Monthly Archives: February 2012

Translating “Linsanity” into Chinese

All sorts of wonderful (All-Star caliber work from Victor Mair, starting shooting guard of the Language Log linguistics team, on translating “Linsanity” into Chinese“):

Línrè 林热 (“Lin craze”) (663,000 ghits, though I can’t guarantee that all of these are about Jeremy Lin)  The problem is that this focuses on the rage and hoopla over Lin, while Linsanity includes his abandoned, exuberant style of play.

Lín shì xuànfēng 林氏旋风 (“Mr. Lin cyclone”) (10,300 ghits)  This expression is popular among certain circles in Taiwan, but it doesn’t capture the flavor of Linsanity with regard to the wildness surrounding Jeremy Lin.

Lín shì fēngkuáng 林氏疯狂 (“Mr. Lin insanity”) (2,200 ghits) dud

Lín shì fēng 林氏疯 (“Mr. Lin crazy”)  (7,490 ghits) sub-dud; a considerable proportion of these ghits include bào 暴 (“storm”) at the end, hence Lín shì fēngbào 林氏疯暴 (“Mr. Lin crazy storm”)

Lín shì kuáng 林氏狂 (“Mr. Lin mad”) (1,280 ghits) sub-sub-dud

For nearly a week, I was in despair.  Such a fantastic phenomenon as “Linsanity”, yet such an unsatisfying rendering of that into Chinese as Línfēngkuáng 林疯狂!

Finally, however, a new translation of “Linsanity” surfaced, namely, Línláifēng 林来疯.  Brilliant!!  I fell in love with this rendering as soon as I encountered it.  Not only does it capture the spontaneity of Jeremy Lin’s moves and the thrills they evoke in the crowds who watch him, it is constructed in accordance with the rules for Chinese word formation.  Moreover, like “Linsanity”, which is modified from an actual English word, Línláifēng 林来疯 is transformed from a real Chinese expression:  rénláifēng 人来疯 (“get hyped up in front of an audience”).  Perfect!

I was particularly pleased and enormously gratified when I noticed that the number of ghits for Línláifēng 林来疯 had soared from 155,000 two days ago to 683,000 today!  This shows that, when an excellent, idiomatic translation is made, people recognize it and approve of it enthusiastically.  So the problem of how to translate Línláifēng 林来疯 into Chinese has been solved, and beautifully so.

Coded and categorized: analyzing a sample of 219 blocked Weibo words

Thought I ought to cross-post something I just added to my Blocked on Weibo site:

Back in December, after I’d completed searching through half of my 700,000 word list, I decided to look more closely at what kind of words were being blocked. I used the 218 two- and three-character words that I’d uncovered at the time to be blocked only 2 one-character word are blocked: 屄, cunt / ; and ҉, a Cyrillic character that is associated with backwards or bi-directional writing) as a sample and then proceeded to tag them according to whatever categories I began to see developing. (The categories are at the end of this post and on the second page of the spreadsheet as well.)

direct link

As would be expected, most of these three-character and under keywords were names of people (most Chinese names are made up of a one character surname and a one or two character given name). 87 of the 219 were names of people, and the vast majority of those people, 54, were CCP members. Nine of them were involved with either corruption or other controversy in which they were usually dismissed. Fifteen of the people are dissidents of various sorts.  Three are criminals who were neither dissidents nor CCP politicians and are probably listed because their crimes were so gruesome.

Because of the way Weibo censors items, inoffensive words are inevitably caught in the net. For example, “grand justice” (大法官) was blocked because it contains 大法, i.e. Falun Dafa. Other inadvertent blocks included Théodore de Banville(庞维勒) because it contains 维勒, a reference to Uyghurs.

Words related to sex or sexual activity also compose a great deal of the list. This include anatomy like 女阴, slang like 吹箫 (blowjob, but literally blow flute), and “immoral” sex acts like 恋足, foot fetishes. Discrimination that would be considered wildly un-progressive in the West is also on display. Lesbian and homosexual (同性爱) are blocked, as are Islam (伊斯兰) and Muslim (穆斯林).

