Stump the Chinese: Velcro and Boombox

Xīnnián hǎo 新年好 everyone. Happy year of the Niu (I guess “Ox” is the best-sounding translation).

As you’re making your bàinián 拜年 tour, and you find yourself face to face with countless relatives of your Chinese friends, perhaps you’ve gotten tired of the same old conversation topics you’re ready to branch out. Well you’re in luck! Here’s a game you can play to impress your friends and discourage your enemies.

How do you say “Velcro” in Chinese?

Just find some velcro (on a shoe, a bag, a pocket) and point to it and ask your Chinese friends “zhège dōngxi zěnme shuō?” 这个东西怎么说 and see what they say. Chances are they won’t know.

It’s not that they don’t know what it is. The Chinese just don’t seem to know the Chinese word for velcro. The best I can find on the internet is “nylon buckle” (nílóng dākòu 尼龙搭扣). I think it’s amazing that something so common doesn’t have a commonly-known name in Chinese. I haven’t gone to shoe shops and asked the workers yet but I suspect if anyone would know, they would.

How do you say “boombox” in Chinese?

You’ll need another visual aid for this one.

(image source)

I first discovered this one in my English class. Many teachers at my college (Chinese and foreign) bring boomboxes to class for listening comprehension exercises. When a colleague walked into my classroom I asked my students “What do you call this in English?” They didn’t know. “How about in Chinese?” They still didn’t know. Yet, they see them everyday! The closest I’ve gotten to an answer is “noise box” (zàoyīn hé 噪音盒) but I’m not sure how widely-used that is. It’s not just a portable CD player because it has speakers.

Any Winners?

If you play “Stump the Chinese” this year and you happen to learn how they really say “velcro” or “boombox,” please let us know.

Comments

  1. HILARIOUS! I noticed this at some point over the past couple years…the VELCRO thing. Too funny. Someone has to know. Another wonderful American invention taken for granted across this world!!

  2. Well, we don’t have exactly an established name for that velcro-thingie in Estonian too. At least not something widespread I’m aware and familiar with, being native speaker and all. Usually people call them “thistles” or “thistle strips”, or, onomatopoetically, for example “krõpsud”. There probably is an official name, conjured up by tailors or fashionistas, but everyone else always seems to have trouble naming that thing.

  3. My greatest teaching fear is my students will ask me a word in Chinese I do not know, and I will be unmasked for the non-native teacher I am, and they will long for a “real” Chinese teacher. But, what I have noticed is more often than not native speakers will not know the word either. So I always drag another “real” Chinese teacher in to answer the question and let the students see her get stumped as well. Words that stump us are usually proper nouns, like “Jamaica” recently, or common American inventions like velcro. I see it as the equivalent of asking an American how to say 拔火罐
    most would not be able to retrieve the word “moxibustion” or “cupping” even if that had seen it before.

  4. Rachel… the reason absolutely NO American would be able to retrieve the word MOXIBUSTION or CUPPING… is because we don’t do that in America. Before I went to China… I had never seen that kind of thing before. How about the technical terms and scientific terms they use in the hospital. I got my tooth pulled in Shanghai a while back and the names on the Dental area signs were bizarre… something about MAXOFACIAL something or other… I’m sure if I talked to a real American Dentist…they would know it… but I sure had never heard of it.

  5. I’m spending some quality time with my nv pengyou and her family, mom says Velcro is zhan1kou4

    but no word for the boombox, time to make one up?

  6. I’ve got a confirmed hearing in Guangzhou for móshù tiē (magic sticky-thing). I heard it from 3 different shoe stores yesterday.

    Can anyone:
    a) confirm that’s only in Cantonese-land?
    b) confirm or deny zhānkòu and/or móguǐ zhān? Those should probably be added to the dictionary too.

  7. Oh and not to forget about boombox.

    @Hope, shǒutí yīnxiǎng 手提音響 sounds good to me? Just portable speakers I guess. Shall we add it to the dictionary?

    @roalood, shōulùjī 收录机 sounds like it’s talking about a machine that can be a radio and tape recorder (lùyīn de lù, right?). So, that may not be as universally applicable.

  8. velcro originated overseas, although nearly every chinese use it everyday,however it seems noboday care it. I name it “粘扣 zhan1 kou4”, it’s more easy to understand. 尼龙搭扣 is too formal.

    Boombox I always call it “外放” orally, because boombox is a general word for CD, Cassette recorder/player….

    Never say “噪音盒 i reckon you search that by dj.iciba.com….honestly , I don’t know what’s 噪音盒at all.

    I think “外放” is a proper word.

  9. Albert, 我问你一个问题啊,你知道俄罗斯套娃用英语该怎么说吗?网上说是Matryeshka,我想这个发音一定很奇怪,有点怀疑你们老外也是这样称称呼它吗?

    Albert, would you pls help to answer a question, what do you name a doll that a set of nesting dolls with smaller dolls stacked within the bigger ones? I search the website, it seems the english name is Matryeshka, I doubt wheather you guys name it like that becasue the pronunciation is strange.

  10. In some places the boombox is called “录音机though it has more functions). But i think “收录机”is more common. And you are right that it sounds like a machine that can be a radio and tape recorder. originally the machine has three functions:listening to the radio,playing the tape and recording. Nowdays it has more functions like playing CD,but we still call it “收录机”.

  11. Hi 大羽
    In my family we just called that a “Russian doll”. I’ve never heard that M- word with it. Most Americans would know you meant the wooden stacking dolls.
    Rachel

  12. A bike’s kickstand is something that I’ve never seen nor heard in Chinese, despite having cyclist friends.

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