That Time When “No Eating” Became “Do Not Diet”

Graphical signs have become almost universal. The symbols and conventions are simple and it would be very hard to make any mistake understanding them. However, problems occur when text is added to the signs. Not everyone can translate one language to another, especially not Chinese to English.

The graphic symbols on the signs are self-explanatory, there is an apple and a tumbler with a straw, all inside a red circle with a diagonal line cutting across the main image. As long as you understand the red circle and the diagonal line cutting across it, then this sign is easily understood to mean: “No eating.”

For a non-Chinese speaker, it does not matter if he understands the Chinese characters. The symbol is enough to dissuade eating. What makes this sign important is the effort put into completeness, and to accommodate English speakers. This is where the sign fails. For an English-speaker, it would be hard to reconcile the image with “Do not diet.”

It would be a lively discussion if ever there would ever be a sign which says, “Do not diet.” What would the graphics be? Why would anyone want that placed in public? This is a contextual error, made by an overzealous translator who may have mistaken “diet” with “eating.” The concept of diet may be rooted in “eating” or of eating a particular set of food. However, this might not be the case in Chinese. They have a rich vocabulary, and this has been in written form for more than 3,500 years. Any living language would be dynamic and able to adapt to contemporary culture, where the introduction of the language is part of the language’s character. It is possible that in some way, there is a word in Chinese which corresponds to “eating” and “diet” at the same time.

Even if that were true, the English translation still does not sound fit to the occasion, or the public sign.

Image credit – via Pinterest

Fair Use Disclaimer policy