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Firefly–Serenity Chinese Pinyinary
Chinese translations with standard Hanyu Pinyin romanization and Chinese characters for Firefly the TV series and Serenity the movie and comic books

Disclaimer & Thanks

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I’ve studied Mandarin only a little. For this unofficial site, I’ve used Chinese dictionaries, the DVDs, and the published scripts and comic books. FireflySerenity Chinese translator Jenny Lynn graciously answered some questions (before any scripts were published) to fill in some gaps in the Firefly part, but she hasn’t verified the accuracy of this site as a whole.

Fei1chang2 gan3xie4 非常感谢 (thank you very much) to

Kevin Sullivan, Firefly–Serenity Chinese Pinyinary*
Kai3wen2 Sha1li4wen2, Ying2huo3chong2–Ning2jing4 Zhong1wen2 Pin1yin1-dian3

*Pinyinary is a word I made up for “pinyin dictionary” after putting the scripts’ Mandarin into standard Hanyu Pinyin romanization.

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Site Entries


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For writing Mandarin in the Latin alphabet (romanization), this site uses Hanyu Pinyin romanization, the standard of Mainland China and more recently of Taiwan as well. Firefly (and the later movie Serenity), except for the pilot episode, used a made-up phonetic system for the scripts (e.g. Sheh-sheh for Xie4xie5 ‘Thank you’). Jenny Lynn, the post-pilot translator, explained:

I didn’t have the luxury of teaching [the actors] pinyin, nor did they have the luxury to learn it. Therefore, I was stuck having to sound out the words and coming up with something phonetic.

(Jenny Lynn, questionnaire answer in E-mail attachment to author, November 11, 2004)


  • The Cantonese on this site is in the Jyutping romanization system devised and promoted by the Linguistic Society of Hong Kong. The Japanese is in the Hepburn romanization system, common in textbooks for learners of Japanese.

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Tone Numbers

Numerals in Chinese words (e.g., ni3hao3 ‘hello’) represent Chinese tones.

Every syllable of every word in tonal languages like Mandarin have pitch patterns that are part of the correct pronunciation and that contrast with other words that have the same consonant and vowel sounds but different tones, such as

The range of the pitches is relative to the very highest and very lowest pitch of each speaker’s normal speaking voice. Within this individual range, there are pitch contours of staying level, going up, and going down in pitch, as the following table shows:

Mandarin Tones
Tone NameTone IndicatorPitch Contour
OrdinalDescriptionNumberVowel MarkaEnvironmentStartActionEnd
  • a This site uses tone numbers instead of vowel marks because computers don’t always properly display letters with the macron and caron and only certain fonts will even render them.
  • bA 3rd-tone syllable before another 3rd-tone syllable shifts to 2nd tone. Thus, ‘you’ is written ni3 in Hanyu Pinyin romanization and also pronounced in isolation as ni3. However, 你好 ‘hello’ is written ni3hao3 but pronounced as ni2hao3. The first syllable is high rising not low falling.
1st tonehigh level1
(e.g., ma1)
macron ( ¯ )
(e.g., )
allvery high pitchstays level
(long duration)
very high pitch
2nd tonehigh rising2
(e.g., ma2)
acute ( ´ )
(e.g., )
allmedium pitchrisesvery high pitch
3rd tonelow falling-rising3
(e.g., ma3)
caron ( ˇ )
(e.g., )
before a pause or the end of a sentencelow pitchfalls then rises
(long duration)
very low pitch then high pitch
before a syllable other than another 3rd toneblow pitchfallsvery low pitch
4th tonehigh falling4
(e.g., ma4)
grave ( ` )
(e.g., )
allvery high pitchfalls quickly
(short duration)
very low pitch
5th tone
0th tone
neutral5 or 0
(e.g., ma5 or
[No mark]
(e.g., ma)
after another tonevaries depending on preceding syllable
(used with many grammatical words and with endings of many compound words)


  1. Cantonese tones (Jyutping romanization, which uses only numbers):
    • 1: high level (very high to very high pitch)
    • 2: high rising (low to very high)
    • 3: mid level (medium to medium)
    • 4: low falling (low to very low)
    • 5: low rising (low to medium)
    • 6: low level (low to low)
  2. More information on Mandarin and Cantonese tones: Chinese Tones (on my Language and Humor site); sound files of Mandarin syllables with different tones: Chinese Lessons

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Usage Labels

formerly common term that might still occur in specialized contexts
style of spoken language or of informal, spoken-style written language
language showing disdain or despisement
offbeat term whose meaning isn’t obvious from the parts
verbally abusive language
[Literary Chinese]
style of formal writing continuing to use Classical Chinese (refined Old Chinese [see below]) grammar and vocabulary, standard in China until the early 20th century
[Modern Standard Mandarin (Putonghua)]
(called Guoyu in Taiwan) standard language of the People’s Republic of China, based on the grammar and vocabulary of northern Mandarin dialects and the pronunciation of Beijing Mandarin
word or Chinese character not in most dictionaries
term no longer used due to replacement by another word or to disappearance of what it refers to
language considered crude or indecent
[Old Chinese]
(771 BCE–200 CE = Spring and Autumn period, Warring States period, Qin dynasty, Han dynasty) standard language that was used among speakers (including Confucius [551 BCE–479 BCE]) of the mutually unintelligible languages of the ancient central states of China and that evolved into Mandarin, Cantonese, Southern Min, and other languages of most of the people of China
courteous term
seldom-used term
[set phrase]
an expression that exists as a unvarying chunk of language
[severe insult]
extremely harsh verbally abusive language
extremely informal, unconventional language
[Taiwan Mandarin]
Mandarin as used in Taiwan, influenced by Taiwanese (the Taiwan version of the Hokkien dialect of the Southern Min language, which is the native language of the majority descendants of Southern-Min-speaking settlers from China’s Fujian province across the Taiwan Strait)
related to old customs
[vernacular Mandarin]
style of writing using Modern Standard Mandarin (Putonghua) grammar and vocabulary
style of written language or of formal, written-style spoken language

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Language Terms

shortened form, often the first syllable/character, e.g.: mei2 (traditional: ) for mei2you3 没有 (traditional: 沒有 ) ‘to have no (something), -less’
(also: measure word) term used for counting or referencing nouns of a certain category, e.g.: bei1 for cupfuls/glassfuls
loan translation
(also: calque) word or phrase created by translating a word from another language
word borrowed from another language
word that imitates a sound
phonetically used Chinese character
character used for its sound value not related to the meanings for which the character is usually used, usually for a transliteration (see below)
converting words and names from one writing system into the Latin alphabet (Roman alphabet); Mandarin uses Hanyu Pinyin romanization
converting words and names from one writing system into another, as was done with Sanskrit-language Buddhist terms and names in China

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Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Why is there spoken and written Chinese in Firefly and Serenity?
  2. Are the actors speaking Mandarin, Cantonese, or some other variety of Chinese?
  3. What other languages were used in Firefly and Serenity?
  4. Were there any errors with the written Chinese?
  5. Was any of the written Chinese (and Japanese) just gibberish?
  6. Are shiny and gorramn/gorram from Chinese?
  7. What do Sihnon, Jiangyin, Kowlan [Fed Base], Ita [Moon], and [Battle of] Du-Khang mean?
  8. What are the Chinese and Japanese characters on Jayne’s T-shirts?
  9. What are the Chinese characters on Kaylee’s jumpsuit?
  10. What’s the difference between the two Chinese translations for the word Serenity?
  11. What’s the difference between the two Chinese translations for the name Blue Sun?
  12. How could one translate X into Mandarin?
  13. Is Joss Whedon’s first name Chinese?

