Language & Culture

Fried Enema and other examples of Chinglish

Is Chinglish friend or foe?  That is the ongoing debate that has erupted between the Chinese authorities, linguists, and Chinglish enthusiasts. Chinglish is created at the intersection of Chinese and English and uses a mix of pinyin — the Romanized spelling of Chinese words — (e.g. 光棍 – guanggun) and creatively, though incorrectly, worded English (e.g. good good study, day day up) to express sometimes very culturally specific ideas.  If you’re an English speaker that’s ever visited China, you will have undoubtedly encountered your fair share of giggle-worthy signs and messages.  However, not everyone finds these twists of English and Chinese quite so amusing. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular Chinglish phrases and how they are received worldwide.

Slip Carefully

More recent entries to the Chinglish pool include “dama” (meaning affluent Chinese bargain-hunting middle-aged women), “you can you up, no can no BB” (meaning “do it if you are so capable; otherwise keep quiet!”) and “no zuo, no die” (used to warn others against doing something foolish that may lead to trouble).  While the former have gained popularity—with “dama” receiving recognition in the New York Times—not all Chinglish is created equal.  Some expressions are humorous, others are downright strange. For example, “Jew’s Ear Juice” (a peculiar drink name), “fried enema” (which, if correctly translated, should be fried sausage), and “Fragrant and Hot Marxism” (an entertaining restaurant name) are just a few examples of signage found in Chinese cities that often leaves foreigners scratching their heads in confusion.

But these expressions are all in good fun, right?  Opponents of Chinglish would disagree, arguing that Chinglish hinders the learning of proper English, is a sign of laziness, and an embarrassment.  Wang Xiaoming, an English scholar at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, recalls a humiliating moment surrounded by snickering foreign colleagues as they looked through a photo compilation of poorly written signs. “They didn’t mean to insult me but I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable,” Wang said.

Related:  The Story of My Blossaries

Proponents of Chinglish, on the other hand, view it as a dialect worth protecting due to the unique insight it provides into the Chinese outlook on language and life.  Others even argue that its growing global popularity is a nod to China’s growing influence on international culture—something in which the Chinese should take pride.

Wherever you stand on the issue, it’s hard to deny the catchiness of some of these novel phrases.  “Long time no see” is a well-known Chinglish phrase that has been seamlessly blended into English vernacular.  Chinglish is exemplary of the adaptive and fluid nature of language; it is a reminder of both the importance of linguistic clarity and a cool side-effect of an ever more globalized world. Like all change, the emergence of Chinglish has been met with resistance but if its popularity continues to grow, it could eventually earn its place in the linguistic toolbox.

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