Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD, not to be confused with a disease of cattle, Foot and Mouth Disease) is the result of an infection by one of several intestinal viruses, the most common being Coxsackie A and Enterovirus 71 (Ev71). HFMD is a fairly common contagious infection of infants and children that often appears in outbreak form in schools and daycare centers. Children with HFMD have fever, sore throat and characteristic lesions around the mouth and in the throat. Recently some very sizable outbreaks caused by Ev71 have been reported in China, Singapore and Mongolia, with thousands of cases and scores of deaths. It made news headlines around the world and within China. Given the way news of disease outbreaks is handled in China, this isn’t a given, unfortunately, but in this case the Chinese were quite aware of the outbreak and its cause (for more on the outbreak in East Asia, see the great eye witness account by Tara Smith over at Aetiology). That seems to be the explanation for the “braised enterovirus” on the menu of this Chinese restaurant (h/t reader gh):
The explanation for this is quite interesting. According to a fascinating post over at The Language Log, the Chinese characters, 干锅肥肠 (GAN1GUO1 FEI2CHANG2), translate literally to “dry pot fatty intestine,” described as a popular dish from the regions of Szechuan and Hunan. (The numbers after the words GAN, GUO, FEI and CHANG represent one of the four different tones, and hence different meanings, each word can have in Mandarin Chinese.) According to one of the site’s correspondents, the Chinese characters for enterovirus is CHANG2 BING4DU2 or CHANG2DAO4 BING4DU2 肠（道）病毒. The only thing the two have in common is CHANG2, the word for “intestine.” The Language Lab’s theory is that the HFMD outbreak was responsible for the confused translation:
As you can see, neither by confusion of sound nor by confusion of shape can one (or, I should think, even a machine translation program) mistake FEI2CHANG2 肥肠 (“fatty intestine”) for CHANG2(DAO4) BING4DU2 肠（道）病毒 (“intestinal virus”). Consequently, I am inclined to believe that the “Braised Enterovirus” on this menu arose as the result of much talk about enterovirus in China (there was a major outbreak in early May of this year), and somebody involved with the making of the menu who heard or saw the English word for the disease next to the Chinese term making the assumption that “enterovirus” = CHANG2. (The Language Lab)
As they point out, it could have been worse. The menu item also contains the word 干 GAN1 of 干锅 GAN1GUO1 (“dry pot”). The word Chinese word GAN1 (干) has become a notorious source of bad (but hilarious) translations. Referring to compilations of these kinds of linguistic miscues The Language Log notes the following:
Such collections tend to get tiresome — even when not explicitly racist, they nonetheless partake in a long xenophobic tradition of ridiculing the English usage of non-native speakers. Belittling the pidginized English of speakers from East Asia has an especially checkered past in American dialect humor.
Every once in a while, though, there is a presentation of “Engrish” that both amuses and enlightens. Jon Rahoi, an American living in mainland China, posted scans from an exceedingly bizarre restaurant menu — so bizarre that a commenter accused Rahoi of forging the whole thing with Photoshop. But “an anonymous professor of China studies” came to Rahoi’s defense by demonstrating exactly how one evocative menu item (“Benumbed hot vegetables fries fuck silk”) could have reasonably ended up that way through dictionary-aided word-for-word translation.
Take #1313, “Benumbed hot vegetables fries fuck silk.” It should read “Hot and spicy garlic greens stir-fried with shredded dried tofu.” However, the mangled version above is not as mangled as it seems: it’s a literal word-by-word translation, with some cases where the translator chose the wrong one of two meanings of a word.
First two characters: “ma la” meaning hot and spicy, but literally “numbingly spicy” — it means a kind of Sichuan spice that mixes chilies with Sichuan peppercorn or prickly ash. The latter tends to numb the mouth. “Benumbed hot” is a decent, if ungrammatical, literal translation.
Next two: “jiu cai,” the top greens of a fragrant-flowering garlic. There’s no good English translation, so “vegetables” is just fine.
Next one: “chao,” meaning stir-fried, quite reasonably rendered as “fries” (should be “fried,” but that’s a distinction English makes and Chinese doesn’t).
Finally: “gan si” meaning shredded dried tofu, but literally translated as “dry silk.” The problem here is that the word “gan” means both “to dry” and “to do,” and the latter meaning has come to mean “to fuck.” Unfortunately, the recent proliferation of Colloquial English dictionaries in China means people choose the vulgar translation way too often, on the grounds that it’s colloquial. Last summer I was in a spiffy modern supermarket in Taiyuan whose dried-foods aisle was helpfully labeled “Assorted Fuck.” The word “si” meaning “silk floss” is used in cooking to refer to anything that’s been julienned — very thin pommes frites are sold as “potato silk,” for instance. The fact that it’s tofu is just understood (sheets of dried tofu shredded into julienne) — if it were dried anything else it would say so.
(“Engrish Explained,” The Language Lab)
The problem, then, is the word “GAN1,” meaning “to dry” or “to do.” Apparently there are now a lot of Chinese – English colloquial dictionaries in use in China where alternate meanings of words are given. A colloquial use of “to do” in English can be seen in phrases like, “I want to do you,” meaning, well, you know what it means. If you are using such a dictionary and select the wrong option, you can get something like this (notice the GAN character, 干, in each entry):
I know from previous experience the use of bad words here offends some people. If you are one of them, the only thing I can think of to say is this: Go dry yourself.