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1. Why is there spoken and written Chinese in Firefly and Serenity?

1.1. Blended Cultures

Early on, Firefly creator Joss Whedon discussed how he used Chinese dialog to show a future blending of cultures:

I decided to feature Mandarin Chinese for one very good reason: I didn’t know it was Mandarin Chinese. I actually wanted Cantonese, which more people speak.1 Mandarin’s a little more formal, and I would’ve gone with Cantonese, but I didn’t check the translations to find out they’re Mandarin until about two weeks ago,2 so Mandarin it is. But I went with Chinese so that we could sort of meld the two cultures. I could have Western culture, the American culture, and the Chinese as kind of having grown together. Since they are the two great superpowers of this earth. I thought instead of killing each other, as everybody seems to be predicting we will, what if they in fact came up together and kind of melded? And the Anglo–Sino Alliance is in fact sort of America and China as two major planets in the Core. The Central Planets are Sihnon, which is basically China, and Londinium, which is basically America.

(Joss Whedon, Web site video in “Joss and Tim Interviews 11/13/02,” Features, Fox Broadcasting Company: Firefly, November 13, 2002 [formerly at http://www.fox-tv.com/firefly/features.htm]; transcript by author)

1On the contrary, unlike the 19th century mostly Cantonese-speaking Chinese immigrants to America and elsewhere, there are in the world today thirteen times more first-language speakers of Mandarin than Cantonese. As of 2013, Mandarin has about 848 million speakers, and Cantonese (Yue) has about 62.2 million (M. Paul Lewis, Gary F. Simons, and Charles D. Fennig, eds., Ethnologue: Languages of the world, http://www.ethnologue.com/statistics/size. Also available in a print edition: M. Paul Lewis, Gary F. Simons, and Charles D. Fennig, eds., Ethnologue: Languages of the world, 17th ed. [Dallas, Texas: SIL International, 2013]).

2This interview took place on the set of “Objects in Space” in November 2002. Thus, the pilot episode and nine more episodes of Firefly would have already been shot before Joss Whedon found out that the Chinese translator of the pilot episode had used Mandarin instead of Cantonese and that Firefly Chinese translator Jenny Lynn had just picked up where she left off (Jenny Lynn, questionnaire answer in E-mail attachment to author, November 11, 2004).

Later, Whedon referenced the relevance of Chinese to westerns:

The Wild West was full of people from the Far East, and so the mixture of those two cultures—that’s what history is, it’s culture in a blender, and so to take those two and juxtapose them, the idea that every nobody speaks fluent Chinese to me is kind of delightful and not actually unrealistic.

(Joss Whedon, p. 10 of “Taking back the sky: An interview with Joss Whedon.” In Serenity: The official visual companion, 8–11 [London: Titan, 2005])

As for leaving the Chinese dialog unsubtitled but fans translating it for themselves anyway (ahem), FireflySerenity Chinese translator Jenny Lynn pointed out:

The idea was that even if you didn’t know specifically what the characters were saying in Chinese, you’d understand the sentiment. Even so, I loved that every week there were fans who were clamoring to figure out what the Chinese meant, made the effort of researching the lines, shared their versions on the boards and got into lengthy discussions about it. It’s a testament to the kind of fans we had for the show, people who had an interest in digging deeper to learn something new.

(Jenny Lynn, questionnaire answer in E-mail attachment to author, November 11, 2004)

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1.2. Cursing

Of the Chinese dialog in Firefly, a lot of it isn’t cursing (e.g., dong3 ma5 ‘understand?’, le4se4 ‘garbage’, mei4mei5 ‘little sister’, Shen2me5? ‘What?’, even Bi4zui3 ‘Shut up!’), and it doesn’t seem that the main reason for using Chinese dialog in Firefly was to get away with cursing on American broadcast television. But sneaky swearing on TV might have been a plan for the pilot episode. Joss Whedon revealed:

The one big restriction we had was, we couldn’t say anything actually really dirty in Chinese. Because they were like, “Mm, if this goes overseas, people will be able to understand what they’re saying, so you can’t cuss.” Originally, we had them cursing like sailors in Chinese, but they were like, “No, you have to say something that can be understood [without offending speakers of Chinese].”

(Joss Whedon, p. 9 of “Still flying: An interview with Joss Whedon.” By Abbie Bernstein. In Firefly: The official companion, vol. 2, Abbie Bernstein, Bryan Cairns, Karl Derrick, and Tara DiLullo [and television script writers], 6–13 [London: Titan, 2007]; brackets in original)

When the interviewer mentioned that the pilot episode contained the English-for-translation F*** everyone in the universe to death, Whedon said: Yes. Probably changed (p. 9).

In fact, between an unpublished version and the published version of the script for the pilot episode there were three changes to the English to be translated into Chinese that made them less crude:

Changes in English for Chinese Translation in “Serenity, Part 1” Script
Unpublished ScriptPublished Script

aAs a translation for the script English Everyone under the heavens ought to die, the Ni ta ma de (F*** you!) in Ni ta ma de. Tianxia suoyoude ren. Dou gaisi adds no meaning. Perhaps the English was changed from F*** everyone in the universe to death without removing the Ni ta ma de from the Chinese.

