Proofread Study Interval Nation Door Mansion

Published 2007-01-29

XIS buses have the name of the school, in Chinese, printed in large letters on the sides. On the driver side it’s printed in the usual left-to-right fashion (Chinese is read from left to right, like English):

(Xiamen Guoji Xuexiao)

This translates to the school’s English name:

Xiamen International School

On the passenger side, it’s printed in reverse (not mirror image, but with reversed letters), so it reads:

(Xiao Xue Ji Guo Men Xia—Chinese text does not use spaces between words)

Because every character in Chinese has a one-to-one relationship with both a sound and a unit of meaning (although most words are at least two characters long), you can actually “translate” this gibberish as:

Proofread Study Interval Nation Door Mansion

Chinese doesn’t have the same grammatical structures as English, so most adjectives or prepositions can also function as nouns or verbs, and vice versa. Moreover, plurality, tense, and other grammatical elements are not explicit. So this could also read:

Proofread studies between national door mansions
Proofreading studious intervals of national door mansions

...which make more (grammatical) sense

Many buses or other company vehicles that have large lettering are printed like this. I was told that this is because when a mounted warrior with a banner rides into battle, the banner is read from left-to-right from his left side, but “reversed” (actually mirror image) from his right. Also, archaic Chinese was often written left-to-right then right-to-left on alternate lines. So your eye would zigzag across a body of text.

Formal Chinese can also be written from top to bottom, as on a calligraphy scroll or painting.