Even if you don’t drive yourself, in Beijing pretty soon you learn to spot the xīnshǒu (新手), literally the “new hands”, the greenhorns, the folks that made it through cryptic questions and an irrelevant “road” test and now possess that coveted, slightly-too-big-for-a-credit-card-slot, laminated green card that entitles them, for the next six years…

  1. to drive around the 47 cars waiting in the left turn lane and position themselves in front of the first car, even if that means placing themselves in the middle of an intersection during a red light
  2. to reverse for 500m in the right lane of the freeway after passing the exit ramp they decided was appropriate after stopping and deliberating (in lane) for several minutes
  3. to maneuver their car through a 10-minute long, 17-point U-turn on a street hardly wide enough for bicycle traffic

I don’t believe that exhausts the possibilities.

[For the record: None of us should scold this behavior. You know you’re happy when your cab driver does it.]

The funny thing about new drivers is that their presence is advertised all over the place. The ubiquitous 实习 (shíxí = “in training”) sticker is required by law for a year after you get your license. But it’s usually pretty useless for spotting the newbies. The real “new hands” you can identify by their body/vehicle language: hesitant, so very hesitant; stopping for no reason; proceeding in reverse as if they’re on a bomb defusing assignment.

So it was kind of amusing, while waiting an eternity for one such “new hand” to pull out from a parking spot, to see that it had this bumper sticker:


You’ll just have to believe me that it says “才上路,让让我把”. This is what you get by combining the world’s worst photographer with a rainy windshield.

Cái shàng lù, ràng ràng wǒ bǎ
just on road, yield a bit to me [roughly word for word]
New to the road, give me a bit of a break [rough gloss]

Feel free to help fix the awkward translation of 让让. “Yield” is too imperative — I think overall the bumper sticker has kind of a cutesy “forgive my awful driving” feel to it.

But what caught my eye was the 把. Hey, shouldn’t that be 吧 (used in imperatives to give a “how about it” sense)?

My first informant thought I’d mis-remembered and that it said 一把, which would make it a measure word and mean something like “give me a break this time“. But there’s no 一, and as the picture and my daughter (who was in the car) are witness, it really is 把.

My second informant was more dismissive: “should have been 吧 — it’s just illiterate.”

Seems unlikely to me, but what do I know. Ideas?

12 responses to “"Illiterate"?”

  1. Gus says:

    Without a doubt, should have been 吧.

  2. Karan says:

    Looks like a “spelling error” to me.

  3. Syz says:

    Gus & Karan: I agree it would be obviously “right” to change it to 吧… I just have a hard time believing the 把 is a complete error. I mean: could it be an attempt at “dialect” or some kind of cutesy spelling? I think there has to be a reason for it. There’s just no way (?) someone could misspell / mischoose a character like this, which has got to be near the top of the most frequently used characters. That’s what’s so mystifying to me.

  4. Karan says:

    I think it’s possible the IME is at blame, and also the user’s negligence in checking to see if the results were correct. My IME (QIM) gives me “嚷嚷我把” if I type “rangrangwoba”… I think it’s all because the phrase on that sticker is not a common one. “饶饶我吧”, on the other hand, is, and if I type “raoraowoba” into my IME, that’s the first thing I get.

  5. Tim says:

    When I saw this, I always assumed it was a non-numbered measure word type thing, like you with the 一把,but somehow maybe the “bare” measure gives it a different shade of meaning?

  6. I just tested my IME, the same way Karan did. I typed in “rangrangwoba” and I got “让让我把” same for only rangwoba “让我把”. However, I asked my Chinese friend and she also said it should 吧.

  7. Syz says:

    Karan, IME-induced mistakes are extremely common, no doubt. But even if that was the original source of the mistake, don’t you think someone would have caught it before it got printed on the bumper sticker? Or even if they didn’t, would someone buy a bumper sticker that was spelled something like “please let me buy” instead of “please let me by”? Maybe, maybe. I just find it hard to believe. Still, so far there’s no other explanation!

  8. jdmartinsen says:

    I vote typo. Although there is a line of authorized Tuzki stickers, this one appears to be a knock-off (as far as I am aware, the real Tuzki is never shown having eyebrows), so there probably wasn’t a strict QA process. Maybe the thinness of the side-radicals in this particular kiddie-style typeface could be a reason for the oversight, but given the sort of spelling errors and other glaring mistakes that show up in texts of all languages all over the world, I’d say it was just a moment of bone-headedness between the composing desk and the printers.

  9. pott says:

    In this collection of 才上路 stickers, half of the 吧s are wrong. The IME may have confused it with the common construction 让我把 as in 让我把话说完.

  10. Syz says:

    Wow, pott, that pretty much ends the debate — free variation between 吧 and 把! Hilarious. Thanks for the link. I’ll try to keep this in mind next time I find myself thinking “well surely no one could make that mistake…”

  11. Chris says:

    “There is just no way someone could mischoose a character like this” eh, they do it all the time with english words and signs, why couldn’t it happen in Chinese???

  12. Syz says:

    Here’s another slight twist: I just showed the sign to a friend (native Mandarin, college age) and she was of the opinion that it was NOT a mistake, that it was intended to mean something but she couldn’t put her finger on what.

    Now, sure, she might be mistaken. But given that opinion, I have renewed faith in my theory that there are just too many factors involved for this to be a mere typo. To repeat, kinda:
    1. It’s a VERY common character
    2. A lot of people have to see something before it gets printed, and they would ALL have to fail to notice the problem
    3. Even if it’s a mistake that did get printed, the person buying the sticker has to not notice/care and choose to buy it

    One possible theory for why it’s not a simple typo: maybe it’s an intentional mistake, like the spelling of “hunny” in the Pooh books. Just to be cutesy. I don’t know anything about “Tuzki” so maybe jdmartinsen can help out if he comes back: Would it be in character to use such a misspelling?

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