Sat, Apr 14, 2007 - Page 9 News List

Beijing wages war on goofy English

AFP , BEIJING

Watch out "deformed men" and "liquor heads" -- your days in Beijing are numbered.

A campaign to correct the notoriously goofy English translations on city signs in time for next year's Olympics could mean the end for the misnomers that have confused and amused visitors for years.

Officials are taking aim at menu items such as "fried crap" and "acid food" and slippery-when-wet signs that read: "To take notice of safe -- the slippery are very crafty."

The campaign began last year to avoid causing confusion and possible offense when visitors from around the world descend on a city that has for years featured a "Racist Park" dedicated to ethnic minorities.

But to some, the "pubic toilets" and "harsh browns" will be missed.

"It's too bad. They give the city a little more character," said Ian McCulloch, a Briton who studies Chinese at a local university.

"It's almost worth a walk down the street just for that," he said.

Officials have launched several parallel campaigns -- some aim to discourage spitting and queue-jumping while others encourage smiling and other civilities -- in a bid to soften a city that has its share of rough edges.

But authorities have pushed the language effort as much as any other, sending out camera-wielding inspectors to comb the streets in search of offenders like "deformed men" on handicapped restroom stalls and "liquor heads" seen on signs banning public drinking.

Translation guidelines also have been issued to local governments and industry groups, who have been urged to clean up the English in their spheres.

A city official said on Wednesday that 6,530 road signs had been changed or replaced by the end of last year.

Another 1,076 signs at tourist sites have been edited, more than 20,000 have been inspected in medical facilities and still more offending wordage is being given the once-over at public restrooms, restaurants and other facilities.

"We are targeting public places that are closely related to the life, work, study and travel of our foreign friends," said Liu Yang, deputy director of Beijing's foreign affairs office.

The push has already claimed a high-profile victim.

For years, the flaming-red neon sign of the Dongda Hospital for Anus and Intestine Disease loomed high over a busy street in eastern Beijing. But it recently gave way to "Dongda Proctology Hospital."

Liu said more needs to be done in a city where menus still offer such delicacies as "big bowl fresh immerse miscellaneous germ" and construction sites warn "beware of safety."

But getting hotels, restaurants and private businesses to comply with the non-binding guidelines could prove more difficult than altering state-owned road signs.

"So far I think we have achieved good progress in standardizing English translations of signs. But we need cooperation from all sectors to avoid lax enforcement and future confusion," Liu said.

One possible bone of contention will be plans by the city to soon launch a push to tighten up menus at hotels and restaurants.

Liu said the city wants many of the Chinese dishes that carry ambiguous names like seven happiness -- a mix of seafood, meats and vegetables -- to be translated more informatively, an idea that provoked a backlash in the blogosphere when first floated earlier this year.

"Menus should introduce to a guest what kind of meat or vegetables are in the dish and should be brief and clear," Liu said.

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