Published 2007-05-25

Today at lunch I spotted a minivan with GNEFGNOD written on the side. You see some funny car names in China (“Freeca,” “Houda,” “BWM”) but this one was downright incomprehensible. Gnefgnod?

But then I noticed 东风 (actually it was 東風 — traditional script, but same effect) on the nameplate on the back of the car, and it all made sense. 东风 means “East Wind” and is Romanized as dongfeng. Chinese text on the passenger side of a large car is often written right-to-left, to approximate how it might appear on a banner carried into battle by a cavalier. This is not to say that the text is mirrored (as it would be on an actual battle flag), but simply written right-to-left. Traditionally, Chinese could be written any direction other than bottom-to-top, so text written right-to-left doesn’t look funny.

The Eastwind Motor Company is simply extending the war-banner treatment to Pinyin.

Fun postscript: the Chinese word for “minivan” (a popular vehicle type for commercial uses) is 面包车 mianbaoche, “bread loaf car.”