Finally, the list of blocked words on Weibo is actively adjusted and changed. These words were blocked at the time of their search in November and December, but most of this list has been unblocked since late-January.

Here are the categories I used to code this list:

? – I’m unsure of why it is blocked [1]
person – a fictional or real human with a name
place – geographical location or named geographical body
“clean” slang – slang or abbreviated phrases that are not “obscene”
sex – related to sex, sexual activity, or sexual organs
obscenity – obscene phrases
morality – words dealing with actions that might be considered “immoral”
crime – self explanatory
scandal/controversy/corruption – self explanatory
religion/”cult” – self explanatory
CCP – Chinese Communist Party
princeling – deals with children of CCP members
demonstration – related to a mass protest
dissent – related to ideas or thoughts conflicting with CCP
force / violence – related to weapons, shows of force, or violence
minority – dealing with minorities or ethnic groups in China
nonCCP politics – other political issues not related to CCP
foreign – self explanatory
internet/computer – self explanatory
other media, content, and art – self explanatory
history – either historical figures or events
inadvertant? – it is blocked because a word within it is blocked

[1] If other categories are checked off, it indicates my best guess.

About Twitter and Google censorship: another Waging Nonviolence article

Wrote up a short article for Nathan and Eric’s blog again, this time on Google and Twitter’s recent announcements that they would begin restricting content more tightly in foreign countries.

Nathan pointed me to a very astute comment by Thomas Clark Wilson on WNV’s Facebook page, which I thought was worth reprinting here:

The actual details of what they’re doing will make it easier to circumvent censorship than it is just now. Tweeters in, say, Egypt, don’t just rely on tweets within their own country to organise, but also RTs and such from foreign accounts. Before this policy; censor a tweet in Egypt and nobody can see it. After this policy; censor a tweet in Egypt and some American can still see it, quote it, and send it back into the fray.

Besides, the contention in this article that ‘they might bend to shady censorship requests even though they say they’ll play nice’ has *always* been a danger, this policy hasn’t changed that fact. Yeah it would be super swell if they took a stand an said no to any censorship, but twitter’s a business not a revolutionary tech collective. Recognise it as a tool, an use it wisely.

My response, just for posterity’s sake:

That’s a great point Thomas. Indeed, this isn’t some sort of smoking gun revelation, merely an acknowledgment and reminder from Twitter that they are a business and not some sort of utopia maker.

As for circumvention methods, other ways potentially include setting your home country to say the U.S. so you don’t have restrictions. But we have to assume that Twitter and any governments that would want to utilize Twitter’s restrictions are obviously aware of these limitations that would make the whole thing pointless and would implement things like IP detection. Also, floods of foreign retweets might make it too hard to stomp out every one, but for smaller, budding movements these tools do allow governments to snuff out incohate organizing. And even if a few foreign retweets get out, location shouldn’t matter. They would in all likelihood also be blocked because they would bear the same illegal content as the original local one. This would just be the first step of potential cat and mouse games, with governments likely requesting that Twitter move faster to remove such posts and with Twitter employing more active monitoring–once something has been blocked in a country and it knows the government wants future instances of such content blocked, it could employ some kind of flagging system to warn employees that this is another potentially illegal post and give them a chance to take instant action when requested.

But if none of this comes to be, then Twitter is the good guy, and we have no major reason to expect them to bend over backwards to regimes and governments whose values are so antithetical to those of the Internet’s. But one has to look at the trajectory here–this is a step in the other direction from an open Internet. And wouldn’t it be foolish for Twitter to take such a PR hit without following through on actually providing a credible oand functional option to regulate content in countries? Why make yourself look so bad and buddy up to censorship regimes when you know you’re only going to half heartedly enforce these sorts of things.

But your points are well taken. In the short-term Twitter should still be safe and useful, but this announcement definitely makes the future of Twitter as a revolutionary tool cloudier.

That’s all I got for now. Still working mightily on Blockedonweibo (now reachable via which I hope to start sharing more publicly in the next week or two (once I finish writing up a short summary for Nathan and Eric at WNV), so things will probably once again go quiet here for a bit.