And sometimes, even though I don't want to believe it, I think Chinese people can be very stupid

The case of 折腾.

(Note, the following post refers to Chinese to English translation.)

Ok, I have refrained from delving into the waters of lake 折腾 largely because I think it is so small and stupid an issue as to be unworthy of mention. But, I saw it again today somewhere, with this headline:

"Bu zheteng" -- almost impossible to translate

and I think I decided it was time to comment.

I've seen stupider comments and articles about this, no doubt.

First, a little background. In the West, we have something like this:

First was the word, and the word was God

While in China, they actually take this literally.

I think once one deals with translation community here (or doesn't, and say, just is in china for about five minutes of one's life) they will realize that Chinese ideas and production relating to translation are about as reliable as a lead-filled toy, some milk that might kill my baby, or a chinese fire-drill. (Look it up.)


It's not that there's a lot of bad translation, it's that there is ONLY bad translation, and it is not given even a first thought. And this isn't in small outlying cities where that might be expected. This is in every spot of every crowded foreign spot in the major cities of china. Sometimes you'll be tempted to ask someone, why didn't you have a native speaker check that, or some other useless question...The point is, your language (english) is irrelevant. It is meaningless to them. It's meaning derives from the fact that they can use it to get what they want.


is just as good as


to the chinese businessperson.

Why do the signs always end up like this? Because a, they don't have translation read/proofread (let alone done) by native speakers, or even competent foreign speakers. B,the just use iciba. C, the don't care.

What I found shocking is that proofreading, in china, for translation, is a 'mandarin-optional' profession in many places. That's like teaching someone how to fly from reading a book about how to teach someone how to fly (without ever actually flying.)

What I found even more bizarre is that there is this book in the bookstores written by this (I'm sure incredibly nice) woman who worked as a proofreader for years (I can't even imagine a week, the terror) and published a book of her comments on chinglish. Interesting to note, or more appropriately (YOU ABSOLUTELY MUST KNOW THIS) despite living in china for years, she had absolutely no knowledge of chinese.

Now, when I was offered a job as a proofreader initially (once someone thinks your chinese is good they'll want you to work as a proofreader (not a translator), if they are a translator) I imagined one would absolutely need to know how to read chinese. Well, the companies all seem rathered shocked when I could speak and write chinese. (Never once did they say, hey, become a translator.) I said, of course, how else would one proofread? They said, well, you just look at the english and fix it. Fix it? Yknow, usage problems, grammar, etc. Well how do I know how to fix the bad word choice if I don't know what the original intent was? That's why it's so great that you know chinese! Needless to say, I don't work as a proofreader.

A lot of the companies will send you some documents to proofread or translate. But taking one look at the documents only causes one's head to explode. These aren't capable of being proofread, they have to be re-written, and the only way to do that is through re-translation. Hence I don't work as a proofreader. A proofreader in china is more likely to be a stamper, and if they are not a stamper they are a re-translator. And if you're going to be a re-translator you might as well sign up as a translator and cut the crap.

Back to 折腾. 折腾 is a word I recognize as meaning 'torture'/'suffering'. Before the fiasco I had no direct knowledge of it's alternate meanings/uses. (That is not to say one couldn't simply understand it's use in context (like english, how many, many words are properly understood). And, in the dictionary, this use is found, along perhaps with two others. Whether it is in the dictionary of record 现代汉语词典, the mysterious magical Party dictionary of party/dipolmatic speak, or the translators dictionary (don't kid yourself, they all use iciba.com), is something I have no interest in exploring. Needless to say, the chaos wouldn't be there if in all these dictionaries there existed an 3rd, 4th, 5th defintion, whatever, of 折腾

5. 动词, (方), (口), to muck around, waste time, fuck around, etc.

Now, that is to say, we've already got way more information than most 词条 have, 词性, and two qualifiers. (A record!).

But, the issue here is, once someone sees an entry like this, and (in this case, is a native speaker of the fucking chinese language!) they should be able to make the logical leap and say, oh, 折腾 means this, these english words convey a certain impression, i'll use one of those or a similar term I think is more appropriate.

So, this is one possible cause, there is simply no entry to 折腾 with the meaning required in the major dictionaries so that all the mindless robot translators could cut and paste instead of doing actual translation. SOMETHING chinese people still don't understand at all, you cannot just find the word in the dictionary and swap. dictionaries provide meanings in a language, not 'translations' or 'words' for immediate use.

