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Chinese Restaurant Suffers Large Translation Error 364

linuxwrangler writes "Preparing for English-speaking visitors, a restaurant in China recently ran its name through an online translator, took the result, then purchased and mounted a large sign displaying the English version of their name: Translate Server Error." This one has been around for a couple of weeks but it's destined to become a classic.
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Chinese Restaurant Suffers Large Translation Error

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  • Cookie (Score:5, Funny)

    by spiffyinferno ( 832679 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @01:06AM (#24453427)
    I can't wait to read the fortune cookies.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 03, 2008 @01:11AM (#24453457)

    The original title of this book was 'Jimmy James, Capitalist Lion Tamer' but I see now that it's... 'Jimmy James, Macho Business Donkey Wrestler'... you know what it is... I had the book translated in to Japanese then back in again into English. Macho Business Donkey Wrestler... well there you go... it's got kind of a ring to it don't it? Anyway, I wanted to read from chapter three... which is the story of my first rise to financial prominence... I had a small house of brokerage on Wall Street... many days no business come to my hut... my hut... but Jimmy has fear? A thousand times no. I never doubted myself for a minute for I knew that my monkey strong bowels were girded with strength like the loins of a dragon ribboned with fat and the opulence of buffalo... dung. ...Glorious sunset of my heart was fading. Soon the super karate monkey death car would park in my space. But Jimmy has fancy plans... and pants to match. The monkey clown horrible karate round and yummy like cute small baby chick would beat the donkey.

    • by eln ( 21727 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @01:18AM (#24453515)

      A News Radio reference on Slashdot...awesome. One of the most underrated shows in recent memory.

      Anyone who has ever used Babelfish to translate any random phrase from their own language to any other language and back again should know better than to trust a web-based translator to give anything other than a very rough idea of what any given piece of text actually says. To use them in place of an actual human translator for tasks like the one in the article (or rather, the picture) is madness.

  • by hyades1 ( 1149581 ) <> on Sunday August 03, 2008 @01:14AM (#24453481)

    The grandmother of an extremely attractive young lady in Toronto used Chinese characters in a design she embroidered on one of the girl's shirts. Somebody in Chinatown eventually pointed out to her that the characters said, "This dish is inexpensive but delicious."

  • by ( 142825 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @01:14AM (#24453483) Homepage

    It is not a gaff like, Chevy Nova in South America, No va meaning No go, but that could be truth in advertising. Or, "It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken" being translated into, "It takes a hard man to make a chicken aroused."

    Some others:

    "It won't leak in your pocket and embarrass you." translating into "It won't leak in your pocket and make you pregnant."

    Pepsi's "Come Alive With the Pepsi Generation" translated into "Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back From the Grave" in Chinese.

    The Coca-Cola name in China was first read as "Kekoukela", meaning "Bite the Wax Tadpole"

    • by eln ( 21727 )

      Chevy Nova in South America, No va meaning No go, but that could be truth in advertising.

      Although that one is a well-traveled urban legend, I can say from experience that referring to the Chevy Nova as "no go" would indeed be truth in advertising.

    • by sydneyfong ( 410107 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @01:24AM (#24453567) Homepage Journal

      You remind me of KFC's "We do chicken right" being translated (by others, not official, I think) to "We are prostitutes and that's right!" ("chicken" being the slang for prostitutes).

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by dwater ( 72834 )

        > "We do chicken right"

        I wonder what it is translated into English.

        Another one : "Think different"

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by MagdJTK ( 1275470 )
        Here in the UK, there's a meat company called Bernard Matthews, which is based in Norfolk and commonly known to be "Norfolk 'n' good"!
      • by mirshafie ( 1029876 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @09:44AM (#24455659)

        Not a translation error per se, but something akin. Appartently someone at the Swedish property management company Locum came up with the idea to turn the 'o' in to a heart, to make the logo look trendy. The 'L' in the logo being lowercase, the logo read

        I [heart] cum

    • by Auckerman ( 223266 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @01:39AM (#24453621)

      The Chevy Nova one is an urban legend. Straight from
      Assuming that Spanish speakers would naturally see the word "nova" as equivalent to the phrase "no va" and think "Hey, this car doesn't go!" is akin to assuming that English speakers woud spurn a dinette set sold under the name Notable because nobody wants a dinette set that doesn't include a table

      Also from Snope on the "Bite the Wax Tadpole"
      This representation literally translated as "to allow the mouth to be able to rejoice," but it acceptably represented the concept of "something palatable from which one receives pleasure."

