09 Jul

Chumble Spuzz!

A colleague of ours found this set of building blocks to help children learn English. One of the things that is so amazing about teaching English as a foreign language is that it forces you to rethink components of English you take for granted and experience the language in a completely new way. With that in mind, try to remember back...far back...to yourself at a more innocent time. A good start... I'd call that a good start. Classical. Conservative. Fruit is a frequently the first lexical group you present to children. They are objects the children have daily experience with, and everybody likes to eat. Sports are good, too. US vs. UK Two different presentations of "football" are going to be confusing for the tot, but a little bit of cognitive dissonance can be a good thing. In this rapidly globalizing world, it is important for children to realize as early as possible that all countries do things in their own special ways...and the United States of America does them correctly. As for the softball, you have to admit it makes more sense this way. Nobody is afraid of tennis balls. Have you ever been beaned with a softball? Ouch! Another good vocabulary lesson is animal words. You can even get in a bit of cultural exchange when you explain that animals in different countries make different sounds. For instance, in English, dogs say "bow-wow". In Chinese, they say "wang-wang". Interestingly, cats "meow" in both languages and, as such, can talk to each other. Yet another reason why they can't be trusted. Well, it's not REALLY a bear... Now, I don't mind the fact that the peacock is a turkey, and the rooster/hen confusion happens to plenty of people. King of Beasts is an honorific, a darning needle is a beautiful description of a dragonfly, and a mouse looking for a hand-out for his family could just as easily be considered in the plural. From what I've read "bear-cat" is the literal translation of panda in Chinese, so, while I think it is absurd that the kids aren't taught the English word in an English block set, I can understand. BUT, crustacea?!? For a ladybug?!? Chopper... The technical term for an overhead projector is an epidiascope, but have you ever heard anybody call it that? And I know you are used to calling it a satellite, but you'd be wise to learn the new phrase. 1.3 billion people are about to change your language. Mob just sounds dirty. Sorry. An armet is a two-piece helmet from 15th century with a moveable facemask. A navvy is apparently a steam-shovel. Coler sounds like a bastardization of koala, but maybe it is Australian English. Gee, I don't know. From this point, it just gets scary. This is Rush Limbaugh. This is Viagra. This is Rush Limbaugh on Viagra. Any Questions? I seriously doubt a "Manchurian Candidate" connection in the Hindenburg, Challenger and Columbia disasters. Still, with English lessons like these from childhood, we really wouldn't know... Defies explanation. Would we?
The title of this post is from one of Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes strips. For delightful misuse of Chinese, try Hanzi Smatter. Accusations of racism from Simplicitas have motivated me to bump the link in the comments below up to the main post. If you're interested in my thoughts on Chinglish, try this post: Shangri-La.


  1. 1 July 10, 2006 at 11:10 am

    I love it! “…you’d be wise to learn the new phrase. 1.3 billion people are about to change your language.” HAHA

  2. 2
    July 11, 2006 at 1:55 am

    oh my god, that’s awesome!
    i saw some pretty screwed up signs when i was there, but that’s pretty sad.

  3. 3
    July 11, 2006 at 11:02 pm

    I love it! Talk about Lost in Translation!! xoxoB

  4. 4 July 11, 2006 at 11:25 pm

    Those are awesome! Thanks for taking the time to photograph them… The world has benefited.

  5. 5 July 13, 2006 at 12:47 am

    That blocks set is one for the books! Who did they get to proofread those translations?! Talk about a good idea gone bad. Thanks for the laugh!

  6. 6
    August 6, 2006 at 3:40 am

    Adventures in Chinglish! Do bring a set of the blocks back for Molly’s baby – he/she will be miles ahead in the language labs. BTW – the English English for ladybug is ladybird – and my recollection is that a navvy is a digger (human) of canals and roads. As in – I had an appetite like a navvy as a child! heaps of luv and looking out for more

  7. 7 August 11, 2006 at 9:00 pm

    can i get a copy of those cards….i MUST have them!~

    ha ha ha….excellent blog!

    Hek El Chikano (estoy in Suzhou!)

  8. 8 November 3, 2006 at 4:43 pm

    the world has benefitted??
    They were v amusing though.

  9. 9 November 3, 2006 at 9:15 pm

    Hey guys, thanks for posting that on HHR, for some reason I missed it first time around and it’s feckin’ hilarious!!!

