Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Bad Grapefruit (two more Vietnamese words, etc...)

BBC:Vietnam bans fruity website name:

A website hoping to promote grapefruit in Vietnam has been banned from using the fruit's name because of official fears of a mix-up with a penis.

The Vietnamese for grapefruit, buoi, sounds different from a slang word for penis, but without special accents it looks the same. Vietnamese regulations say website names cannot include "sensitive" words.

The site, set up to market a grapefruit wholesaler in Ha Tinh province, was told to find another name. "We have to refuse the website name of www.buoi.com.vn because the word for grapefruit, buoi, without a proper tone marking can be misunderstood," Thai Huu Ly, of the Vietnam Internet Network Information Centre [VINIC], told the AFP agency.

But will it be misunderstood? Will your average Vietnamese think "www.buoi.com.vn" has something to do with the sex industry? Will they think the site is about selling citrus fruits? To find out, I wrote "www.buoi.com.vn" on a piece of paper, and showed it to a few Vietnamese men I work with. I didn't explain what the URL meant. (Hinting that it had something to do with "fruit" would have been a giveaway, and biased the results.) After a minute of puzzlement, they ALL opted for that non-scatological Vietnamese word for "grapefruit": bưởi.

The other word - the one that VINIC was worried about - is buồi, which is North Việt Nam slang for Cheney. Its usage in Sài Gòn appears to be negligible: my wife hadn't even heard of it. When I showed her the BBC page, she had absolutely no idea how one derived "penis" from unaccented, diacritic-lacking "buoi". She was scornful about how VINIC had even thought that. In the end, I had to find that word in my (very fallible) English-Vietnamese dictionaries and show her. It didn't twig her memory at all. She still had never heard of it, and remained unimpressed with VINIC's actions. 

In the end, VINIC is a government organization. Perhaps most of its members saw "buoi" as nice, honest grapefruit... but then one saw the alternative interpretation, and it could have been embarrassing. So they put the kibosh on it. I think it's a shame. Those greengrocers in Hà Tĩnh (which is in the North) probably weren't thinking scatological thoughts; they just wanted to sell fruit. Perhaps they could rename their domain "www.nhieuquabuoi.com.vn" (from nhiều quả bưởi: lots of grapefruit). It would be better still if domain names were internationalized altogether (permitting the unambiguous "www.bưởi.com.vn"), but wide scale implementation appears years off. 

On the other hand, obscenity is generally in the eye of the beholder. I feel that if you have to explain in great detail and with a lot of effort why "www.buoi.com.vn" is rude, then it's probably not that rude at all.