F*** everyone in the universe to death.Everyone under the heavens ought to die.
(Ni ta ma de.a Tianxia suoyoude ren. Dou gaisi., Mal)
F*** me blind!Dammit.
(Ta ma de., Mal)
S*** on my head!Something's wrong.
(Aiya! Huaile., Wash)

Despite this, in Firefly there were two related cases where the Chinese translation was more offensive than the original English. The coarse but not really dirty verb to hump (which was also used in English in the show: “Serenity, Part 1,” “Our Mrs. Reynolds,” “Objects in Space”) was translated to the offensive Mandarin verb cao4 ‘to f***’. However, there were also five cases where the Chinese translation was less offensive than the original English, as shown in the table below:

Different Levels of Offensiveness of Original English and Chinese Translation in Firefly
 Original EnglishChinese TranslationBack-translation of Chinese
  • aThe character (cao1 ‘to speak (a language)’ and less commonly cao4 [for this meaning, used only in compound words] ‘to make trouble’) is used as a replacement character for the offensive character . The character (cao4 [offensive] ‘to f***’) is often not used because the combination of its parts is visually explicit: ru4 [used only in compound words] ‘to enter’ and rou4flesh’ [noun].
  • bThe translation of frog-humping sonofab**** to the equivalent of frog-f***ed hooligan both turns humping into the coarser f***ed and sonofab**** into the milder hooligan.
  • cThe Mandarin exclamations Zao1gao1! and Ai1ya1! are used like ‘Damn!’, but there’s no connection to the offensive (to some people) biblical damnation to hell.
dog humpinggo tsao de
gou3 cao4 de5 狗操的a
(“The Train Job,” Jayne)
frog-humping sonofab****bching-wah TSAO duh liou mahng
qing1wa1 cao4 de5 liu2mang2 青蛙操的流氓a
“Ariel,” Mal)
frog-f***edb hooligan
ass-kicking killerSHIONG-tsan SHA-sho
xiong1can2 sha1shou3 凶残杀手
(traditional: 凶殘殺手 )
(“The Message,” Kaylee)
ruthless killer
Crap.Tzao gao.
Zao1gao1. 糟糕。
(“Bushwhacked,” Wash)
Damn.c (What a mess.)
Ai1ya1! 哎呀!
(“Our Mrs. Reynolds,” Wash)
Damn!c (Oh my!)
Damn it!Tzao-gao!
Zao1gao1! 糟糕!
(“War Stories,” Mal)
Damn!c (What a mess!)
frog-humping sonofab****bching-wah TSAO duh liou mahng
qing1wa1 cao4 de5 liu2mang2 青蛙操的流氓a
“Ariel,” Mal)
frog-f***ed hooliganb

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2. Are the actors speaking Mandarin, Cantonese, or some other variety of Chinese?

All the Chinese dialog in Firefly and Serenity (movie) is Mandarin, but sometimes instead of the Beijing standard it’s Taiwan Mandarin. The recorded warnings in “Out of Gas” were in Cantonese by mistake, and one borrowed Cantonese term was used for the name of a beverage in “The Train Job.”

2.1. Taiwan Mandarin

Jenny Lynn, the Firefly Chinese translator, thought Taiwan Mandarin was appropriately coarser. For example:

Si3 instead of shi3 is a common Taiwanese pronunciation. But also, it sounds a little less “refined” than the Beijing way to say it. And since we are talking “crap,” I decided to keep it less refined.

(Jenny Lynn, questionnaire answer in E-mail attachment to author, November 11, 2004)

She also thought some Taiwan Mandarin sounds were less difficult for the actors than the Beijing standard:

In general, I often opted for the Taiwanese pronunciation because it’s easier to say than the more nuanced mainland pronunciation. Again, sounds like zhi, chi, and shi are uniquely Chinese and difficult to the non-Mandarin speaker to say.

(Jenny Lynn, E-mail message to author, November 15, 2004)

Modern Standard Mandarin (Putonghua) pronunciation is based on the (northern China) Beijing dialect of Mandarin Chinese. Taiwan Mandarin is influenced by Taiwanese, which is the Taiwan variety of the Hokkien dialect of Southern Min Chinese brought to Taiwan by (southern China) Fujian-province ancestors. Taiwanese doesn’t have the sounds ZH (“j”), CH, or SH, and Taiwan Mandarin often replaces them with the sounds Z (“tz”), C (“ts”), and S, respectively. There also isn’t a strong distinction between final -NG and -N (note English talkin’ for the word talking).

From the perspective of Modern Standard Mandarin (Putonghua), speakers of Taiwan Mandarin sometimes replace some sounds with similar sounds made farther forward in the mouth, as shown in the following table with examples from Firefly and Serenity (movie):

Modern Standard Mandarin (Putonghua) vs. Taiwan Mandarin Pronunciations
Change / DialectModern Standard Mandarin (Putonghua)Taiwan Mandarin

Note: Sometimes the sound difference went in the opposite direction. In natural speech this usually happens due to emphasis or hypercorrection. For example:

  • Z (“tz”) → ZH (“j”):
    zui3 (“tzway”) ‘a mouth’ in Bi4zui3, nin2 hen3 bu4ti3tie1 de5 nan2sheng1!zhui3 (“jway”) in BEE-jway, neen hen BOO-TEE-TYEH duh NAN-shung! (“Objects in Space,” Inara)
  • -N-NG
    shen1 (“shun”) ‘to be deep’ in Yi1qi3 shen1hu1xi1.sheng1 (“shung”) in EE-chee shung-hoo-shee. (“Trash,” Mal)
  • aCHZ (“tz”): In two cases the same chang2 (“chahng”) ‘normal’ became zang2 (“tzahng”) instead of the expected cang2 (“tsahng”):
    • jing1chang2 mei2yong4 de5jing-tzahng mei yong-duh (“Safe,” Mal)
    • bu4tai4 zheng4chang2 de5boo-tai jung-tzahng-duh (“Safe” [Cut], Simon)
  • bThank you to Firefly Chinese translator Jenny Lynn for clarifying that these southern Chinese pronunciations are specifically Taiwan Mandarin.
ZH (“j”) → Z (“tz”)zha4 (“ja”) ‘to explode’
Da4xiang4 bao4zha4shi4 de5 la1 du4zi5
za4 (“tza”)
Da-shiang bao-tza shr duh lah doo-tze (“Our Mrs. Reynolds,” Mal)
zhao3 (“jao”) ‘to seek’
Ni3 zhao3si3 ma5? Ni3 yao4 wo3 kai1qiang1?
zao3 (“tzao”)
Nee TZAO ss-MA? Nee-YOW wuh-KAI CHANG? (Serenity [movie], Mal)
zhu4 (“joo”) ‘to bless’
Zhu4fu2 ni3, mei4mei5.
zu4 (“tzoo”)
TZOO-foo nee, mei mei. (“Heart of Gold,” Nandi)
CH → C (“ts”)achan3 (“chahn”) ‘to produce’
can3 (“tsahn”)
can shen (“Heart of Gold” [Mostly cut], Narrator [of shadow-puppet play])
[see also NG → N below in this table]
che3 (“chuh”) ‘to talk irresponsibly’
ce3 (“tsuh”b)
Hoo-tsuh (“Jaynestown,” Zoe)
chui1 (“chway”) ‘to boast’
cui1 (“tsway”)
tsway-niou (“Safe” [Cut], Gabriel [Tam])
SH → Ssha1 (“sha”) ‘to kill’
Tian1sha1 de5 e4mo2.
sa1 (“sa”)
Tyen-sah duh UH-muo. (“Ariel” [Cut; In unpublished version of script], Simon)
sha3 (“sha”) ‘to be stupid’
Ni3men5 dou1 shi4 sha3gua1.
sa3 (“sa”b)
Nee-mun DOH shr sagwa. (“Trash,” Inara)
shi1 (“shr”) ‘to be soaked’
niao4 shi1 de5 du3gui3
si1 (“se”)
niao SE duh DOO-gway (“Heart of Gold,” Wash)
shi3 (“shr”) ‘excrement’
  1. gen1 hou2zi5 bi3 diu1 shi3
  2. gou3shi3
  3. zheng1qi4 de5 gou3shi3 dui1
  4. niu2shi3
si3 (“se”b)
  1. gun HOE-tze bee DIO-se (“Heart of Gold” [In unpublished version of script], Inara)
  2. gos se (“Shindig,” Atherton and Inara)
    go se (“Safe” [Cut], Simon; “Out of Gas,” Captain [of pirate ship])
    go-se (“The Message” [Cut], Womack)
  3. jung chi duh go-se dway (“Our Mrs. Reynolds” [Cut], Bandit 1)
  4. NIOU-se (“War Stories,” Mal)
shi4 (“shr”) ‘era’
si4 (“se”)
Chuang si ji (“Heart of Gold” [Mostly cut], Narrator [of shadow-puppet play])
shuai4 (“shwai”) ‘to be handsome’
suai4 (“swai”) [not a syllable with any tone in Modern Standard Mandarin (Putonghua)]
swai (“Safe,” Kaylee)
-NG → -Nsheng1 (“shung”) ‘to give rise to’
shen1 (“shun”)
can shen (“Heart of Gold” [Mostly cut], Narrator [of shadow-puppet play])
[see also CH → C above in this table]
ying4 (“eeng”) ‘to supply’
yin4 (“een”)
gong yin (“Out of Gas” [Translated into Cantonese], Voice of Serenity;
“Heart of Gold” [Mostly cut], Narrator [of shadow-puppet play])


