One of my favorite things about living in Asia is finding examples of badly mangled English at every turn: t-shirts, warning signs, product labels, advertisements, menus, you name it. Over the years, I have catalogued numerous examples, documented with pictures; if you have a look through early posts of this blog, you’ll find several along these lines: “No Smorking” (so I didn’t smoke, but I did smirk); “Beware of Tourism” (always good advice); “I really don’t know how to apologize to you; please move to another cash register” (abject apology at the checkout line); “Reisure and Lest” (that old L/R issue again); “Attention: because I do not have a tissue always ready in this rest room, please buy used one.” (some things are just not meant to be recycled).

While I was in Japan last year, I read a newspaper article about preparations for the upcoming Shanghai Expo. It seems that the Chinese authorities in charge of signage had been dispatched upon a mission to eliminate every example of mangled English they could find, and they were bringing in native English speakers to aid in the cause. According to the article, platoons of these folks were to be dispatched throughout Shanghai, armed with clipboards, indelible markers, and citations (that is “citations” in the sense of a traffic ticket, as opposed to a civic award). Presumably these folks would have to go out in groups of at least two, one of whom was fluent in English, the other in Chinese, as the possibilities for miscommunication would be manifold otherwise. Several of my friends suggested that I should apply, given my extensive credentials both in English and in Manglish, but there were two problems I could foresee: 1) there would be quite a number of signs that would be so good, I would really hate to see them go away; and 2) the warugaki (mischievous child) in me might well choose to “improve” some signs to maximize their humor potential. In the event, I didn’t wind up applying, and the cleanup program (or pogrom) took place without me. Happily, it made not one whit of difference, as I can personally attest that the signage in Shanghai is as bad (or good) as ever, for which all Anglophone expats (or at least those with a warped sense of humor) can heave a collective sigh of relief.

As it happens, there is a website whose entire raison d’etre is the cataloguing of such things: www.engrish.com. Don’t even go there: 1) if you have fewer than two hours to spend meandering your way through the site; 2) if you have just had surgery, and belly laughter will cause your stitches to burst; and 3) if you will be offended by unintentional Asian lapses into what Americans might call bad words (like the delightful menu offering “Fried Horse Crap with Lime”). There are sections on business establishments (how about the food stand that offers “Fried Needles”?), menus (“The Palace Oil Explodes the Duck”), greeting cards (“Hey HO! It’s Christmas Time!), labels (“THIS IS NOT A TOY AND SHOULD BE KEPT AWAY FROM CHILDREN MADE IN CHINA”), warning signs (“Fall into the water carefully”), and so much more. There are oodles of pictures, of which I have included a couple as teasers. Truly, one of the do-not-miss sites of the internet!


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