Messy in translation

I was enjoying yum cha at a Chinese restaurant in Bayswater, west London. Yap said to me, ‘Do you know that word?’ He pointed to this character.

‘Luàn,’ I read. I knew this word. My mum had always lamented at how luàn my bedroom was. ‘It means messy.’

‘Ah,’ Yap nodded. He smiled. ‘Are you sure?’ Yes, I was sure, but then Yap pointed to the small print underneath the character.

Oh. Perhaps my mum had been more distressed about the state of my room than I thought.


  1. mr joel says:

    There was a recent case of a scientific journal which decided to highlight asian science by putting some chinese characters on the cover. Apparently to a non-native speaker the text sounded innocent, but on closer reading it turned out to be a euphemistically worded ad for a brothel.

  2. Cobi says:

    This is fantastic Joan! Hilarious. It reminds me of a hooded jumper I bought in Norway this year and wore to volleyball one week, which apparently is from a Japanese brand.

    My Japanese teammate said “that’s a cool hoodie, do you know what the label means?”

    She explained it meant ‘clothing brand’. We were initially confused and she eventually convinced us that it did indeed mean just ‘clothing brand,’ almost like ‘no logo’. So it was a highly sensible translation, just unexpected.

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