  • For shuai4 and eight other Chinese expressions from the show, see my Firefly-Chinese filk (parody) song on Firefly Funsite: “Firefly Fans (Spawned a Dongma)” (based on “Michelle” by the Beatles), which is how this site got started.

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2.2. Cantonese

Firefly had two Cantonese terms. The first was just borrowed Cantonese for a particular beverage (within a Mandarin sentence), and the second was an error:
五加皮 : Ng-Ka-Pei (acanthopanax-bark liquor) [used as a foreign borrowing in English; Mandarin: wu3jia1pi2] (“The Train Job,” Mal)
Gau3saang1 hai6tung2 gu3zoeng3. Gim2caa4 joeng5hei3 gung1jing3.
救生系统故障。检查氧气供应。 (traditional: 救生系統故障。檢查氧氣供應。): Life support failure. Check oxygen levels at once. [Back-translation of spoken Cantonese: Lifesaving-system breakdown. Check oxygen supply.; Back-translation of script Mandarin: Lifesaving-equipment failure. Check oxygen supply.] (“Out of Gas,” Voice of Serenity)

When “Out of Gas” first aired, there was a lot of fan discussion about why the computer warnings were in Cantonese instead of the usual Mandarin. When asked about this, Firefly Chinese translator Jenny Lynn responded:

I do know why the line was in Cantonese, and I hate to demystify it, putting end to all the China–Hong Kong political debate and conspiracy theories, but here is the real explanation: Even though I loaned my voice as a guide for the temporary audio in the editor’s cut, they couldn’t use my voice because I wasn’t a member of the Screen Actors Guild. The post-production department uses a loop group—actors to do voiceover work to fill in audio for crowd noise, dialogue replacement, or in this case, the Serenity computer. So, the associate producer requested a Mandarin Chinese actress to re-dub the lines, but the actress who took the microphone that day spoke the lines in Cantonese. Nobody caught it until I and everybody else heard it when the episode aired. I brought up the discrepancy with the producers the next day and for subsequent episodes, I joined the actor’s guild and did the background voiceovers whenever they called for Mandarin, just so there’d be no slip up.

(Jenny Lynn, questionnaire answer in E-mail attachment to author, November 11, 2004)


  • Politically, Mandarin and Cantonese are often seen as two dialects of the Chinese language. Linguistically, Mandarin (Guanhua) and Cantonese (Yue) are mutually unintelligible and are at least sister languages in the Chinese branch of the Sino–Tibetan language family, like Spanish and French in the Italic branch (Romance languages) of the Indo–European language family. But within Mandarin and Cantonese themselves there are some mutually unintelligible varieties, so Mandarin and Cantonese could be considered language families in a Sino–Tibetan superfamily.

    Also, Modern Standard Mandarin (Putonghua), based on northern Mandarin dialects and Beijing Mandarin pronunciation, is a standardized national language taught in schools in most parts of China, and those people are expected to be able to read Modern Standard Mandarin.

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3. What other languages were used in Firefly and Serenity?

There was a little spoken and written language in Firefly and Serenity that was neither English nor Chinese.

3.1. Spoken

Firefly had one Czech line, and Serenity (movie) had one Russian line used as a safeword:

Dej jim za to plátek masa.
They have enough for a slice. [in Czech]: [Back-translation of Czech: [Czech] Give them a slice of meat for it.] (“War Stories,” Niska)
Eto kuram na smekh!
Это курам на смех!: [Russian] That’s ridiculous!; [literally: to make the hens laugh] (Serenity [movie], Simon [used as safeword])


  • Thank you to native-Czech-speaker fan kernel32 for the Czech information.

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3.2. Written

3.2.1. Firefly

There was a little written Japanese in two episodes of Firefly:

Miyamoto Goteiraku
[restaurant name]: [Japanese] Miyamoto [Japanese surname] Five Faithful Pleasures (“Shindig,” on restaurant’s red “polka-triangle” vertical banner)
Ikebana to Zouka; Rakuzaka; Taguchiya Ikebanaten
[Japanese] Ikebana and Artificial Flowers; Rakuzaka [a name]; Taguchiya [Japanese surname] Ikebana Shop (“Trash,” on vertical banner at Haymer’s estate)
3.2.2. Serenity (movie)

The movie Serenity also had some written Japanese, but it was just decorative gibberish (see section below: (5) Was any of the written Chinese (and Japanese) just gibberish?). In addition, in the movie the ship Serenity had large warning stickers in Sanskrit and Arabic and a video screen at the trading station on Lilac had the word lilac in Arabic (see note below).

