Thursday, January 31, 2013

Mando-lish-nese: the trilingual bookstore name

In the heart of Hong Kong's Causeway Bay (the shopping district with the highest rent in the world, higher even than New York's Fifth Avenue, and double that of Tokyo's Ginza district), I saw this book store:

... and the name of the place really intrigued me. You can see it better here:

If I were to tell you that the English name is derived from the Chinese name, would you believe me? Possibly not, so let me take you through my logic ...

  • 樂文 = Luck-Win  (In Simplified characters it's 乐文, but ignore that for now - this is HK)
  • You probably know 樂 from 快樂 (kuàilè = happy, S=快乐) - and 樂 by itself means 'happy', not 'lucky'
  • Similarly 文 is from 文化 (wénhuà = culture), and 文 by itself means 'culture' not 'win'
So what's going on?
  • The first clue is that 文 is pronounced wén in Mandarin, and that sounds exactly like 'win'
  • But that hasn't solved the problem, because 樂 is pronounced 'le' and not 'luck'
  • So now we leap across to Cantonese, where 樂 is actually pronounced 'lok', and yes - that does sound a little like 'luck'
So I thought that was cute - like many Chinese brands, the name of the book store is so positive (Luck-Win), and actually the English name can be derived from Chinese ... but not from the meaning of the characters, only from the pronunciation.  And even better than that, one comes from Cantonese pronunciation, and one comes from Mandarin pronunciation.

I think my next project will be an online Mando-lish-nese dictionary. Clearly there is need for something like that :-)

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