There is one more likely cause, and I'll get to that in a moment.

One must also understand how chinese dictionaries work in china, very much a holdover from pre-history. I had always known my dictionary was kind of like this, but it wasn't till I started taking 文言文 and having to hear my teacher explain certain terms (and relevant replacement terms that they would fit in when translating 文言文 into 白话文, a required skill for any chinese students) that I started noticing very clearly how my dictionary was written, and later how most if not all chinese dictionaries were written, and why Charles Crow is not a real person. Sorry guys, he's not.

You may find it odd that the chinese-english dictionary I use, was done by all chinese people (with one fake american), but that goes to show you the state of dictionary work in china because it is far and away the best one (the new age is essentially the same dictionary.) That unfortunately is like being in a concentration camp and getting shot in the head instead of beaten to death or shot in the heart.

文言文 is heavy in it's use of 固. Now, in modern usage, I tend to think of 固 as 固定 or 固然. But I was told in 文言文 it means 本来。

本来 for me had always been originally, or 原来, etc. But 本来 also has another meaning, which is what 固 means.

I think it's best rendered as 'as a matter of course', with its meaning somewhat like naturally, or 'of course' in many ways similar to 当然。


他本来就不会接受你的帮助。 Naturally, he would not accept your help.

With the 'naturally' here denoting 'as a matter of course'.

But this sentence could just as easily be into english as:

Of course he wouldn't accept your help. (I don't really believe in commas.)

Which bleeds terribly dangerously into 当然 territory (along with other related words.

Anyway, the interesting point here is that the english definition for 本来

3. (副) - in the first place; naturally; it goes without saying; as a matter of course

english definition of 固

1. (副) - originally, in the first place, as a matter of fact/course

Now this is a case where there is at least some variation, many entries are simply word for word the same. This leads one to believe either a, a batch or primitives are defined and then people ask, hey what the hell the 折腾 mean and someone says "XX" and then the entry for 折腾 is made with the definition of 'XX'. Or, that it is simply highly grid-like/self-referential without the need to first build up a lot of primitives.

So, it's not that 折腾 is hard to translate at all, i could off the top of my head think of 1,000 words that I would have more trouble translating into english, but rather that it lacks a dictionary entry. This explains why all the boards and articles are filled with their 'attempts' at translation, which are horribly off and are just the entries for the related meanings already listed in the dictionary. Yes, your translators are that stupid and that robot-like. They know absolutely nothing about language, let alone english or relevant english slang. (This is a large cause of the problem, but wait for part 2.) So, what about all those hard to translate words? Well, they have entries in the dictionary? Let's take 相处, a word I have been dealing with lately. It doesn't matter if the translator doesn't know how the english reads or anything else, 相处 is read as essentially having only one meaning in chinese, so if the translation becomes the incomprehensible

You mix in with him long or You get along with him long



there is no issue to speak of among the translation community!

Part 2.

While the utter lack of understanding of english, slang, or translation is a huge contributor to the problem here, the main issue may just largely stem from the 丑陋中国人. 胡锦涛 can't be seen saying 不折腾 because that is not what 胡锦涛 should say. (as evidence by it's absence from the dictionary, 胡 should know better.) This is a face moment, 胡 can't be seen saying this, (even though he already said it). Well, even if he's seen saying it, he can't really be seen as saying this the foreign media.

If Barack Obama gives a speech before the nation and says 'wall street bankers have to stop fucking around." He said it, you translate into whatever language, but the meaning is clear. Maybe you don't think he should say it, maybe niceties (or laws) don't allow you to give the 'swear' force in translation, but there is no confusion, lack of clarity, 'impossibility of translation'. Now, what's interesting to note here is that the issue in this case is the opposite, the translation of one's native language into a foreign language. Last time I checked, who cares how the original speakers understand their words (in a foreign language)? Their understanding will always be superseeded by a native speaker who has acquired mastery in the foreign language. That's why we hire native speakers to translate into their native language and not foreign language learners to translate into a foreign language. This is elementary. All it shows is that the chinese translation community is not to be taken seriously and that there is a dearth of native englsh-speaking translators. Or perhaps there isn't a dearth and they just ignore stupid shit like this from their chinese counterparts because it's ridiculously stupid.

I'm done.


Appendix 1:


deal; get along with

Where's that 词性 anyway?

1 条评论:

  1. Stockton or Hades?

    I imagine Hades can't be that bad.