आपदां aapadaaM
[Sanskrit] dangers (Serenity [movie], on warning stickers in the ship Serenity)
للخطر [?lelkhetr]
[Arabic] danger (Serenity [movie], on warning stickers in the ship Serenity)
الليلك [?alenyelj]
[Arabic] lilac (Serenity [movie], on video screen at trading station on Lilac)


  • Arabic: The word lilac in Arabic is appropriate because the English word lilac comes, via French, from the Arabic word lilak (ultimately traceable to nila: [Sanskrit] dark blue). According to various online Arabic dictionaries, الليلك [?alenyelj] should probably be النيلج [?alelyelk], which in romanized form also looks more like the centuries-old form lilak.

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4. Were there any errors with the written Chinese?

Yes. Some characters were mirror-image and some were displayed sideways.

4.1. Written Mirror-Image

[ [Image: mirror-image Chinese character] ]: police (“The Train Job,” on sheriff shoulder patches)
[ [Image: mirror-image Chinese character] ]: electricity (“Trash,” on trash bin)
易碎 yi4sui4
[ [Image: mirror-image Chinese characters] ]: fragile (“The Message,” on crate sticker; also written correctly on postal uniform but odd word for there)
-de5 Xiao3jing1ling2, Jiu3ba1; -shan4 Fu2wu4 Tuan2-
[ [Image: mirror-image Chinese characters] ]: [gibberish for background from reused parts of words from Jayne T-shirt designs and elsewhere: 战斗的小精灵 Zhan4dou4 de5 Xiao3jing1ling2: Fighting Elves and 酒吧 Jiu3ba1: Bar; 慈善服务团体 Ci2shan4 Fu2wu4 Tuan2ti3: Philanthropic Service Organization] (somewhat visible in “Shindig” and Serenity (movie) on Peach Halves cans, visible when prop was available on the The Prop Store of London site)

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4.2. Displayed Sideways

收发室 shou1fa1shi4
[ [Image: sideways Chinese characters] ]: mailroom (“Ariel,” characters vertical, sign hung sideways in hospital)
手不敢加價 shou3 bu4 gan3 jia1jia4
[ [Image: sideways Chinese characters] ]: the hand dares not hike the price (“Serenity, Part 1,” characters horizontal, oddly written sideways up woman’s face)
[ [Image: sideways Chinese character] ]: water (“Serenity, Part 2,” oddly written sideways, possibly intentional)

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5. Was any of the written Chinese (and Japanese) just gibberish?

Yes. In the movie Serenity a lot of the Chinese characters and all of the Japanese characters were decorative gibberish, but sometimes the Chinese characters were also a secret code, as were the Firefly press kit’s Japanese characters (see subsections below: (5.2) Chinese Substitution Codes and (5.3) Japanese Substitution Code).

5.1. Chinese and Japanese Gibberish

All of the streaming Chinese characters and Japanese katakana (syllabic phonetic) characters on River’s data screen in the flashback and the dream sequence in Serenity (movie) were gibberish—like The Matrix’s falling code of numerals, letters, and Japanese katakana. There were some Japanese katakana characters on the doors of the ship Serenity, but they didn’t represent any Japanese words (see Note 1 below):

クマン クマン
ku ma n; ku ma n: [decorative gibberish] (Serenity [movie], on door in dining room to left of food lockers as Mal walks through from bridge to engine room at beginning of movie, and later visible behind Mal and Simon as they argue after River gets triggered)
チクソ チクソ
chi ku so; chi ku so: [decorative gibberish] (Serenity [movie], on door in dining room near Zoe as Mal and Simon argue after River gets triggered)
セリラ セリラ
se ri ra; se ri ra: [decorative gibberish] (Serenity [movie], on door in dining room near Mal as he and Simon argue after River gets triggered, and later visible as Jayne goes to the storage locker containing River)


  1. Japanese substitution code: The Firefly press kit used English and a cipher of Japanese phonetic characters for the English letters as decorative gibberish (see subsection below: (5.3) Japanese Substitution Code), but

    • クマン クマン would just be H J Y   H J Y (all right-index-finger letters on the keyboard).
    • チクソ チクソ would just be A H C   A H C.
    • セリラ セリラ would just be P L O   P L O (all in the upper-right corner of the letters on the keyboard).
  2. Despite the similarity, セリラ (se ri ra) is not the Japanese transliteration of the English word cellar (which is セラー seraa) nor of cellular (セルラー seruraa).

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5.2. Chinese Substitution Codes


The movie Serenity had a lot of Chinese writing, but a lot of the Chinese characters were the same 52 characters over and over as a cipher for English letters. It’s still decorative gibberish, but (in addition to randomness) contains hidden irrelevancies, misspellings, and spans of the alphabet, as in:

Zhu3 Wei2 Zhong1 Zha4 Zhang4 Me5 Zhong1 Pang1 Feng1 Zhong1 Chuan4 Ju3; Zhong1 Feng1
[substitution code: I Hate Payback A B (see note below)] (Serenity [movie], on Cortex screen as River searches for Miranda on star map)
Qiu1 Zhang4 Bing3 Zhong1 Nai3 Chuan4 Wei2 Zhi1 Me5 Wu1 Zha4 Jiu3
[substitution code: Resamch Rpstn (sic) for Research+Rescue] (Serenity [movie], on interior of crashed C57D ship on Miranda)
Dong1 Si1 Cheng2 Diu1; Diu1 Liang3 Zhong1 Feng1; Feng1 Chuan4 Lin2; Lin2 Zhu3 Wan2 Dan1; Xia4 Qi2 Bu4 Yu3; Yu3 Gai4 Chou3 Zhuan1; Qie3 Pi1 Shi4 Qiu1; Bing3 Ye4 Cong2; Ding1 Qi1 Wan4 Zhang4; Wan4 Zhang4 San1 Shang4; Diu1 Liang3 Zhong1 Feng1; Dong1 Si1 Zhong1 Feng1
[substitution code: v w x y; y z a b; b c d; d e f g; h i j k; k l m n   o p q r; s t u; b c d e; d e f g; y z a b; v w a b] (Serenity [movie], on Cortex buttons, visible when Inara sends a wave [left to right, then down])


  • Payback: Perhaps coincidently, there was a character named Payback in the 1987 American movie Full Metal Jacket, which included Jayne-portrayer Adam Baldwin (A.B.) as the character Animal Mother. Even so, the code for A B here is probably just the first two letters of the alphabet used to lengthen the line.

