First off, an apology. I had meant to write about this Language Log post by Ben Zimmer a couple of months ago; it quotes a comment by “an anonymous professor of China studies” on this amazing and hilarious rahoi.com post explaining how the menu item “Hot and spicy garlic greens stir-fried with shredded dried tofu” got rendered as “Benumbed hot vegetables fries fuck silk” in the English portion of a restaurant menu. (“Finally: gan si meaning shredded dried tofu, but literally translated as ‘dry silk.’ The problem here is that the word gan means both ‘to dry’ and ‘to do,’ and the latter meaning has come to mean ‘to fuck.’”) It slipped my mind at the time, but fortunately the Loggers have revisited the issue: Victor Mair discusses the ubiquitous translation of gan as “fuck” and says:
I am trying to make sense of how this phenomenon actually came about. It seems that the twenty or so different meanings of the three-stroke calendrical graph that is used to write GAN1/4 (a total of three distinct graphic forms in the traditional script — 乾, 幹, 干 — all reduced to one — 干 — in the simplified script) in Chinglish have all collapsed into the single meaning of “fuck”. Wherever that graph occurs, Chinglish speakers will translate it as “fuck”…
Who’s telling the menu-makers and sign-painters to write “fuck” for GAN1/4? They probably don’t even know English and probably don’t know much Chinglish either. How did this get started? (Perhaps somebody was being intentionally mischievous.) And how did it become such a common phenomenon? That’s the real mystery. How is this horrible mistranslation continuing to spread and not being caught by the tens of millions of Chinese who do speak good English? … You’d think that at least they’d write “do” everywhere, or that people who do know English would tell the proprietors to hurry up and change the offending word so as to avoid further embarrassment!
They don’t have comments at the Log, so share your theories here!