Why so much engrish?

In this age of the global economy, it stands to reason that a lot of people for whom English is not their first language will regularly create sign or product labels with imperfect English on them. In fact, there’s enough out there for a comical website featuring examples of same.

It seems reasonable to expect that from the owner of a tiny restaurant in Vietnam who is posting an English-language menu, but what about when big companies do it? Yesterday I had a bottle of carbonated citrus beverage made by Suntory, a rather large Japanese beverage company. On the side of the bottle was the excited proclamation, “now with a plentiful of vitamin C!”

It would be trivially easy to correct this before going to production by running it past even a single English-speaking person. The owner of a tiny Vietnamese restaurant can’t justify such an expense, but a big-ass company like Suntory easily could hire one or two gaijins whose entire job is to proofread English-language product labels for them. To not do so seems strangely sloppy; it would be like Pepsi putting out cans that say “the choise of a new jeneration.”

So why not?

For the same reason you see The Punisher asking for “una cigarreta:” basic carelessness and people thinking their [insert language here] is better than it is.

I think people for whom English IS their first language need to get the hang of using it properly in publication. Let’s not run before we can walk.

I think the bad English is kind of endearing. It also gives such products a certain “exotic” feel.

I often see incorrect or nonsensical English when I visit Japan. My understanding is that the English text functions primarily as decoration, for the benefit of Japanese customers, and not to convey information. The fact that some native English speakers will happen to see it, and find it amusing or annoying, is of no relevance whatever. There is no reason to spend any money or resources at all to get it right.

A better analogy would be Pepsi putting on their cans (for the US market) “新世代の洗濯”. Any Japanese who saw it would point and laugh or shake their heads and say “how hard would it be to check?”

Last time I was in Tokyo on business, there was a rally downtown for the Democratic Party of Japan. I knew that it was for the Democratic Party of Japan because all of the kids were wearing shirts that said “Democratic Party of Japan” in English.

So I suppose if I were an English Speaking Japanese, I would consider voting for them. Otherwise, I guess I would say “huh?” None of the Japanese I worked with could tell me why you would do that.

Same reason that Americans get tattoos of Japanese characters. Because it looks cool. That’s all the reason they need.

So why not just use random words? Why do they seem as if some attempt has been made to make sense and be relevant?

But people from other non-english speaking countries use English signs and inscriptions for the cool factor too, and most of the times they get them right.

So the real question is, why “engrish” comes mainly from Japan? My theory is that the Japanese language mechanics are vastly different from English, more so than say Russian or French.

I was going to post this question a while back when I bought a Samsung photo frame that had instructions in Engrish.

I can’t understand it either. There are literally millions of excellent English speakers in China and the Far East where all this stuff is made. Why would the Management of a BIG company be so lax in there overseeing, and let their divisions put out Engrish documentation?

That’s a good question. I suppose the reason they are not completely random is that the words are chosen to appeal to Japanese people who know some English, and to convey positive associations.
I’m not really talking here about poorly-written instructions of the kind K364 mentioned. These are intended for English speakers and convey important information, so it’s a different phenomenon.

I teach English in Korea. My students have had some English lessons before, but they learn from Korean teachers who learned from Korean teachers. The casual attitude towards articles and subject/verb agreement is deeply entrenched by the time they meet me.

My favorite memory of Korea was the time I went to Cheers (an American-style restaurant/bar downstairs from the hagwon, somehow inspired by the TV show) and a gaggle of little girls (It was also a “family” restaurant), spotting an American, ran over and barraged me with the little bit of English they’d learned in school: “Hi!” “What’s your name?” “How old are you?” My answers, of course, were “Hello,” “Bob” (which means “rice” in Korean) and “REAL old!”

I think I read a bit on engrish.com a while back, where the site owner mentioned the same thing as the OP - that he can understand small companies not having the resources to get the English right. But he said what he didn’t get was the large companies that have American subsidiaries, like the various auto makers. Why not just ask somebody at the American subsidiary to check it?

At least sometimes, the mistakes are intentional. You know those disposable bamboo chopsticks you get at a Chinese restaurant, that come in the red paper sleeve? The text on the sleeve is badly mangled, because that makes them seem more “authentic”.

Welcome to Chinese Restaurant
please try your Nice Chinese Food With Chopsticks
the traditional and typical of Chinese glonous history.
and cultual.


Tuk under thurnb
and held firmly

Learn how to use your chopsticks
Add second chcostick
hold it as you hold a pencil

Hold tirst chopstick
in originai position
move the second
one up and down
Now you can pick
up anything!


Because 98% of Japan are Japanese and they don’t care? And of the 2% which are foreign, most of those are Asian, so there are relatively only a few native English speakers here.

Writing in English is decoration. My personal favorite was a t-shirt from the early 80s, “New York Chastity Club”.

I suspect a similar situation at the local Chinese buffet, which has a sign proclaiming that the Mongolian buffet is included as “port of your meal” and you don’t have to pay more for it. The sign was getting old so they replaced it. With the same verbage.

Doug, did you actually have a chopsticks-sleeve handy to check that? That looks like you nailed it exactly.

A recent favorite:

Chinese culture - sugar people[ From time:2009-8-12 Author:admin    Sugar is sucrose and maltose were made of a variety of shapes, there are figures, animals, flowers and so on. It is said that there is sugar in the Song Dynasty were mostly two-dimensional shapes, as today’s sugar painting, drama, said that candy, later known as the thick, blown sugar Ma, playing swing thick-yee, sugar should be your mother, sugar people, sugar pagoda, sugar and other turtle abuse.


It’s just sheer laziness. As a bilingual it REALLY annoys me because there are tons of people like me they can consult if they really wanted to. And don’t even get me started on the subtitles for games and movies and such.