      The other ones are unconfirmed and seem to exist mainly on sites the quote urban legends as facts.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        That's a very bad analogy by Snopes. Although "nova" doesn't necessarily equal "no va" which means "it doesn't go", "nova" actually isn't a word in Spanish (although novate/novase is a reflexive verb that is probably never used) and upon hearing it, a Spanish speaker would assume (and they did) that it means "no va". The English "notable" is already a word with a different meaning and different pronunciation.

        As far as "bite the wax tadpole" is concerned, well, I just like that better anyway. They should

    • by 1u3hr ( 530656 )
      Pepsi's "Come Alive With the Pepsi Generation" translated into "Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back From the Grave" in Chinese.
      The Coca-Cola name in China was first read as "Kekoukela", meaning "Bite the Wax Tadpole"

      Bullshit urban legends. Citations?

      • by rgigger ( 637061 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @03:19AM (#24454057)

        I don't have a citation but I do speak decent Mandarin and have discussed this specific matter with Chinese people in China.

        A rudimentary character by character translation gives you can-mouth-can-happy. When you put the first two characters together they mean delicious. When you put the last two characters together it just means cola. It is a transliteration. So there was an attempt to make it sound similar to the English name but also to for the actual meaning of it to indicate that it tastes good.

        Anyone Chinese person that can read or has ever seen Coca-cola in China could confirm this. The idea that an enormous multi-national corporation would be so careless as to unknowingly name their flagship product "Bite the Wax Tadpole" is just absurd on it's face. Do you have any idea how much time, effort, care, and money goes into the branding of a product like that?

        If the rest of those examples are even close to as stupid as that one was you can rest assured there is not truth in them at all.


        On an unrelated note, in previewing this I realized that Slashdot defaults to using latin 1 for its encoding and I thus can't add in Chinese characters. That was kind of a surprise. I wonder if there is a way to get around that and type in other languages.

        • by cloverprince ( 1197445 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @03:33AM (#24454117)

          I can confirm this. In addition, if you put the last two characters together (kele), it literally means "joyful", and pronounces like "Cola".

          "Bite the Wax Tadpole" is irrelevent. "Keko-kele" does not mean that, not even part of that.

          Chinese is like Perl, which is highly context-sensitive. Most characters mean complete different things in different context. So there are characters that work just like sigils in order to disambiguous them. And people have to use delimiters carefully.

    • No, those are myths (Score:5, Informative)

      by amake ( 673443 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @02:02AM (#24453733) Homepage debunks the Chevy Nova myth [] and the Coke-tadpole story []. I've never heard of the other two, but I wouldn't be surprised if they were bunk as well.
    • What's funny is that, Spanish grammar being different from English grammar, "no va" doesn't just mean "no go", but literally translates as "it DOES NOT go", which is a very clear statement, lol.

    • by houghi ( 78078 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @08:24AM (#24455289)

      The Nova is already pointed out as false.

      Another that I once read in Mad Magazine: "Otis elevators: They never let you down"

  • Developer failure (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BiggerIsBetter ( 682164 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @01:15AM (#24453491)
    This, ladies and gentlemen, is why you should also internationalise your error messages.
  • by sydneyfong ( 410107 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @01:15AM (#24453493) Homepage Journal

    Another classic that you may or may not have heard of is "fuck goods []".

    Due to simplification of Chinese characters, the words "dry" and a "do" merged into one single simplified Chinese character. In slang, "do" can mean copulation. The correct translation is "dried goods". You can see the rest yourself.