  10. 12
    November 22, 2006 at 8:54 am

    Thats china lol

  11. 13
    December 3, 2006 at 10:40 am

    As an ESL teacher, why does this NOT surprise me………

  12. 16
    April 30, 2007 at 8:54 pm

    Whoever did these translations really has “dick” on their face.

  13. 17
    Proud to be a Briton
    May 4, 2007 at 2:23 am

    In this rapidly globalizing world, it is important for children to realize as early as possible that all countries do things in their own special ways…and the United States of America does them correctly.

    How the hell is it the United Sates that does it correctly. The United States stole the British language and mutilated it. Then again, as you are Americans, you probably don’t know what the word mutilate means. It has more than 2 syllables, after all!

  14. 18 May 4, 2007 at 3:15 am

    @PTBAB: Crikey! I dare say you’ve become a bit too peeved, old chap! It was only a spot of humour. We yanks were just taking the mickey. Have a cup of tea and piss off!

  15. 19
    Another Brit
    May 4, 2007 at 12:42 pm

    And we Brits say Americans have no sense of irony! Calm down PTBAB.

  16. 20
    destroy the evidence!
    May 8, 2007 at 7:15 am

    gas pump = destroy the evidence…. brilliant!

  17. 21 May 10, 2007 at 10:19 am

    Where do you get the idea that Americans get it correct .Give me one recent example…

  18. 22 May 11, 2007 at 1:27 am

    @Macfish: Sure. At the recent state dinner welcoming Queen Elizabeth, Bush had the chicken; the Queen went with the fish.

    America: 1
    Britain: bubkes

  19. 23
    July 28, 2007 at 9:32 am

    In england dogs go woof woof, never heard anyone ever say they go bow wow

  20. 24
    January 2, 2008 at 4:11 am

    I think chinese use translator like the one from Google. Don’t be scared when you see “english” words mutilated like that… I speak french & i can tell you that chinese are better in english than in french:p

  21. 26 February 7, 2008 at 11:24 am

    Wonderful! They must have relied on someone who said he/she was fluent in English and had to avoid losing face by making up something for the stuff he/she didn’t know. What will some poor kid do when he reads of the mob rushing a celebrity? something like, “Why doesn’t he just walk away? Turtles are really pretty slow. …”

  22. 27
    February 8, 2008 at 9:07 am

    I can explain one of the oddities. A “gee” is a type of horse. There’s a line in Gilbert & Sullivan’s “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” from Pirates of Penzance in which the major-general rhymes “strategy” with “sat a gee.” A footnote to one edition explained that “sat a gee” meant “rode [that kind of] a horse.”

    But on the whole, these are mysterious, puzzling, and hilarious misuses of the dictionary.

    When I lived in Japan, it was common to see the word “violent” used where it would have been more appropriate to say “vigorous.” I didn’t understand this until I looked up the Japanese word “hageshii” and saw that it was defined as “1. violent, 2. vigorous.”

    I suppose that whoever designed those blocks looked up “ma” in the Chinese-English dictionary, saw it defined as “1. horse, 2. steed, …. 10. gee” and decided that s/he liked “gee” best.

  23. 28
    Nit-pickety persnickety
    February 8, 2008 at 9:17 am


    | gas pump = destroy the evidence…. brilliant!

    I think it’s supposed to be a fire extinguisher. At least that’s my guess since 火 means “fire” although my Chinese is probably just as bad as the English here… no strike that… it can’t be that bad…

    Wonderful post anyway!

  24. 29
    Grammar Nazi
    February 9, 2008 at 1:43 am

    Seriously… this is a pretty funny article, but c’mon, if you’re going to poke fun at someone else for their use of the English language, you should probably make some sort of attempt to get it right yourself. “One of the things you that is so amazing about teaching English as a foreign language”? What the hell does that even mean? That line is so twisted, it’s scary! “Have you ever been beamed with a softball? Ouch!” It’s not “beamed”, it’s “beaned”… with an “N”. That’s not even counting the numerous grammatical errors in your post. The idea behind the post is great, and funny… but making fun of someone else’s English skills in an article riddled with English errors just makes you look bad.

    [editor's note - Thanks, Grammar Nazi! Noted mistakes corrected. Numerous grammatical errors untouched.]

