Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Sarah Palin in Chinese

In the interest of getting everyone super-excited to get out and vote, I have revisited this important topic: Wacky translations of U.S. candidates' Chinese names.

Previously I revealed the translations of the Chinese names of U.S. presidential candidates/hopefuls. But now that we have the VPs settled as well, it is about time to disclose how these two people - Joe Biden and Sarah Palin - are named in the Chinese press. Their names are two more classics in the 'messed-up-out-of-context-literal-translation' category.

Let's start with everyone's favorite right-wing mooseslayer Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. (莎拉佩林, sha1 la1 pei4 lin2). Her first name, Sarah, is composed of two characters: 莎 sha1; 拉 and la1.

The first character actually has two pronunciations: sha1 and suo1. Read "suo," it is a type of sedge grass apparently used to make ancient raincoats. The "sha" pronunciation is generally used as a phonetic element in foreign names like Shakespeare and Mona Lisa. But it also has a third meaning: a type of insect. The "sha"-bug is a katydid or long-horned grasshopper, otherwise known in Chinese as the (纺织娘 fang3 zhi1 niang2), which literally means "weaving girl." (I don't get it either.)

The second part of Sarah is "la1." Also a favorite with phoneticizers, this character actually means "to pull." OK onto the last name: 佩林 pei4 lin2, which in Chinese sounds pretty close to the English pronunciation.

Pei4 has multiple meanings including "to carry or hang off of," "admire," and "girdle ornament." The last refers to the practice in ancient China where women used to wear jade ornaments that hung off of their belts. And...

Lin2 is composed of two "wood" radicals, and therefore means "woods," or "forest."

Let's recap: Sarah Palin's name in Chinese means: "Katydid pulls the girdle-ornament forest."

OK, on to Obama's running mate, Sen. Joe Biden (乔拜登 qiao2 bai4 deng1). Biden's name is usually written as just a 2-character transliterated surname: 拜登, bai4 deng1. The "qiao" part is supposed to sound like "Joe." Here's how it breaks down:

Qiao2 means tall or lofty. It is also a real Chinese surname, so it gives his name a slight air of authenticity, though here is it supposed to sound like his first name, Joe.

Bai4 means to bow, or kowtow, or to worship.

Deng1 means to scale, climb, or to mount.
Not terribly exciting, but in a nutshell Biden's name means: Tall kowtows and mounts. But, if we take the qiao2 to be "Joe" and combine it with Obama's Chinese name we have a more interesting-sounding final Democratic ticket:

Joe kowtows and mounts Mysterious sticky horse.

Who wouldn't vote for that?

Note: I admit that the title of this post is a shameless attempt to have Google find my blog, just in case someone searches for how to say Palin's name in Chinese.


Susan said...

brilliant as always; what do the Chinese make of her? After her name what does the rest of a typical article say? Also, Don't you have to pay to be included in a Google search? Keep the blogs coming...a fan

Ben Moger-Williams said...

thanks 'fan'
I will try to find some info on what they think of her - good idea! If you pay Google you get better listing, but people find this blog randomly by searching in it.

Anonymous said...

Ben, how come I never discovered Michala's blogs?!! I tried to comment on them, but since I do not have a google/blogger ID and it did not offer the "anonymous" option, I could not.. so I'll just stick it on yours for now :)

"Michala, I look forward to meeting you sometime soon. Looking at the pictures you posted of you guys' hiking and camping adventures and riding River, I AM JEALOUS!!!! I would so love to hike and camp in that gorgeous landscape! And horseback riding - OMG! River looks awesome! ~Vince~"

Rachelle said...

Indeed, I found your site on Google while trying to find out Palin's name in Chinese. Hahaha. :)

Ben Moger-Williams said...

It worked! Thanks Rachelle