  • by j01123 ( 1147715 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @01:16AM (#24453497)
    +1 Funny to the first one who can use DNS cache poisoning [] to trick a Beijing restaurant into calling itself the "Free Tibet Cafe".
  • by Tatisimo ( 1061320 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @01:22AM (#24453543)
    I get tons of jobs with broken English, and when trying to fix them, I get berated, because "cousin Pancho lives in the US since 1980, and that's how he says it's written". I just let it be, and casually mention it's wrong, but what do I know? After all, I'm just an amateur grammar nazi with access to countless online dictionaries! Let them keep selling "blanckets" instead of blankets, "abandon" the hotel instead of checking out, and "get your kitchen stoned" instead of buying marble furniture. I guess bad translations are meant to be part of the tourist experience.

    Oh, and if you live in San Diego and you come to a car dealership where they give you a "Leash Agreement" instead of a Lease one, tell them I said hi!

    • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @01:31AM (#24453579) Homepage Journal

      Oh, and if you live in San Diego and you come to a car dealership where they give you a "Leash Agreement" instead of a Lease one, tell them I said hi!

      Maybe they do more than sell cars?

      • I wouldn't doubt it! It was some guy from Mexico who started a dealership in San Diego and was too cheap to buy commercial-grade American lease agreements. I was tempted to twist the small print a bit, but I was afraid I'd end up paying for double material.

        Another of my English product highlights was a label for play money. I was given creative freedom, so I did it as if I was writing Engrish. I came up with "Little Millionaire's Play Money: Financial Fun!" The client LOVED it with fanatical glee!


  • Cheap-ass Chinese (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Matt Perry ( 793115 ) <> on Sunday August 03, 2008 @01:23AM (#24453551)

    I have this impression of China that everything there is done as cheaply as possible without regard to safety or double checking, etc. It reminds me of one of my favorite blog posts showing the difference between the way the Japanese and the Chinese refuel a plane []. Notice that the Chinese guy is starting the siphoning of the fuel with his mouth. The owners of this restaurant were too cheap to pay some English-speaking Chinese kid a hundred yuan to translate it for them. At least we get some laughs out of it.

    • Re:Cheap-ass Chinese (Score:5, Interesting)

      by antic ( 29198 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @02:16AM (#24453805)

      The same is true of business everywhere. Ugly business cards, self-made web sites, dodgy signage, refusing to post out a brochure because they were "quite expensive to print" - all because a lot of business people are watching their wallet.

      If Chinese restaurants would pay for the service, someone would make an absolute killing going through correcting even just the menus. Was in China a couple of weeks ago and wouldn't have seen an error-free menu anywhere in the country.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by infinite9 ( 319274 )

        A year ago, I spent a few weeks in Hanoi. Both "carp" and "crab" were commonly available in the restaurants, but both were frequently spelled "crap" on the menu.

    • by bornwaysouth ( 1138751 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @02:18AM (#24453817) Homepage
      No. The Chinese are having to do things cheaply because they have low wages. A babelfish translator is probably better than an English-speaking Chinese kid. This is because you should translate from your second language into the culture you are competent in. A Chinese-American who knows what people are looking for in a restaurant is optimal. After all, translating the Chinese for 'inexpensive' to 'dirt cheap' is correct, but even a multilingual kid might not pick up on the nuances. Beijing have supposedly removed dog off the menus for the duration of the Games. So how would they interpret someone asking for a 'Hot dog'. Call over the English speaking kid who would explain that the government had banned them.

      There are possibly, a horde of examples of Americans badly translating into Chinese. You know, 'Server Translation Error' becoming 'Waiter moving sideways badly'. You have to say to yourself, I do not know about them. Possibly because I am incompetent in the languages of China, but it also could be because the Chinese may regard stuff ups like these worth relating over a drink, but not to be published to the world. It is impolite.

      What I do recognize from the "Server Translation Error" is my own experience on a Help Desk when the regular guy was absent and I as junior programmer took over. I had to explain to clients what the error messages meant. Often, they meant we had not caught the error early enough, and the real explanation for say "Your registration is out of date" was that one of the networked databases had failed to update. At times the error messages totally flummoxed us. They had been there so long, without being reported, that we no longer knew they existed.

