Mistranslation - Shower Etiquette

A Not so Bad Sign that Could Have Been a Lot Better

For clarity and to leave no room for misinterpretations, signs have to use words that are familiar to people who will read them. This sign in Malay says that you can take a shower in the area. That is clear enough. It also says that you should save water. This is an understandable request with nations experiencing water shortage and with the increasing support given by people from all walks of life to the concept of sustainable living, which encourages using less resources or using them wisely.

The third part of the sign, which says “don’t piss on the shower” however, might be a bit perplexing to some. What exactly is it that people are being asked not to do aside from not wasting water? Rather than “Piss,” “Pee” is the better word to use in this sign. “Pee” which means to urinate is understood by more people. I say better because “piss” is a vulgar slang word that also means to pass urine but it is a word less commonly used.

One reason why “piss” is less commonly used is the fact that it is an informal phrase that is considered impolite or vulgar. In signs, it is not in good taste to use vulgar language. “Pee” is the more acceptable term that is not as vivid or as formal as “urinate.”

“Piss” has other meanings, which are more familiar to many. It is used in relation to anger in American English. When someone says he is pissed off that means that he is extremely angry or irritated. There is also another piss-based phrasal verb – pissed away, which means to spend wastefully or to squander. In British English, piss means drunk.

Given the other meanings of piss, some might take the sign to mean that they should not be angry or drunk in the shower. Not a bad instruction, but it is not what the sign wishes to convey.

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