Born Under a Bad Sign


The Drinking Here Should Withhold.

It’s no secret that there’s a lot of bad Janglish (I prefer this word to “Engrish”) all over Japan, and a lot of that is on signs.  Silly, easily avoidable errors, like spelling “city” with “sh” aren’t all that interesting, even if they are funny to my inner thirteen-year old.

This sign, found in the cafe corner of my local supermarket, is a more complicated affair.

First, it almost works as a sentence.  Even if that sentence is nonsensical.  There’s some transitive / intransitive word confusion, but the word order kinda works:  The Drinking (noun/gerund subject) here (location) should withhold (predicate/verb).  In this sentence, there would need to be an object, and “The Drinking” would be withholding that object from… the customer?  In that same way that, for example, an Osaka taxi driver once withheld a ride from me.

The problem is that the author confused the subject and the predicate.

The easiest fix is:  Please withhold from drinking here.

This is still a little confusing, because the Japanese explicitly states that it is only alcohol which should not be drunk – an important detail in a coffee nook – but this isn’t made clear in English.  The original Japanese also specifies that this applies to the “Eat-In Corner” – which in itself is quirky Katakana English, but really isn’t so bad.  I don’t think it’s necessary, though.  “Withhold” is a little overly formal for my taste.  So is “refrain”, but I like it better anyway.

So, a more precise sign would read:  Please refrain from drinking alcoholic beverages here.

Or more casually:  Please don’t drink alcohol here.

All of which are much more polite than the sign we would get in the U.S.


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