Obama, Bush, vitamin drinks, and puns

Here’s something from an ad I saw on the Taipei subway (MRT). It features cartoons of George W. Bush and Barack Obama shilling for some vitamin drink.

Cartoon figures of Bush and Obama, with Bush disdainfully tossing aside drink cartons labeled 'C' and Obama holding up a bottle of juice labeled 'C'. The text is as described below.

Bush (though he looks a bit more to me like the love child of W and maybe Prince Charles) is saying:

不C 不C

C, bù C.
Hē guǒzhī bùnéng zhǐyǒu wéitāmìng C.

A rough English translation, filling in a few gaps:

Not just vitamin C, not just vitamin C.
When you drink fruit juice, you should not settle for just vitamin C.

Note: The C is italicized in the Pinyin version to emphasize that this is pronounced like a foreign (i.e., English) letter C rather than how C is pronounced in the Pinyin alphabet. The reason for this is that “bù C” is a pun on “Bush”, whose name in Taiwan is generally pronounced in Mandarin as Bùxī, unlike in China, where it is usually pronounced Bùshí.

Obama’s lines are more interesting:

歐八馬歐八馬 (台語)

Read in Mandarin this is:

Ōubāmǎ [Obama], Ōubāmǎ (Táiyǔ).
Mǎi guǒzhī bù yào hēibái mǎi.

And roughly in English this is

Obama, Obama (Taiwanese)
When you buy fruit juice, don’t buy just whatever

But the text tells people to read 歐八馬 (Ōubāmǎ/Obama) as Taiwanese (Táiyǔ), which means that it’s pronounced Au3-peh4-be2, which is a pun with what is written, in red for emphasis, 黑白買.

黑白買 in Mandarin is hēibái mǎi, which means to buy things indiscriminantly. In Hoklo (Taiwanese), however, this expression is O.1-peh4-boe2, thus a pun on Au3-peh4-be2 (Obama).

Also, hēibái by itself is simply “black [and] white” (as in Obama and Bush).

And Obama’s name, like Bush’s, has different Mandarin forms in Taiwan and China. But that doesn’t have much to do with the ad.

As always, I welcome those who (unlike me) know Taiwanese romanization well to correct anything that needs fixing.

17 thoughts on “Obama, Bush, vitamin drinks, and puns

  1. This is a great post. My Taiwanese is very, very rusty, but I believe that someone from Tainan would pronounce ? as be2 (just guessing on the tone), which would mean the pun is even tighter.

  2. There are usually multiple Taiwanese readings per Hanji. From http://iug.csie.dahan.edu.tw/TG/jitian/tgjt.asp, …

    歐 o͘, e, áu, au (ou1, e1, au2, au1)
    八 peh, poeh (peh4, poeh4)
    馬 má, bé (ma2, be2)
    Thus, 歐八馬 o͘-peh bé (ou1-peh4 be2).

    黑 hek (hek4), but in Taiwanese Hanji, “black” would be written with 烏 o͘ (ou1).
    白 pe̍h, pe̍k (peh8, pek8)
    買 bé, bóe (be2, boe2)
    Thus, 烏白買 o͘-pe̍h-bé (ou1-peh8 be2).

    歐八馬 and 烏白買 are almost identical in pronunciation but the tones of 八 (eight) and 白 (white) are different. Also, tone sandhi rules require changing the tone of the ou1 to ou7, peh4 to peh8, peh8 to peh4 (listen carefully below).

    With the following Mandarin to Taiwanese substitution, 不要 => mài (mai3):
    O͘-peh bé, o͘-peh bé. Bé kó-chiap mài o͘-pe̍h-bé.
    Ou-peh-be2, ou-peh-be2. Be2 ko2-chiap mai3 ou-peh-be2.
    Peh-oe-ji (POJ) doesn’t mark tones 1 and 4.

    Click here to listen to a text-to-speech rendering.

    Text-to-speech rendering, substituting “koe2-chi2-chiap” for “ko2-chiap” (technical difficulty).

  3. Funny, I think I first noticed this very ad on Thursday, and posted it to my Flickr account just yesterday. ALthough I got the joke without knowing exactly how the words punned, it’s great to read such a detailed breakdown of how these words are pronounced. Thanks for sharing!

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  6. Another note: the literary reading of ? is ”pat”. The colloquial reading ”peh/poeh” is used when referring to amounts, whereas ”pat” is used for years and telephone numbers, bank account numbers etc.

  7. There’s yet another joke that I think they actually meant to imply, which is that ?C?C could be read as m-si m-si in Taiwanese, which would just mean “no no.” That plus the Mandarin reading is pretty funny together.

  8. I really dig this ad; I like to think that the artist has a fairly low impression of Bush and a far higher one of Obama. I get this from the portrayal of the former as sneering while batting away juice boxes, while the latter is laughing and holding his juice enthusiastically. Perhaps I’m just reading too much into it?

  9. Puns aside, the visual aspects of the ad seem disturbing.

    I’m not sure Bush is actually “batting away juice boxes” as offered previously in the thread, rather that he is meant to be swishing his hand in an effeminate manner. The hand on the hip also conveys this connotation. My reading of “?C” was that the ad wasn’t simply a pun on Bush’s name, but also “Not C” where “C” here represents the colloquial term for sissy (C = sissy).

    Furthermore, I don’t see Obama as “laughing and holding his juice enthusiastically,” but rather scratching his head, wide mouthed in an all-too-familiar “African-American as monkey” caricature. “?=?=?” though a simple pun, still only has comic value because Obama is in fact black. I can’t be the only person to see the homophobic and racist overtones, surely?

  10. Thanks for the extra info, everyone.

    @Gareth: I don’t see the “C” here as “sissy”, so I don’t think homophobia was part of the process. Perhaps we’d need some more input from native speakers for that.

    As for being racist, one certainly doesn’t have to scratch too deep in Taiwan or China to find some less than appealing attitudes toward blacks or most anyone with dark skin. That’s perhaps why this one doesn’t seem particularly troubling to me: It’s not racist in a painfully obvious way — at least not to me. In other words, most racist stuff here is pretty clearly racist because lots of folk don’t seem to think it’s racist but simply cute, which means they don’t disguise it or render it subtly. (I vaguely recall a story from about six years ago of some government officials throwing a party for some African diplomats. The kicker is that the officials used cups and plates featuring cartoons of black people with bones through their noses, etc., because they thought that would show their consideration and friendliness.) Or maybe I’ve just been here too long and have become a little desensitized….

  11. I’m a Taiwanese. I think most of Taiwanese people don’t have any sense about homophobia or racism toward these slogans.

  12. Joe Hung of the China Post is well known among readers of Taiwan’s English-language press for his rants. (U.S. readers: imagine a conservative Taiwanese Chinese version of a humorless Paul Harvey.) But he really outdoes himself this time, with not one but two pages of his clueless take on the ad discussed in this post: Consumers are not nincompoops. (Edit to link to archived version.)

    Comedy gold, I tell ya.

    Thanks for the link, Taffy.

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