The term Chinglish refers to what happens when English and Chinese collide, and is a frequent source of unintentional humor. Often, when words are translated literally from one language to another, changes in syntax, grammar, and euphemism are not correctly understood. This can lead to considerable confusion, and occasionally hilarity. It should be noted that Chinglish humor is not racial or racist in nature; it is linguistic humor based on the accidents that can occur through poor translations.
English and Chinese are languages with little in common; unlike English and other European languages, they do not share a common root. The many differences between the languages lead to ample opportunity for misunderstanding. In Chinese, the major alphabet consists of pictorial characters with many different meanings that shift and alter depending on context. For instance, there is one Chinese character that can mean "see," "look at," or "watch." Therefore, a sign that reads “watch your children” in Chinese could easily be translated to “look at your children” in English.
Many Internet websites have capitalized on the inherent humor of Chinglish by scouring Chinese-speaking countries for good examples of unfortunate translation accidents. Many examples of Chinglish are found on road signs, advertisements, and menus. Instruction manuals, product names, and store names can also be great sources of translation nightmares.
Another type of Chinglish arises from the use of English words on fashion items like shirts or hats. Much as an English-speaker might buy a t-shirt with a Chinese character on it because it looks cool, a Chinese-speaker could purchase a piece of clothing with English words on it without knowing the meaning. This can occasionally result in nonsense words strung together, interesting misspellings, or ironic or unpleasant meanings.
Chinglish examples also arise from the mistranslation of euphemisms or idiom from one language to another. For example, an old Chinese phrase that means “adequate” or “barely acceptable” literally translates as “horse horse tiger tiger.” Obviously, the use of idiom and colloquialism similar to this can lead to serious confusion and laughter.
Simple misspellings of unfamiliar words can also lend a hint of the whimsical or wacky to a Chinglish translation. On menus, the word “carp” is frequently spelled with the middle two letters reversed, leading to extremely unappetizing-sounding dishes. Menus may also be one of the best areas to find inexplicable translations, such in the famous examples of “desktop meat” and “the usual speculation loofah”. Often, in these cases, Chinglish experts recommend laughing and not even trying to search for a logical explanation.