‘Ticket-holding fits’? (lost in translation)

Have you ever been so excited to ride a boat that you had ticket-holding fits? Perhaps, but I don’t think that’s what the translator of a certain Chinese sign meant.

A photo on Leonie Doyle’s blog (Lightlyskipping) shows a sign for tourists in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province in Southern China. “To the boat(s) for ticket-holding fits” is the English translation.

The full Chinese is very different from the English, so I’ll save it for below. Let’s just start with the “fits” part. Usually, these bad translations come from the fact that Chinese words, like English words, can have multiple meanings and the wrong meaning can get translated. (Professor Victor Mair sometimes posts about these on Language Log, such as here, here, and here.) But in the Chinese on this sign (assuming the characters are representing Mandarin Chinese and not potentially differing meanings in the local Wu) nothing seems to also mean “fit.”

This seems instead to be a visual confusion of characters:

  • 旅游 (lü3you2, traditional: 旅遊 ), “tour” in “tour group” on the sign and
  • 放好 (fang4hao3), “fit” in the sense of “to place/store (something) well.”

Thus, “To the boat(s) for ticket-holding [tourists]” is probably what they meant.

The full Chinese is:

mai3hao3 chuan2piao4 de5 lü3ke4 (fei1lü3you2tuan2dui4) qing3 you2ci3 pai2dui4 cheng2chuan2
(traditional: 買好船票的旅客(非旅遊團隊)請由此排隊乘船。)
“Travelers who plan to buy boat tickets (non-tour group) please thus line up to ride the boat.”
(more fully: Travelers who get ready to ride the boat by buying the necessary boat tickets (non-tour group) please thus line up.)

Again, the corrected English is:

“To the boat(s) for ticket-holding [tourists]”

So, the sign tells Chinese readers without tickets to line up and implies that English readers with tickets can go right ahead. I don’t think it helps that they added the “international” symbol for line up / queue up: a woman and a man standing behind another man who has one leg raised as if he’s about to start hopping.

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