January 10, 2007

Is it down cigar head can pull out necessary?

The Language Log bat signal can be sent out from anywhere... even from an automobile work-light in northern Ghana. John Schaefer passes along the packaging from a Chinese-made work-light that his brother found in a store in the Ghanaian city of Tamale. The text on the package is an impressive piece of Chinglish found poetry.

You can click on the picture to the right for the full-sized image, or just follow along with this transcription, in five eloquent stanzas:

Operation method :
1 . The regular whole light of
magnet in the base and nece
ssary position
2 .  the fan-shaped tooth which
locks the organization
establishes the lamp holder
on different angle and position
3 . is it down cigar head
can pull out necessary
4 wire . insert some
cigarette device
5 in . finish using directly
cigar head to draw, in
the rotationoverlayed
before the wire is black
through the head is
deposited in  In the
shell of one

I particularly like the unexpectedly abrupt ending, with its Joycean echo of "A way a lone a last a loved a long the". John Schaefer appeals to Language Log for help with a number of imponderables:

I guess I want to know:
(1) Was this a case of reading across or down or otherwise backwards/sideways in the direct back-translation from the Chinese characters, or
(2) was it a case of the layout getting garbled in some computer program, or
(3) is it just somebody's best stab for packaging heading to anglophone Africa (where, really, nobody needs instructions to figure out how to work a flashlight)?
In any case, where did "cigar head" come from?

I have no good answers for any of these questions, though I assume "cigar head" refers to the plug that's inserted into the cigarette lighter. Further research may involve contacting the manufacturer, which I managed to track down through the wonders of Google. This particular item looks to be the TL1155 Spotlight, manufactured by Ningbo Taller Electrical Appliance Co., Ltd. (see here, here, and here). I propose a Language Log fact-finding mission to Ningbo Taller headquarters, located in the Simen Industrial Park of Ningbo, in China's Zhejiang province. From Ningbo we could then head out to Ghana for an on-site inspection of Tamale, before returning to the comfort of Language Log Plaza. I'd expect funding agencies to jump at the chance to underwrite this trip, since it's all in the name of improving cross-cultural understanding in this confusing era of globalization and transnational commodity flows.

[ Previous posts on Chinglish:
"Engrish explained" (3/11/06)
"A grander Chinglish" (5/15/06)
"Regale in basilica" (5/18/06)
"A less grand Chinglish" (5/30/06)
"GAN: Whodunnit, and how, and why?" (5/31/06)
"Further thoughts on the riddle of GAN" (6/3/06)
"The shrimp did what to the cabbage?" (9/11/06)
"And next, facial poo" (10/25/06) ]

Posted by Benjamin Zimmer at January 10, 2007 12:23 PM