  25. 30
    The English Teacher
    February 9, 2008 at 5:25 am

    Actually, we’ve been busted. It was really a plot by me and my cohorts to really screw with the Chinese. THEY WILL NOT TAKE OVER THE WORLD!!! Just doing our part. ppppwwwwaaaahhahahahahahahaha

  26. 31
    Jim Parish
    February 10, 2008 at 4:09 am

    One more data point: “(Devil’s) darning needle” is a legitimate old folk-name for dragonflies.

  27. 32 February 10, 2008 at 4:39 am

    “Wecker” is German for “alarm clock.” At least the picture of a Volkswagen is in the right country.

  28. 33 February 10, 2008 at 9:49 am

    A navvy is a ditch-digger. The word comes from “navigation,” and goes back to when the canal network in Britain was being created.

    Roosters and hens are both chickens, just as stallions and mares are both horses.

    I wonder if the “dick” is somehow related to a “cock”….

  29. 34 February 10, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    There are so many wrong assumptions contained within this article that I don’t know where to begin to criticise; so I won’t.

    The writer obviously doesn’t understand much about Chinese culture or the ways in which language ability is acquired by Chinese children who must struggle to attain fluency in their native language. Not only must they learn to speak and listen to Putonqhua, they must as well master recognition of Hanzi Characters and Pinyin.

    These English blocks are just utilising English words and their related concepts or ideas in a way that a young Chinese learner is familiar with. And as just one tool in acquiring a second language, it does work well for Chinese kids, despite what any non-Chinese educator or linguistic theorist might believe. .

  30. 35 February 10, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    that was funny.

  31. 36
    February 10, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    gary mcgath: that’s not a volkswagen – it’s a citroen 2cv.

  32. 37
    February 10, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    Is this a joke? Where did your friend find these cards?
    It is impossible that these cards are really used in any kindergarten in China.
    In China, any person have even been educated in primary school will not make such kind of mistakes.

  33. 38 February 10, 2008 at 6:34 pm

    Wow! Who resurrected this post?

    People coming in looking for misuse of English in China might like A Little Crash. Those interested in my feelings on chinglish might like Shangri-La.

    @kitka: Thanks for the explanation
    @RM1: You’re absolutely right about chickens, of course. However, I feel that an image of a bull labeled cow would be confusing. My image of chicken and my image of rooster are different. Just me, I suppose.
    @Tattler: I won’t argue that I understand much about Chinese culture. I think that claim that there is one culture here to be understood is, as Charlie Bucket’s teacher would say, presumptuous and rude. I do take issue with your statement, though. You state the “blocks are just utilising English words and their related concepts or ideas.” I wasn’t really making a point with this post. It was all in good fun, but…and it’s a big BUT…if there is a point to be found, it’s that these words and their related concepts or ideas are completely unrelated to the images on the blocks. That’s what’s funny. See? Thanks for reading.
    @Cheng: They are from the RT-Mart in Jinzhou, Liaoning Province.

  34. 39
    Mall's Balls
    February 10, 2008 at 10:12 pm

    Interestingly in Finnish the word “Muna” (Egg) is used as a slang word for Penis – there must be some connection there that I just dont see.

  35. 40
    February 11, 2008 at 2:07 am

    I don’t know about the others, but I came here via Language Log, where they often have examples of mistranslations and pretty good explanations. It turns out that there is a very popular electronic dictionary for Chinese-English that often offers the most obscure (and sometimes obscene) meaning as THE translation. Perhaps it is responsible for this as well.

    Thank you for this fantastic post!

  36. 41
    February 11, 2008 at 2:35 am

    Do you think it was accidental or innocent? Perhaps it is a malicious plot to foment unrest and generally disturb the peace… as in:


    Now what do you think?

  37. 42 February 11, 2008 at 10:43 am

    Language Log linked this yesterday. That’s where all the traffic’s coming from.

  38. 43 February 11, 2008 at 11:11 am

    this made my day. hilarious, but it also highlights the need to teach english properly in countries where english isn’t even a second language, but more like a third/fourth/fifth one.

  39. 44
    Patrick King
    February 11, 2008 at 11:28 am

    Actually I have heard of an overhead projector referred to as an epidiascope. In my training as a meteorologist at Canadian Forces Base Trenton epidiascopes were used to project images of weather maps. But the maps weren’t transparent, they were paper maps received on a facsimile machine. The epidiascope had an intense lamp and the image was produced by reflection of light. It was especially fun when the paper (laces with chemicals) caught fire.


