Adventures with Language, Part III: Rated PG Mistakes

First of all, this post discusses language mistakes involving, ahem, “mature” words.  We are adults here; I think we can safely laugh at these errors without being horrified (of course, it is perfectly horrifying when they happen, but that’s another matter).  Okay, you’ve been warned.  Now onto my post (and I apologize for being late with it, but I’ve been devising torture — er, I mean, 4 versions of a test — for my sophomores all day and completely forgot that I needed to post):

I have a theory:  I believe that the Chinese people deliberately created their language in such a way as to ensure that foreigners regularly look extremely foolish.  Recent events bear this theory out.

In one of my recent Chinese lessons, my teacher asked me (in Chinese) whether or not I like birds.  I meant to say, “I like birds.”  I was supposed to say, “I like birds.”  I said what I thought was “I like birds.”  I did not get the reaction I expected from such an innocuous statement, however.  Instead, my very sweet teacher began laughing quite hard, even harder than she laughs when we successfully get my tongue tied in knots trying to say similar-sounding Chinese words in rapid succession.  In fact, she was tearing up from laughing so hard.  This was a good indication to me that I had made a mistake.  When Jackie could finally speak, she informed me that I used the wrong tone when saying the word “bird”.  So, what I actually said to her was “I like to pee.”  We enjoyed a long mutual laugh over that one!

I was fortunate, actually.  Our lovely, innocent, ladylike kindergarten teacher had a much worse language faux pas recently.  Being a Star Wars fan, she thought it would be fun to name one of her fish Qui-Gon.  She excitedly quizzed her little kindergartners over and over about the new class pet’s name, and they eagerly shouted it back.  Many, many times.  She noticed a look of concerned surprise on the face of her Chinese teacher’s aide (never a good sign).  Later, the lady mentioned to her that that particular word means “orgasm” in Chinese.  Oops!  Needless to say, the story of that particular mistake will probably taunt our poor kindergarten teacher for years to come.  (Oh, and in case you were wondering — yes, the fish got renamed.  VERY quickly.)

We foreigners aren’t the only ones making these “fun” blunders, of course.  Back when I taught in Korea, I was asked to give English names to some new students.  Normally, I would just name the kids on their first day in class, but this particular time, Cate (my boss) asked me just to write down the names for her, so she could tell the kids in advance (cue ominous organ music).  The next day, I asked the adorable new boy in my second-grade class to introduce himself to his classmates.  Loudly and proudly, he announced, “My name is Phallus!”  At least, that is exactly what word he said.  I was, naturally, nearly struck dead with horror.  His name was actually Felix, but Cate had not known how to pronounce it.  I quickly corrected him, then made sure to tell Cate what that mispronounced name actually meant.  From then on, we went back to having me name the kids in class!

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About HistoryGypsy

I'm a high school history teacher and author of upcoming novel Sidhe Eyes. I live in gorgeous Qingdao, China, where I spend much of my free time studying the fascinating and frustrating Chinese language, eating odd things, or taking long walks along the Yellow Sea. At "While We're Paused" I have the pleasure of blogging about things that catch my interest: good books, language, history, poetry, writing tips, grammar rants, random humor . . . I don't like to get in a rut! Some of my favorite writers include (and this is by no means an exhaustive list): Dorothy Sayers, J.K. Rowling, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Jules Verne, Baroness Orczy, Geoffrey Wawro, John Lynn, Bill Bryson, the Bronte sisters, John Christopher, J.M. Barrie, O. Henry, Roald Dahl, and Robert Graves. I usually find myself reading no less than three books at a time!

Posted on September 18, 2011, in China, Humor, Language, Stephanie Thompson and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. For a while when I was in high school a Japanese exchange student in search of conversation partners with whom to practice her English was very innocently going up to boys in the high school and asking, “May I have intercourse with you?” True story. Moral: The thesaurus is a dangerous book.

  2. Our head principal told me that he once announced “I am chopsticks!” during a discussion with some Chinese staff (I forget what he actually meant to say).

  3. it means he is always available for help

  4. our head of department is a japanese…once when i’m in his room he has to leave for an urgent meeting with principal , he said ” can i show my self out” …what does it mean??
    actually to say get out, people use … show your self out but what is the meaning of that..??

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