標點符號的笑話 – the importance of commas

Whenever I feel there’s a progress in my Cantonese there’s always something popping out. Usually it’s reading stuff on the Internet. Have you ever had that feeling that you think you know what you read about and then there’s tiny little stroke hidden somewhere and it turns out that the whole thing is wrong?

At this point I keep getting mad and upset (especially when I’m on a diet – constant hunger + frustration = run for your life) but my husband thinks it’s just hilarious. To make my frustration even bigger he recently found out a site called UpMud9 which provides scans, screens etc. of news containing what we call in my country ‘printing gremlin‘ – all kind of mistakes that weren’t seen before printing a newspaper or publishing news online.

Sometimes it’s not even matter of stroke but where you put (or don’t put) space or comma, what order do you use to write a sentence or simply how the reader will see it.
Site is quite new so there’s not much to read but from all the pictures posted there I decided to pick 5 most confusing or simply most funny (in my opinion) titles and translate them for you, showing how tricky it can be – even for a native speaker like my husband!

Original titleimage

How you should read it
特殊校 長期病生 染甲流亡
Special school’s student with long history of sickness got H1N1 and died.

How we read it
特殊校長 期病  生染甲流亡
Special principal expected getting sick, got H1N1 and died.

Why? Because 校長 combined give ‘principal’ but 長期 means ‘long-term’. With no space between signs (or maybe I’m more blind than I thought) it’s almost impossible for me to know how it should go.

Original title

How you should read itimage
Song becomes mature (he used to be naughty), sick mom feels happy about it.

How we read it (and believe me – not only us)
Son got STD (sexually transmitted disease), mom feels happy about it.

Why? Because 性 means sex but also it means character, personality so 生&性 make together ‘more mature’, ‘growing’ but 性 & 病 make ‘venereal disease’. And to make it fair – according to my husband when you divide the whole sentence to 5 and 5 sounds… it’s rhymes. Best. Short poem. Ever.

Original title

How you should read itimage (1)
American medias claim that Kim Jong-un provided prostitutes for a basketball player.

How it was written
American medias claim that Kim Jong-un sexually served basketball player.

Why? If you pay attention in the original title at the end you have only 2 signs after 性 and the two of them together mean service. When you add sex and service is the  First Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, the Chairman of the Central Military Commission, First Chairman of the National Defence Commission of North Korea, the Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army, and presidium member of the Politburo of the Workers’ Party of Korea who is doing some naughty stuff. No wonder Dennis Rodman sang for his birthday. 

Original name
楊怡 – also known as Tavia Yeung Yi, Hong Kong actress mentioned in the title.
Her first name should mean Joy, Glad, Harmony.
image (2)
How they made it in the newspaper
楊枱 – since that they she became… Yeung Desk. Knowing how some people in Hong Kong pick their English names I wouldn’t be surprised if she one day changed it to Desk. And yes, I’m looking at you – Eating, Oreo, Iceland and others.

Why? Just an accident. Honestly I had problems on my computer to see the difference between the signs, I had to copy them and paste to MS Word, then make them 42 size. Finally I saw there’s and extra stroke on the top and the one on the left hand side is touching the middle one.
Don’t worry if you’re not famous but you want your name to be written in a wrong way there’s still chance for you! My husband’s teacher name was 賢 which means ‘Harmony, Virtuous‘ but he ended up as Leung Kidney – 腎.

At the end if you’re still not convinced on how big difference a comma or space can make… I present you – the ultimate example, probably most famous among all of today’s presented. I won’t re-write every sentence, just click on the picture. I will be writing them from left all the way down, finishing on right hand site.

The last one is the original title: Father suspected of raping son’s girlfriend. Father got arrested.