  40. 48
    February 11, 2008 at 9:51 pm

    i’m from korea. at work today, i was just proofreading a technical document that a korean translated and then an english native speaker reviewed. i found many of weird expressions there but couldn’t figure out how weird they were. they were grammatically correct but just sounded weird. i couldn’t comment on them because they were reviewed by a native speaker! i have NEVER thought that my english is as good as native speakers but.. what can i do for this? i just feel helpless. (is there any weird expressions? i really need to know.)

  41. 50
    February 12, 2008 at 8:58 am

    I found this via Fark…and enjoyed it very much. Thanks!

  42. 51
    February 12, 2008 at 8:59 am

    Just in case:

    I only read the comments in gray. If you said something funny against the maroon background, please repost appropriately!

  43. 53
    Just to Say
    February 12, 2008 at 9:56 am

    @Joshua: I see what you mean about the chickens of course, but as far as bulls and cows that you mentioned, they are not interchangeable since bulls are male and cows are female cattle. Incidentally, the blocks are hilarious no matter how you look at it.

  44. 54
    February 12, 2008 at 10:34 am

    American Heritage Dictionary definition for dragonfly: “Any of various large insects of the order Odonata or suborder Anisoptera, having a long slender body and two pairs of narrow, net-veined wings that are usually held outstretched while the insect is at rest. Also called Regional darning needle, Regional devil’s darning needle, Regional ear sewer, Regional mosquito fly, Regional mosquito hawk, Regional needle, Regional skeeter hawk, Regional snake doctor, Regional snake feeder, Regional spindle. Also called regionally Regional darner.”

  45. 55
    Hagga Nagga
    February 12, 2008 at 10:48 am


  46. 57
    February 12, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    What’s REALLY sad is that some of the commentors actually seem to believe these blocks are real.

    Photoshop, anyone? Maybe they should make one that says “Gullible”.

  47. 58
    February 12, 2008 at 12:42 pm

    by the way:

    Bow Wow is at least somewhat rare in North America and “America does everything right” is called IRONY!
    It’s pointing out the flawed method of popular American thinking, ignorant jackass!

  48. 59
    February 12, 2008 at 1:39 pm

    If crustacea are taken to mean animals with an exoskeleton, then i can see the connection with the ladybug.

  49. 60
    February 12, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    Ok that is officially the funniest thing I have seen in decades!

  50. 61
    The Chuckster
    February 12, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    Ha… the responses were funnier to read than the blocks what with the Yanks, the Brits, the killjoys and the grammar critics all with their panties in a wad. Keep uptight people… you’re entertaining!

  51. 63 February 12, 2008 at 10:26 pm

    ‘Lost in Translation’
    Here in Canada our national radio (CBC) has a weekly pop culture program aimed at the 20 something listener on Saturday called ‘Definitely NOT the Opera’ (the title a CBC insider joke).
    One of the recurring segments they do is called ‘Lost in Translation’. They take the lyrics to a popular song, then translate them via Google’s Bable Fish into some random language out of English. Then they take the translation and run it back into English again.
    The aim of the contest is for listeners to identify the song. Amazing how often this proves difficult to impossible!

    In Canada we use some weird version of British mixed with American versions of English, with an ever increasing addition of words from all over the rest of the world. I think we may see a certain amount of Chinese use words leaking over into International English (which certainly is NOT American Standard!). Imagine the language use seen in films like Blade Runner or Serenity…

  52. 64 February 12, 2008 at 11:27 pm

    Oh my god I can’t breath!

  53. 68
    February 13, 2008 at 1:05 pm

    the best part about the tank block is that the chinese word for tank is just the chinese phonetic of the english word (“tan ke”). amazing set of blocks! and to Cindy: who cares if they’re real? they’re hilarious!

  54. 69
    February 13, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    Please send me some of these!

  55. 70 February 13, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    ESL lessons brought to you by the same fine people responsible for the “Backstroke of the West” Star Wars Episode III translation.

