What is Going On Here?!

Chinese culture is pretty darn epic. With over 4,000 years of history, mythology and a culture somewhat obsessed with dragons and shiny things the Chinese language sometimes has really awesome and fanciful ways of referring to various everyday items or ideas. It’s hard to notice these things unless you really look at it closely or you learn Chinese as a second language since most of the epicness (that is not a word, by the way) in the language has been devalued through everyday use.

To make it even better there are people who get paid solely to make up epic sounding names for things. A lot of Chinese products (especially medicines) actually have vastly awesome names or taglines or poetry on its package that do not survive localization and translation because epic names that come out of martial arts epics and poetry that express the miraculous effects of the product are often short and witty and jingly in Chinese they sound unwieldy and hard to market in English.

Also, there’s the Curse of Transliteration. China has this wonderful idea that by simply transliterating the names of their products into English it is an acceptable form of branding and that English speakers perfectly understand that Ban Lan Gen Chong Ji is some form of instant herbal drink mix. Actually, they don’t. They do this for two reasons: so they have an English name for their product and can legally sell it aboard to Chinese people and so they have an English name on their product which automatically makes the product look more awesome to Chinese consumers who do not actually read English.

So here’s my goal: to translate Chinese names for things as literally, archaically and epically as possible. I don’t claim that many of the literal translations you see on post titles are accurate descriptions of the items. However I will try to explain where the epic translations come from in the Chinese. And maybe toss in some history or other random facts and stuff for good measure. The original scope of this web site only covered commercial products, but that quickly changed to incorporate the general scope of improper nouns as well. At some point I may also start with idioms and poetry and music, because there’s a lot of cool stuff there.

Who Are You? Why Are You Doing This?

Hi! I’m Wing. I am a teacher in Vermont. I know Chinese (Cantonese) as my native language and learned Chinese (Mandarin) as a “second” language while learning how to sing Tiananman Square protest songs when I was six. At some point in time I had the chance to learn Chinese (Min Nan) but I did not; that’s a story for another time. Suffice to say I also know English pretty darn well. You should take a look at my web site if you want to know more about me or visit my other projects.

The main reason why I started doing this blog is because I notice things about languages and I want to talk about them. One thing that keeps coming back to my thoughts is that Chinese is amazing at containing a lot of information in very few characters. Another thing is that, especially in marketing, there’s a whole lot of hyperbole that goes on. Thus Epic Chinese Things was born.

The main reason why I kept doing this blog (I meant it to be a one month, maybe, project) is because I keep noticing more and more things about how we use flourish in the Chinese language and how things sound somewhat archaically awesome when wrestled into English in slightly twisted ways. And I really want to keep practicing my translation skills. And I’ve heard that people actually read this and sometimes even use them for Chinese learning. And I like talking about cool things a lot.

So there you have it. If you enjoyed something or you used something here when learning/teaching a language let me know in the comments. Do keep in mind that this is not a 100% authentic educational blog (I get sassy a lot) though I do try to keep the linguistics and history correct. In any case, I hope you enjoy this!

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One Response to “About This Blog”

  1. Venyamína Says:

    Wing, this site is bloody awesome! I love linguistics, and have tried dozens of times to speak Mandarin with Buddhist nuns and restaurateurs (but I think my tones were imperfect, and since they turned their heads inquisitively when I spoke, I’d assume that I said something about a dead horse, instead of just “hi, how are you?”), but it’s just so cool to see someone with a philological bent explaining the intricacies of Chinese.

    I found this site through your Genderfork submission. You’re cool, friend! (:

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