      The humor I take from this is a rueful, 'Been there; Done that.'
    • by Spy Handler ( 822350 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @03:12AM (#24454035) Homepage Journal
      are you kidding me? Japanese have some of the horriblest English translation ever.

      All your base are belong to us, white man!
    • by koona ( 920057 ) <dcsherriff@fa[ ] ['stm' in gap]> on Sunday August 03, 2008 @03:29AM (#24454099) Journal

      No Ad Men On /. Obviously That restaraunt is sitting on a fortune if they are smart enough NOT to take that sign down. The word is out, on slashdot no less, the world will flock to them.

      I have spoken

    • by dwater ( 72834 )

      Well, if the English isn't meant for English people, then who cares what it says. IMO it makes sense to make it as cheaply as possible. I would expect it wasn't they who translated it anyway, but one of the many dirt-cheap printing shops you get along pretty much any street.

      Anyway...."a hundred yuan"...??? Are you *mad*? You clearly have no idea how much labour costs are in China. Ten Yuan is much more likely.

  • by Shade of Pyrrhus ( 992978 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @01:23AM (#24453559)
    This also probably worked to their advantage - now how many people outside of China know about this restaurant? I figure people would at least want to go there to take a picture in front of the sign or whatnot.
  • by sleeponthemic ( 1253494 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @01:25AM (#24453569) Homepage

    (and I do), I'm sure you'll appreciate

    http::// [http]

    • I've always loved that site. My favorite sign of all time there is "Bus Porking"
    • by Xtifr ( 1323 )

      For some perspective on the other side, the site Hanzi Smatter [] (run by a friend of the owner of has a great collection of equally high-quality use of Chinese (and Japanese and Korean) by westerners. The best part is that westerners really seem to like to use Hanzi/Kanji in tattoos; the result is a bit harder to fix than a gaffe in a manual or a sign. :)

  • by thewils ( 463314 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @01:42AM (#24453637) Journal

    I have a street map of Kyoto with a legend translating the Japanese for "WC" into English - "Cornhole Palace".

    Something tells me that wasn't entirely accidental.

  • by Roskolnikov ( 68772 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @01:46AM (#24453655)

    Its funny; things just don't translate cleanly.

    Buck a scoop Chinese food.
    babel it and you get:
    babel it again and you get:
    Resists stubbornly wooden scoop Chinese food


    • by AaxelB ( 1034884 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @02:22AM (#24453831)
      To be fair, though, I (a native, English-speaking American) couldn't parse "Buck a scoop Chinese food" the first two times I read it. Without a number ahead of it, "buck" reads like a verb. I think you'd need near human-level intelligence when given that string out of context to deduce that you're not talking about bucking a scoop of Chinese food, whatever that means.

      Also, Babelfish kinda sucks at producing natural-sounding translations. Google gives me "Blame the spoon will be Chinese food." See how much clearer that is?
      • by Nossie ( 753694 )

        it took me a wee while to catch on to yir lingo and actually until after Aaxelb explained the sentence before I realised what was being talked abooot.

        But what do I know I'm Scottish... here the only things that buck are rabbits and deer :) I really thought an 'of' was missing someplace. I'm guessing the first statement however is also missing either a comma or colon with the number?

        1 Buck a scoop: Chinese food

        meh, fook it!

    • It's not like I understand it, how can we expect the software to understand what it means?

  • That is funny, but (Score:4, Interesting)

    by greyhueofdoubt ( 1159527 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @01:48AM (#24453665) Homepage Journal

    That is pretty funny, but without the server error I've found chinese translators (traditional and simplified han) to work better than most languages. I was going to find a funny mistranslation, but my systran translator worked flawlessly. The worst I could find with my original subject line, "that was pretty funny," was, "that was quite funny."

    The situation is worse with longer or more complex sentences and turns of phrase, but I was surprised at the level of sophistication of modern machine translation. This story should really be making fun of whatever server the translator was running on rather than the cafe owner or the translator itself.