  • Father suspected of raping son. Girlfriend got arrested.
  • Father suspected of raping son and daughter. Friend got arrested.image (1)
  • Father suspected of raping son and girlfriend. Got arrested.
  • Father suspected of raping (not specified who he raped). Son’s girlfriend arrested.
  • Father suspected of raping (not specified who he raped). Son and son’s girlfriend arrested.
  • Father suspected pf raping (not specified who he raped). Son, daughter and friend got arrested.
  • Father suspected of raping (not specified who he raped, but sign can be read also as a ‘child’). Son’s girlfriend got arrested.
  • Father suspected of raping (not specified who he raped, but sign can be read also as a ‘child’). Father’s girlfriend and son got arrested.
  • Father suspected of raping (not specified who he raped, but sign can be read also as a ‘child’). Son, daughter and friend got arrested.
  • Father suspected of raping (this one is specific for son). Son, daughter and friend got arrested.
  • Father suspected of raping son. Father’s girlfriend got arrested.
  • Father suspected of raping son. Son and father’s girlfriend got arrested.
  • Father suspected of raping son. Son, daughter and friend got arrested.
  • Father suspected of raping son. Daughter and friend arrested.
  • Father suspected of raping son and son’s daughter (if you insist on reading it that way). Friend got arrested.
  • Father suspected of raping son and daughter. Friend got arrested.

Some of the titles are not literally translate since it wouldn’t make sense in English so if you have any better idea don’t hesitate to tell me!
Have anything similar happened in your country’s magazines? Share funny stories!

20 thoughts on “標點符號的笑話 – the importance of commas

  1. oh Gawd i wish i could read more than a tiny bit LOL.. anddddddddddddd and and .. When I started learning chinese it’s mandarin for the spoken. WHICH does not not a heap of a lot of good dating a HK guy .. UMmmm FAIL .. lol


      1. Hhahahahahaha.. He speaks Canto and i’m like .. NOOOOOOOOOO idea.. says something in mandarin i’m like Ohh yeah.. At least he knows both cuz I couldn’t think of a different way to say a word in english the other day to explain a word he didn’t know but GO figure I could think of the Mandarin Word. LOL. Problem solved.


  2. Wonderful to hear of your successes (and continued pursiut) of the Cantonese language. With my failed efforts (decided just to stick with the relative easier Mandarin), I am one of many gweilos who rest in the Cantonese language graveyard…just too difficult.

    I do have one friend (he’s in San Diego now) who is a linguistic savant (he is also a musical prodigy which I think is essential for people who speak many languages fluently), who spoke “excellent Cantonese” (based on our HK friends comments). However, because he had blue eye, blonde hair, locals would stare blankly at him when he spoke Cantonese because they thought it was English he was speaking…only breaking up in laughter after his 3rd-4th attempt when they would get it, and be amazing at his language skills. His wife, like me, simply stuck to Mandarin and we both are in awe with his language skills.


  3. Our country’s leading newspapers do it all the time. Our best one is the state funded (but not run) broadcaster. The rest make work experience mistakes. In fact they are probably written by work experience kids.


  4. I am stucked with the same problem in mandarin…when I asked my wife about it she only said “Don’t worry, it is so easy, you can see it already from the meaning” – Yeah right, so I try to translate all kinds of different versions and see which could make the most sense.
    Oh well, much studying still ahead for me it seems


    1. some – I agree I still need a lot of help from my husband but I do my best to read things myself. I know signs, the one that I don’t know I try to write on a paper, stroke by stroke and find it in a dictionary later but I usually mess up the meanings and I’m like those STD’s sons, cannot read it without problems haha 🙂 keep your finger crossed for me!


  5. Your husband is a lucky man. You keep on trying to learn more about his culture. Never giving up, but always trying.


  6. This is a great post. So interesting and any vague lingering desire I had to try to learn Cantonese might have evaporated (Mandarin is hard enough.). So impressed with your efforts and progress.


  7. This was so fascinating to me. I only know English. When my husband, who is fluent in French (Cajun) and Spanish tried to teach me a little French, I failed miserably. He suggested I stick to English! lol I am amazed when I look at the drawings that are words in your husband’s language. I love drawing so I might actually be able to learn to write rather than speak the language. I can’t wait to read more of your stories. Thank you for taking the time to read on my blog and I hope you’ll be back. Donna, http://www.mylifeonestoryatatime.com


  8. OMG! I laughed out loud! I read Chinese and i got the wrong comma!!!!! GEEEES Perhaps this is a HK, Cantonese style of writing? I felt bad for the principal and the poor son, oh boo.XD


  9. Have seen some very funny translations on t-shirts in China. For example, I have a t-shirt that has a pair of T-rex dinosaurs on it and the words: How Fast Swim Can. Now I understand the difficulties in translation. Thanks for sharing.


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