  56. 71
    February 13, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    Check out http://www.engrish.com

    be prepared to laugh

  57. 72
    February 13, 2008 at 2:35 pm

    Do the Chinese characters match the pictures on the blocks?
    These blocks are hilarious, but, as one who has been humbled by the attempt to become fluent in just one “second language” (and it’s German, closely related to my native English) — I must ask, if we think this is amusing, could we do any better in Chinese? : ) At least they are trying to teach their kids foreign languages. I hope it’s better in Britain or Australia or Canada, but here in the U.S., most public schools don’t offer any foreign languages to the native English speakers. (Yeah, in some places, we’ll do “bilingual education” for the Spanish-speaking kids—but that’s aimed at getting them to speak English, not at letting the English speakers learn Spanish.) I think our “powers that be” would rather we didn’t know what other nations are saying about us, and themselves. Might destroy the myth that the way we live in the U.S. is the envy of the entire world.

  58. 73
    February 13, 2008 at 10:48 pm

    Could we do better in Chinese? Some of us would be smart enough to get some assistance. I have a small collection of instructions that came with various consumer items that were made in non-English-speaking countries, and some of them are appalling, much like these blocks. How hard can it be to find someone who actually speaks the language if you’re going to the effort to produce something for sale?

  59. 75
    February 14, 2008 at 4:28 am

    These are absolutely hilarious!!

    Here’s another somewhat related site…

    (actually this can help you avoid screwing up a translation if you keep trying until you find one that isn’t funny)

  60. 76
    Chinese guy
    February 14, 2008 at 8:44 am

    Well, lets just face the facts. China is a craphole. But on the scale of crap the Chinese make this is really down there. Im of the opinion that if a Chinese product doesnt kill you or harm your health or the health of your pets, then its actually a success. God knows the Chinese cant get anything right. Then again, I wonder how many toxic substances are in the wood and paper and ink used to make those blocks. Considering its from China I wouldnt give it to a toddler.

  61. 77
    February 14, 2008 at 3:29 pm

    Our Concise Oxford has this for ‘gee’:

    gee, gee’-gee, n. (colloq.) horse. [orig. child's wd, f. foll.]


    gee, gee’-ho, gee’-up, ints. of command to horse etc.: go on, go faster; (occas.) turn to right. [17th c., of unkl. orig.]

    Our Collins concise has only this for ‘gee’:

    gee interj. 1. Also: gee up! an exclamation, as to a horse or draught animal, to encourage it to turn to the right, go on, or go faster. – vb. gees, geeing, geed. 2. (usually followed by up) to move (an animal, esp. a horse) ahead; urge on [C17: from?]

    So the little block; ‘gee’ for horse, seems to be correct. Could it be that American cowboy movies, with their Gee-ups!, influenced this translation?

  62. 79
    The Limey
    February 14, 2008 at 9:46 pm

    ‘Gee-gee’ is common English slang for a horse. You’ll quite often hear someone say they’re going to have a flutter on the gee-gees (ie they’re going to place a bet on a horse race). It is always ‘gee-gee’, never just ‘gee’, but you can see where they got the word for the block.

  63. 82
    February 15, 2008 at 12:41 am

    People had some rather serious sounding comments. It must suck to go through life without a sense of humor.

  64. 83
    February 15, 2008 at 1:57 am

    It takes a lot to make me laugh but this FREAKIN CRACKED ME UP SO HARD!! I’m at work so I’m trying not laugh too hard. I lived in China for a few years so to me this is doubly funny!!

  65. 84
    My Name
    February 15, 2008 at 6:31 am

    “Panzer” is german for “tank”
    “Wecker” means alarm clock :)

  66. 85
    February 15, 2008 at 7:04 am

    hmm….i want to see the children who looked at these to try and speak english lol 8)

  67. 86
    February 15, 2008 at 7:18 am

    OH! Where can I get a set???

  68. 87
    February 15, 2008 at 7:31 am

    US does everything right…. Yeah right, I’m with the Brits on this one, American English is the most bastardized dialect of it in the world. You ever notice it’s called “English” as in from “England”, Seppo? Americans only have compatriots like this guy to blame for being the most hated people on Earth.

    Also. peacock was correct, if you could read Chinese you’d know they match up. And the only dog I know that goes bow wow is Snoop, dogs go woof woof….

  69. 88
    February 15, 2008 at 10:55 am
  70. 90
    February 15, 2008 at 5:36 pm

    ‘Gee’ is Dublin slang for a lady’s fi-fi.

