If you're lucky enough to be going to the Olympics in Beijing this summer, prepare to be a little bewildered now and then. You may see a sign that describes a store as a "sex shop" or a "toilet for deformed men."
Relax. The signs are in Chinglish, which the Oxford English Dictionary tells us is "a mixture of Chinese and English; esp. a variety of English used by speakers of Chinese." The attempt to blend the two languages sometimes results in ridiculous statements.
According to the BBC, since 2001 the Chinese government has been trying to eliminate Chinglish and show visitors from other countries that the Chinese have an accurate command of English. Taxi drivers, for example, must pass English tests or lose their licenses.
But apparently enough Chinglish signs remain to have supplied Oliver Lutz Radtke with some very funny pictures of signs in his 2007 book "Chinglish." Radtke blames some of the confusion on "a poor understanding of the cultural context into which one must translate" and on the foundation of the Chinese language in graphic imagery and of English in logical grammatical sequence.
A Web site, The Global Language Monitor, tells us that so many Chinese are studying English that their usages are expanding our English language. In 2006, the Monitor pronounces, "No Noising" (quiet please) and "airline pulp" (food served on an airliner) were the Chinglish words of the year.
At any rate, it sometimes takes a bit of imagination to discover what a Chinese sign is trying to tell us. "Sex shop," according to the BBC, is "a shop for medicine and equipment for reproductive health," not pornographic materials The "toilet for deformed men" is a toilet for the disabled. The "cash recycling machine" is apparently an ATM.
If you should happen to go to a Chinese gym to work out, pay attention to any sign that tells you "The treadmill is in the middle of repairing." And don't go in any place that tells you "The Visitor Halts."
If you're interested in more Chinglish words, Google China Daily and search for Chinglish. Look for an article titled "Chinglish Adds Flavor to My Alphabet Soup."
Let Rosie hear from you by phone (358-0825, Ext. 337), e-mail (email@example.com) or by mail (1313 E. Main St., Suite 103, Richmond, VA 23219).