The two tables below (basic and detailed with character pronunciations/meanings) show the two codes, which were often mixed together:

Serenity Chinese Substitution Codes
Code 1
Code 2丿

[Skip over detailed table and go to (5.2.1) Origin of Chinese Substitution Codes]

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Detailed Serenity Chinese Substitution Codes With Pronunciations and Meanings
Code 1Code 2
Meaning of the Word / Word Part Represented by the CharacterLet-
Meaning of the Word / Word Part Represented by the Character
  • aThe Ten Heavenly Stems and Twelve Earthly Branches are used in Chinese astrology and ancient Chinese time-reckoning:
    • Ten Heavenly Stems: jia3, yi3, bing3, ding1, wu4, ji3, geng1, xin1, ren2, gui3
    • Twelve Earthly Branches: zi3, chou3, yin2, mao3, chen2, si4, wu3, wei4, shen1, you3, xu1, hai4
A[None]yi1one, aA[None]zhong1[for this meaning, used only in compound words]: a middle, a center
B[None]ding1[fourth of the Ten Heavenly Stemsa], fourth (in a series)B(traditional: )feng1[used only in compound words]: plentiful
C[None]qi1sevenC[None]chuan4to conspire
D(traditional: )wan4ten thousandD(traditional: )lin2at the time of
E[None]zhang4[Chinese unit of measure] [= 3⅓ meters]E[None]zhu3[radical #3 (dot) for organizing Chinese characters]
F[None]san1threeF[None]wan2[used only in compound words (or as a classifier for certain nouns)]: a pill, a small ball
G[None]shang4to go upG[None]dan1[traditional Chinese medicine] a pellet
H[None]xia4to go downwardH(traditional: )wei2to do
I[archaic variant of ]qi2[written] that, suchI[None]zhu3[for this meaning, used only in compound words]: a master, an owner
J[None]bu4notJ(traditional: )li4[used only in compound words]: beautiful
K(traditional: )yu3[Literary Chinese] = gen1 : [vernacular Mandarin] withK(traditional: )ju3to lift
L[None]gai4[written] to begL丿[None]pie3[radical #4 (left-falling stroke) for organizing Chinese characters, also labeled with the same-sounding actual character ]
M[None]chou3[second of the Twelve Earthly Branchesa]M[None]nai3[written] to be
N(traditional: )zhuan1to be focused, to be concentratedN[None]jiu3to be for a long time
O[None]qie3[written] moreoverO[archaic variant of ]tuo1to entrust
P[None]pi1[used only in compound words]: [Literary Chinese] = da4 : [vernacular Mandarin] great, grandP(traditional: )me5[suffix for question words]
Q[None]shi4[used only in compound words (or as a family name)]: a generationQ(traditional: )yi4[used only in compound words]: righteousness, justice
R[None]qiu1[used only in compound words (or as a family name)]: a moundR[None]zhi1[Literary Chinese] = de5 : [vernacular Mandarin] [noun-modifier marker] [here: possessive (genitive), ’s, of]
S[None]bing3[third of the Ten Heavenly Stemsa], third (in a series)S(traditional: )wu1[used only in compound words (or as a family name)]: a crow
T(traditional: )ye4to engage in (a profession)T[None]zha4suddenly
U(traditional: )cong2sinceU[None]hu1at, to
V(traditional: )dong1northV[None]fa2to be tired
W(traditional: )si1silkW(traditional: )le4to be happy, to be joyful
X[None]cheng2[used only in compound words]: an official assistant, a government ministerX[None]ping1[onomatopoeia for “crack” sound] [e.g., a rifle shot]
Y(traditional: )diu1to lose (misplace)Y[None]pang1[onomatopoeia for “Bang!” sound]
Z(traditional: )liang3bothZ(traditional: )qiao2[used only in compound words]: tall

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5.2.1. Origin of Chinese Substitution Codes

There must be either a font or a feature of a graphics program that maps (at least) 52 of the thousands of Chinese characters onto the keys of the Western computer keyboard, presumably regular value and SHIFT to get two 26-character codes for the alphabet. But the mapping is not random. The Chinese codes come from the order of the simplest Chinese characters as organized by the structure of the characters, as shown in the table below:

Origin of Serenity Chinese Substitution Codes

Note: Characters in (parentheses) and gray, for whatever reason, were not used for the substitution codes.

Code 1Organizing Radical #1 ( , ‘one’)
and Characters Containing It



















Code 2Organizing Radical #2 ( , line)
and Characters Containing It
Organizing Radical #3 ( , dot)
and Characters Containing It





Organizing Radical #4 ( 丿 , left-falling stroke)
and Characters Containing It










The use of these characters is most obvious in The Worlds of the Alliance chart (Serenity: The Official Visual Companion, p. 12), in which long spans of characters mostly appear in alphabetical order:


  • Thank you to a Serenity (movie) fan for posting online that the Chinese characters on the Serenity ship labels were a code for the English version, which, with The Worlds of the Alliance chart above, allowed me to figure out all 52 character mappings.

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5.3. Japanese Substitution Code


Some of the Firefly press kit crate stickers and contents were written in both English and Japanese (syllabic phonetic) katakana characters. It’s still decorative gibberish, but the Japanese is a cipher for the same English words, as in:

セリチミイカチスン ミイコナリチ ミキソ アフウフ   モチセ Se-Ri-Chi-Mi-I-Ka-Chi-Su-N Mi-I-Ko-Na-Ri-Chi Mi-Ki-So A-Fu-U-Fu; Mo-Chi-Se
[substitution code: Planetary Nebula NGC 3242; Map] (Firefly Press Kit, on front of star map)

The two tables below (basic and detailed with character pronunciations) show the Japanese cipher:

Firefly Japanese Substitution Code

[Skip over detailed table and go to (5.3.1) Origin of Japanese Substitution Code]

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Detailed Firefly Japanese Substitution Code with Pronunciations

Note: Outside of Latin-alphabet mode the Japanese keyboard has very few keys with a SHIFT value, so there are many SHIFT-value Japanese keys that are not used for the code.

  • a : syllabic N (e.g., mo is one syllable, mon モン is two syllables)
  • bSubscript katakana:
    • ァィゥェォャュョ; for borrowed Chinese sounds like sho ショ and borrowed Western sounds like fi フィ (e.g., firumu フィルム ‘film’)
    • (Shift+Z); for sound like the glottal stop in the middle of English uh-oh (e.g., setto セット ‘set’)
  • c( ): Japanese middle dot for separating foreign names (e.g., Saimon Tamu サイモン・タム ‘Simon Tam’)
yn [syllabic]a
ShiftLettersEi [subscript]b
Ztsu [subscript]
Symbols#a [subscript]
$u [subscript]
%e [subscript]
^o [subscript]
&ya [subscript]
*yu [subscript]
(yo [subscript]
?[middle dot]c

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5.3.1. Origin of Japanese Substitution Code

There are systems that map Japanese phonetic characters onto the keys of Western computer keyboards. Perhaps there is a font or a feature of a graphics program that does so as well. The Japanese code comes from the ordering of the characters on a Japanese computer keyboard, as the following table shows:

Origin of Firefly Japanese Substitution Code:
United States (US) Keyboard and Katakana Mode on Japanese (J) Keyboard

Note: Actually, the keys on a Japanese keyboard are labeled with the default cursive hiragana characters ( あいうえお ) not angular katakana characters ( アイウエオ ), but you can switch to katakana mode and katakana was used in Serenity (movie). Despite all that, it’s more common nowadays to type in romanized Japanese (e.g., typing the K key and the U key to pause and combine to input the character ku instead of the H key to directly input ku).