  71. 91 February 15, 2008 at 6:00 pm
  72. 92
    February 15, 2008 at 7:58 pm

    I grew up on a farm breeding Tennessee Walkers and Hauflingers, but I’ve never once heard of a horse being called a gee. In the old western movies they usually said something closer to “giddy-up”. That’s what most American kids say when they are on a horse for the first time. We never once trained a horse to respond to that though.

    Arguing about the differences between English dialects is as ignorant as proclaiming one to be correct. There is no standing body that controls English like there is for French. It’s interesting that English has all, but completely, replaced French as the lingua franca despite the lack of a governing force. Besides, English has been a mutt language for a long time.

    I love these blocks. Especially the Enron gas pump.

  73. 93 February 15, 2008 at 10:11 pm

    “The technical term for an overhead projector is an epidiascope, but have you ever
    heard anybody call it that?”

    Actually yes, granted it was at a MENSA conference.

  74. 94
    February 15, 2008 at 11:45 pm

    yeah the peacock block is correct it says ‘Kong que’ in the characters, but the picture show a Turkey! which would be ‘Huo Ji’. If a kid got these blocks I wouldnt worry as children in China use many sources to learn English from and they would not be able to pronounce the ones from the blocks anyway except maybe ‘Dick’ but some one would more than lightly correct them.

  75. 96 February 16, 2008 at 12:25 am

    I’m speechless

  76. 97
    Polar City Blues
    February 16, 2008 at 5:33 am

    Epidiascope? Well that’s my vocabulary increased for the day.
    In exchange, let me say that ‘gee’ is a very old British English word for horse, still used by horsey-types (including but not limited to those with polished accents and enough money to own, or at least move in, horse-owning circles) and the baby-talk version of horse, ‘gee-gee’, is even more common.
    ‘Gee-up’ is also a verbal command to a horse to walk on and I seem to remember reading that ‘gee’ is descended from ‘ree’, a stockman’s command for a horse or ox to come right, ‘hey’ being the word for it to come to the left.
    Oh yeah. Navvy. Yup, this one’s from the time of the surge in British canal building. The canal workings were called ‘navigations’ and a labourer digging them became known as a navvy.
    While I’m here, I’m going to drop the reminder that American English is based on the English spoken by the first British immigrants. Some American terms and usages that Brits throw their hands up at are actually ones that have died out in Britain but have maintained in The States.
    If English were a plant it would be a very adaptable weed; grass, for instance. It can exist from the edge of the sea to almost anywhere there is soil on the side of a mountain. It has different varieties and it can be wild and uncontrolled or manicured to within an inch of its life. But it’s still grass, even if the grass here looks a bit different to the grass over there.
    Yes, it’s a helluvalotta fun to laugh at the way everybody else cuts their grass, but remember, the more of it there is, the easier it is to buy fertiliser at 2AM on a Tuesday in Reykjavik. Even if they don’t mow it the right way.

    Damnit. I need to go and blog about something…

  77. 98
    February 16, 2008 at 8:49 am

    Thing is, the Chinese characters on the gas pump say “fire extinguisher”!

  78. 101 February 17, 2008 at 6:29 pm

    Yes, this is old news folks! These are not jumble fucks its a military code for the youngest budding PLA branch de-fucked struct whore machines. These blocks once memorised will program a sequences of auto commands into the childs brain. Army training they say is accelerated ‘quack deformnet panzer tank brigade’…hmmm…i think they meant quick deployment…but thats the problem the code works successfully but trying to make sense with graduates using these techniques is difficult. In Bejiing last year at the PLA Academy’s canteen I asked in basic english for some toast with egg and cheese please…my somewhat startled guide pulled me away cautiously to avoid a scene. In my ingnorance of the Chumble Spuzz complications in everyday China, I had apparently said : ” My Dick is bigger than a whole plane”!!

  79. 102
    February 17, 2008 at 10:52 pm

    the blocks are interesting, and some are beautiful – but don’t laugh too hard. I deal every day with statements written by US residents (yes, English-speaking, with generations of English-speaking ancestry) and constantly find errata. Also, in news-media, I cannot believe how many times I have heard that someone was “killed after the accident” – what, did someone come up and shoot the person in the street? alternatively, I once worked in a store where a shipment of children’s slickers made in Hong Kong were labeled with colors: red, blue, green, jellow.

  80. 103
    February 18, 2008 at 3:55 am

    In Spanish, dogs go GUAU GUAU!

