An article by Andrew Jacobs in The New York Times gives some wonderfully wacky illustrations of English as it is written and spoken today in China—e.g., the Dongda Anus Hospital for what should be the Dongda Proctology Hospital, restaurants offering “fried enema” instead of “fried sausage,” and signs in parks which urge visitors to treat grass humanely, with such admonisments as “The Little Grass Is Sleeping. Please Don’t Disturb It” or “Don’t Hurt Me. I Am Afraid of Pain.” Lawncare today, perhaps human rights tomorrow. But, I digress.
Visiting Hong Kong some years ago, I was amused to see the following sign posted by the stairwell of a fancy department store: “Foreign Ladies Have Fits Upstairs.” And in Japan back in the early 1970s, when tourists were urged not to eat fresh fruits or raw vegetables because Japanese farmers were still using night soil to fertilize their fields, the Tokyo Hilton had elegant little placards on the tables in their dining facilities, which proclaimed that “all the fruits and vegetables served in this restaurant have been washed in water personally passed by the chef.” And my favorite story of all is the one that a friend recounts about the early wake-up call he left at his Tokyo hotel. When the wake-up call came as requested, at four in the morning, the ominous voice at the other end of the telephone line said, “Sir, your hour has come!”
But, why pick on the Chinese or the Japanese for trying to learn the logic and nuances of the English language? When I first started to teach Freshman and Sophomore English at the University of Kansas in the 1970s, a group of us instructors had great fun compiling the gems we found in the essays written by our students. I still remember some of them.
“Inductive reasoning is done inside the brain, while deductive reasoning is done outside the brain.”
“The wild, wild west was a gun-flinging society.”
“I want to mar a woman just like my father marred.”
“I’m the first person in my family to go to collage.”
“In the play The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, Laura’s leg keeps coming up between her and other people.”
Growing up Chinese in the Philippines in the 40s and 50s, learning to speak and write English first with the Jesuits at the Ateneo de Manila, and then with the Christian Brothers at De La Salle College, I never dreamed that I would spend most of my adult life in an institution of higher learning in Kansas, teaching native speakers of English how to speak and write their own language properly. These days, with all our students texting and tweeting, throwing out the once-sacred rules of grammar, spelling and punctuation, I’m starting to think of Chinglish and Japlish as the Queen’s English. Capisce? Or is that Kapish?