Misuse and Abuse of Language

Even as a native speaker, I recognize what a messed-up langauge English is.  Because of that, I have a lot of sympathy for non-native speakers.  When I really need a laugh, I’ll stop by Engrish.com to see some of the ways in which the English language has suffered at the hands of non-native speakers, particularly in Japan and China.  One lesson I draw from all this, though, is that one shouldn’t use a language if you don’t really know what you’re doing.

This gets me to wondering about people who cross the line from innocent mistakes – of course a non-native might easily write “corn poops” instead of “corn pops” on a breakfast cereal sign – to intentionally disregarding a language, using it more for decorative purposes rather than for communicating.  I’ve written before about the dangers of getting a tattoo in a language you don’t understand.  What about those who choose to use language for interior design but obviously don’t understand it?


Case in point, the “pan Asian” restaurant RockSugar at the Century City mall in Los Angeles.  Owned by the Cheesecake Factory chain, the entry to the restaurant is decked out with Buddha statues (which, if you really want to get to the heart of the matter, are objects of veneration, not decorative items to place by the front door) and “exotic” looking Thai script.  The Thai phrases appear in odd places, vertically along some of the outside walls (note that Thai isn’t written vertically), in random phrases on their website, and in the entry vestibule, pictured below.


Wow, looks exotic, huh?  Boy, I bet I’m about to get some authentic Oriental food here… maybe I can get a slice of green tea cheesecake afterwards.

Rock Sugar Translation

Putting aside the fact that these are nonsense phrases, much like some of the entries at Engrish.com, they are also written in some absurd out-of-order combination of font sizes that makes it harder to follow in Thai than it is in the English translation, above.

I understand the fascination with other cultures and who wouldn’t want to open a restaurant featuring a mish-mash of Asian cuisines?  But perhaps in doing so we could use a little bit of cultural awareness and sensitivity in the process of designing the interior of the restaurant?  Is that too much to ask?


0 thoughts on “Misuse and Abuse of Language

  1. Thanks for the translation of these Thai scripts. I dined there a few weeks ago and had no idea what these “phrases” were all about, nor was I impressed with their food. (Haha~You kinda ‘risk’ getting run over by incoming traffic, taking the first photo!)

  2. I am totally turned off by this phenomenon!  There’s a lot of “fusion” restaurants here that have no regard to the culture behind their purported authentic cuisine–I guess the “fusion” aspect of their restaurant allows for some sort of bastardization of some things that would usually be considered a lot more sacred.

  3. @foggysunnymorning – With all due respect, it is a little more than a translation issue.  You would never see something like this in Thailand (or a Thai-owned establishment) because it is incomprehensible.  There’s also a spelling error in the Thai script, but let’s not get too picky!  =D@CurryPuffy – The things I do for my blog…@lil_squirrel4ever – More like confusion rather than fusion.  When I didn’t know anything about the restaurant, I was willing to cut them a little slack.  When I found out it was part of the Cheesecake Factory chain, I felt like they are a large enough company to know better, and to have the resources, to avoid doing something this dumb.@ElusiveWords – I wouldn’t hold out too much hope that they’ll impress you with the food, either.

  4. It took me a little while to realise that the English version actually said something! “Health Satisfaction and Faith is the Highest Treasure – Freedom is Happiness”I can’t say I agree completely with what it says either, but perhaps in Thai it says or means something completely different??

  5. I am sure that there are many, many people who have no idea what those things say. My favorite “misuse” of language is when people get tattoos in different languages than their own and the meaning of the tattoo is something other than the meaning the person meant to get!

  6. hahaha is that what it says? i’ve been to rocksugar once, and the food is pretty decent. i guess i didn’t notice all the thai script, but now i will pay attention to it if i ever go back there.your tattoo story reminds me of what my (korean) coworker told me a few days ago. he said he was walking along and some big, muscular tough guy walks up to him and asks him if he can read chinese. my coworker says no (slightly unsure what is going on), and the guy explains — he has some tattoo on his back and has no idea what it says!

  7. i work across the st from century city mall… been to rock sugar once and didn’t like it very much (overpriced fusion food… not authentic at all). thank u for this post… i enjoyed reading it!!!ps if u r back in LA nxt time… consider trying bandera (another restaurant under hillstones group ie houstons/gulfstream) on the w side… i like that place a lot more!

  8. I’m a purist. So the fusion food makes me wary. The use of foreign language makes me think they don’t know and don’t care. That never bodes well for the food quality…

  9. @ElusiveWords – Matt, would you tattoo this on the obnoxious guy or yourself?  The obnoxious guy, right? ={@Sinful_Sundae – I really like Houstons so would certainly be open to trying Bandera.  Will have to make a note of that for my next trip to LA.  Thanks for the suggestion.@kunhuo42 – I’m surprised that your coworker didn’t respond by telling the guy that very few Koreans can read Chinese, just to see what his reaction was.@TheCheshireGrins – I’m careful about that example since it happened to a friend of mine.  Even the best and brightest can make those mistakes, I guess.@Chatamanda – In Thai it really doesn’t mean anything.  Just a mish-mash of words.@ZSA_MD – It can be funny, can’t it?  But sometimes for the wrong reason…@murisopsis – That really is the point, isn’t it?  If they aren’t careful about the use of language then they probably aren’t being very careful about the authenticity of the food, either.

  10. I guess I wonder what the point of criticizing places that are doing *something* to bring ethnic cuisine (however uninspired)…or even just something other than hamburgers…to the masses is. Sure it isn’t authentic, but I doubt they audience they’re going for would even understand what a Thai character looks like, let alone be able to translate an entire phrase. If we’re arguing for people wanting authentic cuisine, Thai Town is just up the street. The folks who go to these restaurants would never show their face there, so while I appreciate what you’re getting at, I think you’re asking a little too much of mainstream America. It’s in a mega-mall for God’s sake!I suppose I’d be grateful that Billy Bob at least knows what a Buddha is rather than appreciating it for its venerable purpose.

  11. @somchai_P – I’m not criticizing the restaurant for bringing ethnic cuisine to the masses.  This is a rare post that isn’t about the food.  It’s about thoughtless use of another language as a decorative object, without considering the meaning of the words.  More broadly, it is about cultural appropriation.@ElusiveWords – I suspected as much…

  12. Thanks for this. I love the writings. And believe me, I really have always wanted a quote in Aramaic tattooed but have always been afraid to get it wrong and offend everyone that knew exactly how it is supposed to written.

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