    What I find interesting about printed chinese english is that it is often printed in the same typeface. Look at many of the inspection tags, instructions, or 'made in china' tags that you have on products laying about; chances are that they are all in an identical old-fashioned serif typeface. Can anyone tell us the story behind this generic 'english' typeface that I run into so often?


    • by 1u3hr ( 530656 )
      What I find interesting about printed chinese english is that it is often printed in the same typeface. Look at many of the inspection tags, instructions, or 'made in china' tags that you have on products laying about; chances are that they are all in an identical old-fashioned serif typeface. Can anyone tell us the story behind this generic 'english' typeface that I run into so often?

      Chinese fonts have thousands of characters. They also include all the standard European ones. Unfortunately, whatever the

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 03, 2008 @02:21AM (#24453827)

      Well, pre-unicode chinese "wide" (multiple-byte, but actually typically wider on screen too, due to the higher level of detail required to convey chinese ideograms) charsets like Big5 and GB still included "fullwidth" latin characters (fullwidth: double the width of normal latin characters, so that they fit in "better" with chinese ideograms at that width). Actually, unicode encodes them too, for backward compatibility (adding to URL-spoofing problems).
      These fullwidth "latin" letters are at different code points to normal ASCII!

      The chinese tend to decide the fullwidth forms look "better" with serifs (more stylistically compatible with their ideograms), so they almost always have serifs, and since they're not (well,the "fullwidth" ones anyway) at the same encoding points as "real" latin characters, changing the latin font tends not to change the chinese-"latin" "fullwidth" characters, so they keep looking like the same old serif forms from the chinese font. So even with the best of intentions, it tends to be difficult to get rid of the ugly old serif characters when localising something originally produced in china, especially if the work isn't being done by a total computer geek who has a hope of understanding what's going on when he selects the fullwidth latin characters and changing the font doesn't work as expected. []

  • ...and get a Coca Cola sign.
  • my chinese isn't good enough to confirm that it actually is a translation error...
    for all i know, it's an accurate translation

  • Perhaps those Chinese restauranteurs are smarter than we think!

    Now every geek across the world has heard of the Translate Server Error cafe, and the five of us that get out of our mom's basement and head to China for the Olympics are definitely going to look for this place and try it.

  • Blocked (Score:2, Interesting)

    by topnob ( 1195249 )
    The funny thing is that that site is blocked, at least in Shanghai!
  • by alerante ( 781942 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @02:24AM (#24453841) Homepage

    The Chinese text on the banner (can1 ting1) is simply a generic term for "dining hall" or "cafeteria", which makes this even funnier.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Any chance can1 ting1 is a "phonetic" "translation" of the English word canteen? Just a guess--my Cantonese-speaking in-laws have exposed me to a fair number of "Chinese" words that are just sound-alikes based on either English or French so the similarity made me wonder.

  • just talked to someone in China (Xian), and he told me he couldn't get to it...

  • by tgv ( 254536 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @03:42AM (#24454157) Journal

    Check out Language Log []. They do not only have even funnier examples, but also try to analyze the source of the error, as well as translation problems in other languages. The latest installment in the series of Chinese-English mistranslations is The Sichuan's hair blood is prosperous [], or check the whole category: Lost in Translation [].

    They also collect "Cupertinos", errors introduced by spelling checkers, or have you ever heard of US presidential candidates Barrack Abeam and John moccasin? It's a great log for anyone interested in language.

  • by frovingslosh ( 582462 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @04:20AM (#24454339)
    Let us not forget, the first name that the Orientals came up with for a small hand help computer was not the "Palm Pilot", and unfortunately it was caught before it ever got released, but the name was "Hand Job".

    And it's not like this is only a problem going to English, we have committed some blunders, there are many stories how Pepsi's "Come alive, You're in the Pepsi Generation" translated to something in Chinese like "Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead".

  • by KombuchaGuy ( 752406 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @06:10AM (#24454721) [] Farewell Racist Park, we hardly knew ye.

Exceptions prove the rule, and wreck the budget. -- Miller