Looking at Engrish.com now, however, I see the term has been generalized to any mistranslation, misspelling, or otherwise misinterpretation of a foreign language to English. I don't know why I find misspellings on signs so humorous, but I do, and we would laugh so hard at some of the bad translations and misspellings.
I thought it was kind of rare to find an example of Engrish in the wild. I figured on the mean and clean streets of Beijing, any English signage would have been inspected and corrected.
I figured completely wrong.
If proofreading skills were worth real money, I could make a fortune walking around China and correcting everything from spelling to grammar to kerning and missing letters. It's astounding exactly how many of the signs are incorrect. I thought I'd post the ones I took pictures of here.
NOTE: the camera is the one on my phone, and that's pretty hit or miss. Sometimes the pics are clear, and other times, they're blurry. Fair warning.
|Urinating into the pool. You are the Best!|
This may be my favorite sign of the trip. There's so much here to chuckle at. From the title "This is what I've always wanted to talk to you" to the repeated "you are the best..." to the little fella who looks like a stubby little wiener, this is a masterwork of Engrish.
|What? No bugling in the park?|
This counts as weird signage, so I'm including it. This sign was posted near the Beijing National Center for the Performing Arts, the Opera House. I don't count the sign as Engrish specifically, but it definitely made me look twice. The things that got me most were the bugle, the two almost identical bikes that were necessary to include, the guy bouncing three balls, and the two symbols at the lower right that I don't have a point of reference for.
|The Forbidden city is concerned about my family's well-being.|
There is a fair amount of just odd phrasing here. This is a bit of the forbidden city that's under construction, and clearly this is a warning to be safe. But a building saying "take care" sets off the "weirdo" bell for me.
|Yes, that's a picture of a man, all right!|
I think the sign would have been clear without the text. With the text, it's a bit confusing. Not Men, but Man. This one. This little blue one. Ah! One of the Blue Man Group, perhaps.
|I am here? Where is here?|
Another one of my favorites of the whole trip, and there's a double weirdness here. Both these signs are posted on a building at one of the landings on the part of the Great Wall we climbed. I wish I'd snagged a better pic of that top sign. If you can't read it, it says "Speaking cellphone is strictly prohibited when thunderstorm," a fine example of Engrish. And then at the bottom: "You are here" without a diagram is not a very western concept, and I couldn't figure out what I was supposed to do with that information, except maybe to call for help and give them the location, as long as it wasn't thunderstorm.
|A weirdly phrased sign in the bathroom.|
This one was above the urinals. I believe this was for automatic flushing of urinals, but it didn't automatically wash the body part closest to the sign.
|You say that, Sign, and yet, here we are...|
This was at the Kung Fu Panda show. Yes. A kung fu demonstration at the Beijing Shi Cha Hai Sports School. And two of the artists were in panda costumes.
|Closer. Closer. TOO CLOSE!|
|This seems like a sign you'd see in a Colorado dispensary, though there it no longer needs to be medicinal, no?|
|Everybody Wang Fujung tonight.|
This is a fairly longwinded name for a jewelry store. Surprising that they had to tell us that we could only buy gifts here. And in English, "supermarket" implies food, although the proper translation is more probably "superstore".
|These ornaments will help you get "lade"...|
So much wrong here. "Quintessence facebook" is what made me take the picture, as I have no idea what that even means. But right next to it I can buy some "Crystal inside painting", which apparently is something like bedazzling your colon. "Field calligraphy" is also not clear.
On the third floor, not only can I get those Lade Ornaments referred to in the caption, but I can also purchase an order of "Opening ceremony." Maybe that's where you buy the yoga pants.
|I think the Way Out is Far Out.|
Not every bit of Engrish is big and obvious. This little misspelling pointing everyone to the Peace and Tranguility Guest House is just a little typo, but they are ubiquitous. Also, "Way Out" deserves its own category of Engrish. You've got about a 50/50 chance of it being a "Way Out" sign vs. an "Exit" sign. It is, of course, the way out. And "Way Out" is also a perfectly standard way to label an exit in Britain. It's just not American English to say it that way, so it seems weird to me every time I see it.
Also, the use of "Toilet" for bathroom is standard there, whereas we would use that to refer specifically to the actual device, not the entire room. Again, I understand this to reflect the influence of British English.
|I forgot how to pronounce that "dng" sound.|
Really, I'm not trying to be cruel. These misspellings are everywhere. Seriously, I can't believe that it was that hard to find someone who could look up proper spelling in a city of seven million people (Suzhou).
|And uncultured, boorish behavior is dim scenery?|
I don't know if I could have said it better myself. This is the nicest way of telling tourists to behave that I've ever seen. There's a lyrical quality to some of these odd translations, as if the turn of phrase could somehow become a charming part of the language.
|I admit that sometimes I lift a leg when I do that, too.|
It's not always clear what they want you not to do. In context, this sign was suggesting that you should stay on the path, and you shouldn't step over the railing and walk on the nicely maintained grass. But when I first looked at it, I thought the sign was telling me not to do any disco moves in the garden. Especialy with that weird disco ball in the upper right corner of the sign.
|China is finally speaking my language.|
There's nothing at all wrong with this sign. It would actually be right at home in a small college town in America. Here among all the Engrish, however, there's a bit of a foreign feel to the phrase "coffee language". Guilt by association, I fancy.
|Lettce not and say we did.|
I can kinda forgive this one. It's on a buffet, and it's printed out on paper in a restaurant. It may have been a legitimate typo, even. This makes me wonder, however, if we left out a little squiggle in a Chinese character whether this is what it would look like to them, or whether it might be an entirely different word, or whether it would be a character that didn't mean anything.
|Don't do nothing.|
I mentioned before that sometimes it wasn't clear what the Chinese signs were asking me not to do. This one pushes that to an extreme, however. The Chinese under that may make it perfectly clear what is meant, but doesn't help me at all. There was a guy smoking in a seat right below this sign, however, so that's definitely not what it's for. Unless it is and he was a serious scofflaw.
|The big sign specified a small food.|
I don't know what this one is trying to say exactly. There's a minimum purchase in the VIP room of about $5 (30 RMB), but I'm not sure what that third line is getting at. Also, the butterfly... Is that the small food?
|On the automatic revolving door of the hotel.|
Here I am again confused about what not to do. This is on the automatic revolving door at our hotel, so the "Attention" sign and the "Grab your kids and walk" sign make a lot of sense. I can't figure out what they're supposed to be doing in the bottom picture though. The standing feller appears to be skateboarding into the face of the person on all fours, like a bizarre Jackass episode played out between Bam Margera and Johnny Knoxville. Ultimately, I just took it to mean, "Don't fuck around in the revolving door."
|To be a pickup artist, please check your baggage number.|
This was the last sign of the trip that was Engrished. It was in the Beijing airport by the baggage claim. We had to pick up our bags from the domestic flight from Shanghai and re-check them to fly international to Chicago.
Needless to say, we avoided the wrong picking up.
So that's the signs I captured while I was there. Surely there were ones I missed, and there were some we captured with other people's cameras, but I wanted to share these with everyone as soon as I was able.