in France and the USA, and use cheques for all three, but very rarely. And since the layout is different for each, I always have to think where to put the date and the signature (and French cheques require you to write the place where you are when you write it).

    The last cheque I wrote was to pay for a year's delivery of domestic heating oil. The time before that was buying jewellery for my wife when the merchant's post-of-sale terminal was on the blink. Other utilities (gas, water, electricity, phone, internet) and insurance are paid by allowing the provider to draw directly on my current account each month

    I tend to do weekly shopping in the market or from small shops, so going from trader to trader to buy perhaps €2 worth of something from one, €4 from another, below the threshold for paying by card (often the trader won't take a card for less than €5). If I buy €100 worth of cheese, meat or wine, then I'll pay by card.

  18. ajay said,

    February 21, 2023 @ 4:35 am

    If you're visiting the US, be especially careful around paying for petrol. I've found more than one station where the only way to pay seemed to be inserting your credit card into the machine at the pump, which then requested you authorise it by typing in your zip code. They have possibly unintentionally decided that they'll sell petrol only to US residents.

  19. ajay said,

    February 21, 2023 @ 4:36 am

    Cheques are still widely accepted, and in the Western states you'll be particularly warmly received if you attempt to pay with a cheque following the precedent of Inland Revenue v. Haddock.

  20. Taylor, Philip said,

    February 22, 2023 @ 6:57 am

    In the case in question, Ajay, if "the Collector demanded £57 and 10 shillings" why was the cheque made out for "the sum of fifty seven pounds £57/0/0", and why did the Court not reject the defence on the basis that the defendant had failed to show that he had attempted to pay in full the sum owed ?

  21. John Quiggin said,

    February 24, 2023 @ 11:57 pm

    Yes, the US is almost the only place in the world where checks still exist.

    As regards Haddock's case, AJP claims it was later reported as fact.

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