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There is an urban legent that the Chevy Nova had to change it’s name in Mexico because it could be interpreted as “no va”.  it’s a cute story, but it’s false.

Now, apparently there is a little claim going around that Bing, the brand name of Microsoft’s search engine in fact sounds like the word for “disease”.  And this is based on what?  A fortune cookie. Of course, the fortune cookie is right in this case (they usually aren’t bad, but never take them seriously), there is a character 病 that is pronounced bìng* and means “disease.”  However, one thing that you can always count on in Chinese, especially with single-character words, is that there are homophones and near-homophones that are just as likely.  Lots of them:

binginchinese

What matters is what characters you use to transliterate it.  It should be noted that Google could have been transliterated to mean “skeleton”, but the company wisely found a couple characters that could loosely mean something like “valley song” (in other words, a nonsense phrase with non-offensive characters).

Of course, Microsoft seems to just want to dodge it altogether.  Their China site has no transliteration of their name, just the name in Latin characters:

bingchinapage

Not sure if what the deal is there.  Maybe they expect Chinese people to pronounce it as pinyin and be done with it (ok for mainlanders, but what about Taiwanese people who don’t learn pinyin in school?)  In any case, if Microsoft has any Chinese speakers in their marketing staff, I’m sure they will never, ever brand themselves as “disease”.  Some nasty netizen might make fun of their name, but I don’t think there’s much chance of avoiding that in Chinese.

*the pronunciation may or may not be the same as various English realizations of <Bing> but I won’t get into that right now.

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