Happy year of the Caprinae!

year-of-sheep-goat
in Chinatown

According to the Chinese zodiac, most of 2015 is the year of the 羊. The word 羊 (‘yáng’) can refer to both sheep and goats, hence the confusion over what to call this zodiac year in English (sheep/goat/ram). Wikipedia kindly informs me that the most accurate translation of ‘yáng’ would be Caprinae, a Latin word corresponding to the biological subfamily that encompasses sheep and goats.

Therefore, I wish you a happy year of the Caprinae.

Pesky conjunctions

The same taxi had two signs prohibiting eating and drinking. One said “no food and drinks” and the other said “no food or drink”.

“No food and drinks” is wrong. It assumes that the ‘no’ applies to one combined entity, food-and-drinks. One could imagine this syntax being valid if someone said, “You can’t come in, you have no suit and tie.”

It’s also weird that ‘food’ is treated as a noncount noun and ‘drink’ is treated as a count noun. It would sound slightly better, though still wrong, if the sign said “no food and drink”. Then I would, perversely, wonder whether it would be okay to have just food or just something to drink, as long as I didn’t have both. The ‘no’ doesn’t distribute, so “no food and drink” doesn’t mean “no food and no drink”.

Now I wonder why we don’t say “no food and no drink”. And what verb would you use? “No food and no drink is/are permitted in this taxi.”

I wonder why we don’t use ‘neither… nor’ on signs like this. “Neither food nor drink is permitted in this taxi” would be correct.

“No food or drink” sounds normal. At least, I thought it did. Now I’ve been thinking about it too much and everything sounds strange.

“No eating or drinking” would be good. It wouldn’t rule out someone bringing food and drink into the taxi, but perhaps that’s okay anyway. Certainly I’ve transported groceries, snacks and leftovers in taxis.

But not durians! Some taxis have signs specifically prohibiting them:

no-durian-in-taxi
“No Eating / Drinking”. That slash adroitly dodges the whole issue of the conjunction! Well done.

The reminder on the far right to “please state your preferred route” is to protect drivers from being scolded at the end of the trip for taking the surface streets when obviously going by the highway is faster, or for taking the highway when obviously going by the surface streets is cheaper, or whatever.

EKIT

Oops.

ekit
at Ryozen Kannon, Kyoto, Japan

It’s not like English needs the letter X anyway. Anything with an X in it could be spelled with some other letter or letters, usually ‘ks’ or ‘z’.

Of course, it’s possible to go too far in trying to simplify English spelling. It’s pretty much impossible not to, in fact, which is why no one since Noah Webster has really succeeded. (You have him to thank—or curse—for most of the differences between American and British spelling.)

Text illusion

A funny thing happened when I was reading this book.

The Story of My Experiments with Truth
The Story of My Experiments with Truth, the autobiography of Gandhi

What does this heading say?

XVII. COMPANIONS

I somehow read that as EVIL COMPANIONS. Because the ‘X’ looks like an ‘E’ and the period next to the ‘I’ makes the ‘I’ look like an ‘L’.

One reason why I think I was so ready to read ‘I.’ as an ‘L’ is that the print quality of the whole book was not so good, and letters or parts of letters were often missing. My eyes had gotten used to filling in ‘missing’ parts, and filled in an ‘L’ where there actually wasn’t one.

Reminds me of the time I misread ‘China Unicom’ as ‘China Unicorn’ early on when I was working for China Knowledge.

There’s a word for what happens when letters are too close together. Letter spacing is called ‘kerning’. Bad letter spacing is jokingly called ‘keming’.

“Have you left your valuables behind?”

This warning from the Singapore Police, spotted in a toilet stall in Cineleisure at Orchard is semantically equivalent to “Have you left all of your valuables behind?”

Although it is a somewhat plausible question, I think a better question would be one that has a slightly different meaning, less like “Have you left everything behind?” and more like “Have you left anything behind?”

“Please Watch Out For Your Belongings!”

This warning, spotted in The Clementi Mall, makes it sound like the belongings themselves are dangerous, like a sign that says “Beware of Dog” or “Watch Out for Falling Rocks”, though admittedly neither of those warnings starts with ‘please’.

Of course the intent is something like ‘take care of’, and ‘watch out for’ sometimes has this meaning. “Watch out for your children” means ‘keep a lookout’ so that they come to no harm, but the meaning doesn’t transfer to inanimate objects as nicely.

While we’re nitpicking, we might as well point out that the exclamation mark seems extraneous. No final punctuation is needed since the words are all capitalized. Alternatively, only one capital letter is needed, since it’s a sentence with end punctuation.

Pesky ‘with’

Dumex advertisement
at Block 610 bus stop

When I read this:

Dumex, proudly nurturing Singapore babies with global expertise and experience.

I thought, Wow, Singapore babies have global expertise and experience?

The preposition ‘with’ is ambiguous. It could mean ‘having’ (which is what I thought at first) or it could mean ‘using’ (which is what was intended).

Please be understood.

at The Central
at The Central

I spotted this hilarious Engrish sign at Book Mart at The Central. It is (I assume) not a joke but rather the best translation they could manage.

Thank you for usually favoring it more. This time I will perform store remodeling construction in the following schedule. I am so sorry, but a store is closed until November 3. I really trouble it, but it, please be understood.

I think it means:

Dear customers, thank you for your continued support. The shop will be closed for remodeling until November 3. We apologize for any inconvenience caused.

If you are looking for a better translation for “please be understood,” consider:

Thank you for understanding.
Thank you for your understanding.
Thank you for your kind understanding.