Also, outside of Latin-alphabet mode the Japanese keyboard has very few keys with a SHIFT value, so there are many SHIFT-value Japanese keys that are not used for the code.

  • aSubscript katakana:
    • ァィゥェォャュョ : for borrowed Chinese sounds like sho ショ and borrowed Western sounds like fi フィ (e.g., firumu フィルム ‘film’)
    • : for a sound like the glottal stop in the middle of English uh-oh (e.g., setto セット ‘set’)
  • bSome versions of the Japanese keyboard don’t have SHIFT values for these right-most areas:
    • ( £ ): British pound currency symbol
    • : Japanese kanji repetition character (e.g., iroiro 色色 as 色々 ‘various’)
    • ( ¬ ): not-sign for logic
    • ( ): Japanese opening double quotation mark (for quotes within quotes)
    • ( ¢ ): cents sign
    • ( ): Japanese closing double quotation mark (for quotes within quotes)
    • : Japanese counter for nouns such as months (e.g., nikagetsu 二ヶ月 ‘two months’). The symbol ka comes from the top-left piece of kanji whereas the similar-looking katakana ke comes from a simplification of the kanji kai ‘to mediate’.
    • ( | ): vertical bar
  • c( 半角/全角 ) [Hankaku/Zenkaku] Half-width/Full-width lock key: similar to a CAPS LOCK key, it switches
    • standard, full-width katakana ( アイウエオ ) to half-width katakana ( アイウエオ ), as used on cash-register receipts.
    • Japanese kanji-width alphanumeric characters ( ABC123 ) to the narrower Western alphanumeric characters ( ABC123 ).
  • dBecause the U.S. keyboard has fewer keys than the Japanese keyboard, the substitution code might not be able to use
    • ( ): Japanese long-vowel mark (e.g., eru エル ‘[letter] L’ vs. eeru エール ‘ale’).
    • ( ): Japanese closing quotation mark.
    • mu.
    • ro.

    But for some U.S. systems, mu is mapped to the U.S. backslash ( \ ) key (towards the upper right of the U.S. keyboard) and ro to the U.S. backtick ( ` ) key (upper left of the U.S. keyboard). The Japanese keyboard is slightly different and when in Western mode

    • the backslash ( \ ) key is the ro key (lower right of the Japanese keyboard).
    • the backtick ( ` ) key is the SHIFT of the also-relocated Western-mode at-symbol ( @ ) key (U.S. keyboard: left angle bracket ( { ) key as SHIFT of left square bracket ( [ ) key; Japanese mode: cents sign ( ¢ ) key as SHIFT of Japanese voicing-mark ( [Image: Japanese voicing mark] ) key [see note g below]), towards the upper right of the Japanese keyboard.

  • e( ): Japanese opening quotation mark
  • f : syllabic N (e.g., mo is one syllable, mon モン is two syllables)
  • gModifier keys for related consonant-sound syllables (similar to inserting acute-accented vowel letters like á on a U.S. keyboard via CONTROL+' then vowel or Mac OPTION+E then vowel):
    • ( [Image: Japanese voicing mark] ) attaches Japanese voicing mark ( ゛, to change ka to ga , se to ze , etc.)
    • ( [Image: Japanese voicing mark] ) attaches Japanese half-voicing mark ( ゜, to change ha to pa , hi to pi , etc.)
  • hOther punctuation:
    • ( ): Japanese comma
    • ( ): Japanese period
    • ( ): Japanese middle dot for separating foreign names (e.g., Saimon Tamu サイモン・タム ‘Simon Tam’)
ShiftUS~!@#$%^&*()_+[No key]
J   aaaaaaa£bb¬b
RegularUS`1234567890-=[No key]
J  a       b¢b e[No key]
Jf[Image: Japanese voicing mark] g[Image: Japanese voicing mark] g[No key]
ShiftUSASDFGHJKL:"[No key] 
J         bbd
RegularUSasdfghjkl;'[No key]
ShiftUSZXCVBNM<>?[No key] 
Ja      hhh|b
RegularUSzxcvbnm,./[No key]

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6. Are shiny and gorramn/gorram from Chinese?

No. Shiny and gorramn/gorram are considered English by the script writers (no requests for Chinese) and captioners (no italics).

6.1. Shiny

The word shiny is just a metaphorical use of it to include the slang meaning of “cool” and so forth. Before Firefly it was used somewhat literally on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (e.g., “No Place Like Home,” 2000, as evidence that an object is probably paranormal) and Angel (e.g., “To Shanshu in L.A.,” 2000, as a pseudo-compliment of a cape). Joss Whedon was asked about shiny for a Q&A:

Q. Where did the term “shiny” come from? Who coined it and how did it become a Firefly catchphrase?

A. I made up the word “shiny” as a thing that is good because things that are shiny tend to be attractive and exciting and catch our attention. It was then explained to me by David Lester, a Producer on the movie, that shiny was actually an old western phrase meaning good that it was in common usage many years ago but I didn’t know that, I thought it was futuristic but that just goes to show you what I always say, that the future is made up of the past.

(Joss Whedon, Joss answers more questions from the Browncoats!, Serenity: The official movie website, September 23, 2005 [formerly at browncoats.serenitymovie.com/serenity/index.html?fuseaction=tools.shownews&news_id=194])

6.2. Gorramn/gorram

Gorramn and gorram are clearly from goddamn. Note the similarities in the table below:

Goddamn and Gorramn/Gorram
21st Century Expression25th Century
goddamn, goddamgorramnFirefly, Serenity (movie)
gorramSerenity comic books
goddamn it, goddamnit, goddammitgorramn itFirefly
gorramnitFirefly, Serenity (movie)
gorrammitSerenity (movie)
gorram itSerenity comic books
I’ll be goddamnedI'll be gorramnedFirefly
I don’t give a good goddamnI don't give a good gorramnFirefly


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7. What do Sihnon, Jiangyin, Kowlan [Fed Base], Ita [Moon], and [Battle of] Du-Khang mean?

7.1. Planet Sihnon

The name of Inara’s planet Sihnon (mentioned in “Serenity, Part 1,” “Bushwhacked,” and “Heart of Gold”) comes from the English combining form Sino- for China/Chinese (from Latin Sinae from Greek Sinai: Chinese people). Joss Whedon confirmed this origin, calling Sihnon a bastardization of Sino, our word for ‘Chinese’ (Joss Whedon, “A brief history of the universe circa 2507 A.D.,” Serenity: The official visual companion [London: Titan, 2005], 12).

