From Eccentric Flower



Like the Peach Farm, this struck me as a case where the Chinese name couldn't possibly be the same as the English name. And, like the Peach Farm, I was wrong.


The first three characters are, in fact, "chiu" ("tide" or "moist"), "jau" ("continent"), and "city."


The final three characters are BIG, LIQUOR, and INN - or, as McCawley has it, Big Tavern.


While I think these various restaurant designations - "food hall," et cetera - are probably pretty whimsical, I do presume that a restaurant wouldn't put LIQUOR in its name unless it could serve alcohol. Which, in Boston, is not always a foregone conclusion.


This is your first time seeing the ever-popular BIG character, one of the easiest characters to remember visually (it's a man spreading his arms out - "it was THIS big"). You now have a complete set of big, medium, and small to play with. MIDDLE is a box drawn around the middle of a line (or, if you prefer, a line through the middle of a box). SMALL is a man bringing his hands in close together to show how tiny something is. If you can't remember these three, you're not trying.

When BIG and SMALL appear right next to each other, the Chinese are using them as a single concept: "size." Think about it.

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Skip this if you like, but it explains one reason why I'm trying to avoid dwelling on how characters sound - why this exercise is primarily visual.

The romanizations I gave above are Cantonese, since the restaurant is named after a place - Teochiu - and it is in eastern Canton. In putonghua (Mandarin) they are "chao" and "zhou."

Don't commit this to memory or anything, but here goes: "ao" is like the English exclamation "Ow" and the "ou" is like the exclamation "Oh." "zhou" should sound like "Joe" spoken with a heavy French accent. So you could pronounce this VERY ambiguous sign one of four ways:

1. the putonghua way (chow zhoh) ...
2. the Cantonese way (chew jow) ...
3. or like Teochiu, the place that the characters mean (dow chew) ...
4. or the way an uncued American would read the English words (chow chow).

Take your pick. (And that's all without tone marks.) One day I'm going to go listen to how the restaurant says it when they answer their phone.

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Very irrelevant digression inspired by the truck in this photo: Coca-Cola (which is a registered trademark of the Coca-Cola Company; they sue you if you don't say that) sells in China with a label of four characters that sound like "ke kou ke le." They mean, literally, "may taste may enjoy," although the first two together are generally just read "tasty."

As Julie Sussman points out, they could have picked characters which came closer to the English sounds "Coca-Cola," but then they would have had to settle for a less desirable meaning. Choosing phonemes in Chinese to sound like foreign words is a game of such tradeoffs.

Urban legend has it that Coke got it wrong the first time, and that the first set of characters they chose said "bite the wax tadpole." This is not quite true.


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