  81. 105 February 20, 2008 at 12:01 am

    Holy Laugh! :D

  82. 107
    February 22, 2008 at 8:40 pm

    pretty darn hectic $h!t

  83. 108
    February 22, 2008 at 9:51 pm

    Is/was wecker a brand of car, like kleenex for tissue? I found a display of rolls royce and ford weckers in a Guangzhou restaurant:

  84. 110
    February 22, 2008 at 10:39 pm

    I grew up in the mountains of North Carolina, and most of my friends called dragon flies ‘darning needles’. Also, our high school mascot was a bearcat. I never thought we’d really be the panda’s! Cool, but not, ya know, very intimidating. OTOH, I want a picture of the ‘mice’ to put on a tee shirt. That’s incredible!

  85. 115 February 23, 2008 at 1:31 am

    In Mexico, “pavo” means turkey or peacock or grouse or pheasant (any galliform but a chicken), so i am not surprised that turkey and peacock got confused in Chinese also. Some of the others are harder to understand. The term “bearcat” is correct in English, though it’s usually used only for the red panda, not the giant panda. Dragonflies are called darning needles by many English speaking people.

    I understand the French dogs say “bu-bu”.

    If you want to call your sport football, play it with a football. American football (gridiron), Aussie rules, Rugby league, and Rugby union are all football. If you replace the oblate spheroid with a sphere, that’s soccer, not football.

  86. 116
    February 24, 2008 at 1:40 am

    Looks like whomever designed the blocks had access to a very VERY old English dictionary.

  87. 117 February 24, 2008 at 10:40 am

    It is nice to see this type of mishaps are everywhere.

    This also would inspire someone to learn another language, even if it is just to find some errors & have a good laugh.

    For me, I maintain Hanzi Smatter (www.hanzismatter.com) to pick on non-Chinese & non-Japanese speakers.

    At the same time, I would show this (a young lady wearing a sweater with “fucking” on it):


    Ah, what goes around, comes around.

  88. 119 February 25, 2008 at 4:14 pm

    Oh god, I laughed so hard I cried…

  89. 121 February 26, 2008 at 7:42 am

    Hey there, would you be terribly offended if I made a couple of live journal icons from these pictures?

  90. 123
    Adrian Armstrong
    February 26, 2008 at 8:54 pm

    Cool page!
    Thought you might like to know that Navvy is English slang for anyone who works on the roads, which is probably where the digger connections comes from.
    The Irish that came over and built most of our roads over the last few centuries were referred to as Navvy’s.

    Regards from London.

  91. 126 February 29, 2008 at 10:13 pm

    Maybe the “Gee” comes from “Gee Gee” – the horse races are sometimes called the “gee gee’s” in the uk. ???

  92. 128
    March 1, 2008 at 11:29 am
  93. 132 March 12, 2008 at 6:06 am
  94. 135
    Mei Guo Ren
    March 21, 2008 at 3:45 am

    To that Korean guy.

    Yeah, English, like all languages, has colloquial phrases that seem to defy conventional grammatical wisdom. That said, native speakers may not even notice using them because they are so familiar.

  95. 137
    March 29, 2008 at 6:04 am

    Chinese are completely retarded. They can’t do anything right.

  96. 138 April 3, 2008 at 6:00 pm

    Pat, you’re an idiot. Thanks for stopping by.

  97. 139
    April 4, 2008 at 7:52 am

    Destroy the evidence? Crustacea? Epidiascope ?
    I don’t believe these are real. Maybe some of them make sense as weird twisted translations but you would not put a picture of an overhead projector or a chain saw on a set of blocks. Or try to get them to pronounce the words and phrases on those blocks when you’ve so many more common and easy words to teach like fake, and phony. Are these ‘children’ supposed to be over 16 years old? You’ve fabricated this post.

  98. 140 April 4, 2008 at 6:38 pm


    You’re absolutely correct. I fabricated this post…in the sense that I wrote it, I constructed it, and I manufactured it. I fabricated the post, but not the blocks. Somebody fabricated them, too, but it wasn’t me.

    In short, I Assembled, not DIssembled.

    However, I COMPLETELY agree with your first point. The overhead projector and chainsaw are incredibly strange items to include in a set of blocks. With that argument, I think you do a better job of proving the blocks are real. In other words, why the hell would I pick bizarre objects to attach absurd mistranslations to, when everyday objects would work just as well?

