Chindew Hindew

There's another howler in this week's edition of The New Yorker, this one perpetrated by our old friend Alec Wilkinson. Near the end of a characteristically unobservant "Talk of the Town" piece about photography at Chinese weddings, he blurts out:

Her expression changed only twice. Once, when the photographer said something that sounded like "Chindew, hindew," she smiled.

Now, I don't know Chinese, and I know still less about Chinese wedding photography. But it doesn't take a Chinese linguist to observe that the photographer almost certainly said something more meaningful than "Chindew, hindew." After all, the sounds are all found in Chinese. Try writing it as qin du hin du and you even have something that looks like pinyin. I'd be shocked if it didn't mean something appropriate in the context of having one's picture taken.

Not that I hold it against Wilkinson that he doesn't speak Chinese. Reporters don't have to know everything before they start on a story. I do hold it against Wilkinson that he didn't try to find someone who does speak Chinese to translate at least that much for him. Reporters are supposed to find things out, after all. I mean, come on. How did this one get past Wilkinson, his editor, and his fact-checker? Did no one at "the magazine" feel even the slightest curiosity about what short remark might cause a blushing bride to smile on a cold day?