Daily Archives: February 16, 2006

Seductive exotica

There is probably no easiest way to give an exotic air to some object than to print something in a foreign language on it. By “easiest”, I mean that it is fairly easy to get a “X to Y” dictionary at the local bookstore or to scrounge up some phrase in a foreign language. Now, what is easily done is not necessarily sensible or accurate. This is fortunate for us since the ill-informed attempts at seductive exotica make for good laughing matter.

Hanzi Smatter is “dedicated to the misuse of chinese characters in western culture” (to quote the site). Most of the reports deal with tattoos but some of them also cover broader issues. A recent example is Tian’s open letter to Cosmopolitan. The notion put forth by Cosmopolitan that a tattoo in “Asian character[s]” (sic) indicates love of the mysterious and such other nonsense is utterly ridiculous. It’s just as likely that the guy couldn’t care less about Asia and the mysterious and just got his tattoo on a dare or because he lost a bet or some other harebrained situation. (I’m not saying that people who get tattoos are idiots, only that a tattoo by itself says nothing of a person’s character.) Nice example of media spin.

Engrish.com exhibits the same kind of phenomenon but flips perspectives: misuse of Western languages (mainly English, hence the name “Engrish”) in an Asian context. For Asian marketers, a few words in English printed on their product is the way to give them an aura of prestige and exotica. Too often, however, the language used is blatantly incorrect or has unintended connotations.