    These blocks were cardboard cubes. An adhesive-backed, printed face had been stuck carelessly to each side of the cube. You can see where the sticker is peeling back in a couple of the pictures. I didn’t take pictures of all of them – just the ones I thought were funny. One of the faces adjacent to “Destroy the Evidence” is a picture of a pumpkin. It reads “Cushaw”. I don’t know what a cushaw is. Maybe it’s another word for pumpkin. It’s upside-down and backwards. You can just barely see it in the picture.

    I’ve been accused of GIMPing these blocks. That’s (adding the “cushaw” for effect) too ridiculous an extent to go to in order to set up a joke. I’m much too lazy for that. Besides, I’m not that good with GIMP.

    Believe these exist or don’t. Either way, if you come to China, don’t carry your “you would not…” with you. YOU WOULD be surprised at the things YOU WOULD see here. Check out MF’s Flickr page for an idea of how bizarre the content gets.

    I’ve also been accused of making these blocks up to make Chinese people look bad. I’ve loved living here, and I’ve loved the people we’ve met. I don’t think the blocks make anybody look bad, with the exception of idiots like the Pat above.

  99. 142
    April 25, 2008 at 5:32 am

    america sucks balls.

  100. 143
    April 26, 2008 at 5:49 pm

    Having lived in China and Taiwan I can vouch for toys like this actually being in existance. I bought some bilingual cards and books for my son that have similar, but not nearly as hilarious, mistranslations. Mistakes like the ones on the toys are common because companies won’t check to see if translations are accurate. I personally believe this contributes in a small way to poor English skills of some non-native English speakers.

  101. 145
    May 20, 2008 at 8:54 am

    Have you heard Chinglish?I am worriying abaut Chinglish.Because I can not speak English well.Give me some idears please.

  102. 146 July 6, 2008 at 2:48 am

    Wow this is amazing. Very well written

  103. 150
    October 5, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    wow as for americans stealing?
    i know my self that if it wasnt for the germans no on would speak english so its the brits who stole the language the germans helped on that after all
    btw as an american and english teacher here in china ihave realized that the reason china has chinglish its because of the brits confusing the hell of the chinese and teaching all wrong
    its color not colour its mom not mum
    mum = flower you dumb arse

  104. 151
    October 5, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    these cards i see as true
    how ever most english speaking teaching do not reside or live or teach in area’s that are not in shanghai or beijing etc i am in hefei there are books that would piss you off to the point that calling them country people in chinese is so pointless as their so called chinese english teachers are a laugh to begin with

  105. 153
    October 20, 2008 at 10:50 am

    anyways, i get it, you see, ‘dick’ is also ‘cock’ which is related to ‘hens’ which lays ‘eggs’…

  106. 155
    Jobs In Pakistan
    February 23, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    I think the English is a international language.His learning is must for every person.

  107. 156 October 18, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    I dont understand how someone can get the translations soooo off the mark. Even if all you had was a single Chinese to English dictionary, you could get pretty accurate translations. Laziness?

  108. 157
    February 1, 2010 at 9:06 pm

    The blocks are available in most South East Asian countries…and dated as far back as I can remember as a child. Talk about the toxic materials in those blocks but who cares..any ambitious mom or teacher want children in their care to learn English the fun way. And fun it was …for a while…

  109. 158 July 27, 2010 at 11:06 pm

    I’d like to think that these are a REALLY old set of learning blocks and that today people have more than a dictionary to check their translations. Therefore, I think that such mistranslations aren’t as common today. (This is at least my hope since I haven’t been to China.)

    Thank you for sharing! And the blocks actually do teach us all something; we should have patience with others when they speak English if it is not their native language.

  110. 159 August 19, 2010 at 11:42 am

    This blocks are very helpful for student children they can easily lean English.

  111. 160 October 8, 2011 at 1:41 am

    Don’t laugh. 1.3 billion people can’t be all wrong, and they have different methods of teaching English

49 Trackbacks

  1. November 4, 2006 at 1:35 am

    Chumble Spuzz!…

    Check out this set of twisted building blocks. Is it a case of innocent mistranslation or pre-school indoctrination for agents provocateurs? You decide….

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  21. [...] E is for Epidiascope… [...]

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  24. February 18, 2008 at 8:50 am

    Destroy The Evidence…

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  36. March 1, 2008 at 2:39 am

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