7.2. Planet Jiangyin

Jiangyin (“Safe”) is presumably from the real-world city Jiangyin in Jiangsu province in eastern China, east of the city of Nanjing.

The Chinese characters for Jiangyin ( 江阴 (traditional: 江陰 )) mean ‘(on the) south bank of the Yangtze River’:

[abbreviation]Chang2 Jiang1 长江 (traditional: 長江 ): Yangtze River; [literally: long river]
[for this meaning, used only in compound words]: south bank of a river [because it gets the shaded northern exposure]; [literally: the dark half of yin1yang2 阴阳 (traditional: 陰陽 ): yin and yang]


  1. Jiangyin, China, had a 2011 population of 1,209,000 registered residents (人口状况 Ren2kou3 Zhuang4kuang4 [Population Status], Jiangyin City official site; page in Mandarin). Jiangyin City official site: Mandarin | English
  2. Yangtze is a name for a segment of the lower part of the river that foreigners applied to the whole river (Yang2zi3 扬子 (traditional: 揚子 ): Yangtze; [literally [among numerous meanings]: to scatter seeds]).

7.3. Kowlan Fed Base

The origin of Kowlan (“Safe”) is unknown. It’s not Mandarin, but it’s similar to the name of part of Greater Hong Kong: Kowloon ( 九龙 (traditional: 九龍 ) Cantonese Jyutping spelling: Gau2lung4; Mandarin: Jiu3long2; literally: nine dragons). Web searches also show Kowlan to be a Sri Lankan Tamil name and an Irish family name.

7.4. Ita Moon

Ita Moon (“Out of Gas”) seems to be named for Ita, the webmaster of Buffistas.org (The Phoenix Board), where “Out of Gas” writer and Firefly executive producer Tim Minear posted at the time. While the episode was airing on October 25, 2002, community member Sue noted the possible reference and in response to others, posted how the pronunciations of Ita the person and Ita the moon were different: with the vowels of the words beat and bite, respectively (Sue, posts to the message-board thread Firefly 1: Josssssss Innnnn Spaaaaaaaaaaace!, Buffistas.org, October 25, 2002, post nos. 2827, 2829, 2839 [zip-file archive, 1.26 MB; all archives]).

Three hours later Ita herself posted:

I’M A MOON?!!?!?!

Fine, so it’s pronounced wrong, but I’m keeping it.

(Ita, post to the message-board thread Firefly 1: Josssssss Innnnn Spaaaaaaaaaaace!, Buffistas.org, October 26, 2002, post no. 2914 [zip-file archive, 1.26 MB; all archives])

Twelve hours after that, Tim Minear seemed to imply that Ita Moon was indeed named for Ita the webmaster when he commented:

By the time I got one [sic] set the day we shot the salvage ship captain’s transmission, he was already pronouncing “ita” wrong. I corrected him, but in the cut ended up using a size [sic] with the incorrect pronounciation. Won’t happen again.

(Tim Minear, post to the message-board thread Firefly 1: Josssssss Innnnn Spaaaaaaaaaaace!, Buffistas.org, October 26, 2002, post no. 2991 [zip-file archive, 1.26 MB; all archives])

7.5. The Battle of Du-Khang

Du-Khang (“The Message”) is most likely dukhang, a Tibetan word. It’s the main prayer hall / congregation hall of a Tibetan Buddhist lamasery (monastery) in Tibet, Bhutan, and Northern India. In “The Message” Mal, Zoe, and Tracey were in a Buddhist temple, so the Battle of Du-Khang (or a place called Du-Khang and then the battle) was probably named after the structure.

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8. What are the Chinese and Japanese characters on Jayne’s T-shirts?


ゴジラ (Japanese)

Below are two tables (by text and by title of episode etc.) with all ten of Jayne’s T-shirt designs that have Chinese or Japanese characters:

Jayne’s Chinese T-shirts by Text
Ci2shan4 Fu2wu4 Tuan2ti3
Philanthropic Service Organization
[not visible but presumably this]
Serenity (movie)
[set phrase] Dumb as a Wooden Chicken
[Japanese] Godzilla
Serenity: Firefly Class 03-K64;
Leaves on the Wind
Blue Sun

“Serenity, Part 2”

Serenity (movie)
Wan2mei3 Mao1
Perfect Cat
“Heart of Gold”
“The Message”
Serenity (movie)

“The Train Job”
“War Stories”
Zhan4dou4 de5 Xiao3jing1ling2
Fighting Elves
“Out of Gas”
“War Stories”

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Jayne’s Chinese T-shirts by Title
“Serenity, Part 1”[None]
“Serenity, Part 2”
“The Train Job”
Blue Sun
Ci2shan4 Fu2wu4 Tuan2ti3
Philanthropic Service Organization
[not visible but presumably this]
Zhan4dou4 de5 Xiao3jing1ling2
Fighting Elves
“Our Mrs. Reynolds”[None]
“Out of Gas”战斗的小精灵
Zhan4dou4 de5 Xiao3jing1ling2
Fighting Elves
Blue Sun

“War Stories”战斗的小精灵
Zhan4dou4 de5 Xiao3jing1ling2
Fighting Elves

[set phrase] Dumb as a Wooden Chicken
“The Message”玩闹
“Heart of Gold”完美猫
Wan2mei3 Mao1
Perfect Cat
“Objects in Space”[None]
Serenity (movie)慈善服务团体
Ci2shan4 Fu2wu4 Tuan2ti3
Philanthropic Service Organization

Serenity: Firefly Class 03-K64;
Leaves on the Wind
[Japanese] Godzilla

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9. What are the Chinese characters on Kaylee’s jumpsuit?


Kaylee’s dark-olive-colored jumpsuit/coveralls in Firefly’s “Serenity, Part 1 & 2” had the following five Chinese characters:

[for this meaning, used only in compound words]: calm, peaceful (on left leg on pocket)
to exit (see Note 1 below) (on left leg on pocket; incorrectly written upside-down as [Image: upside-down Chinese character] )
[used only in compound words (or as a family name)]: good luck, good fortune (on left leg on pocket)
(traditional: ): love (on left leg below pocket and teddy bear)
[used only in compound words]: happiness, joy (on right left below pocket)


  1. Second character: The second character, chu1 , doesn’t make sense here by itself. Perhaps it and ping2 are from chu1ru4 ping2an1 出入平安 : [set phrase] May you be safe/peaceful wherever you go; chu1ru4: to exit and enter, going out and coming in (chu1: to exit; ru4 [used only in compound words]: to come in, to enter); ping2an1: to be well, to be safe and sound (ping2 [for this meaning, used only in compound words]: calm, peaceful; an1: to be in good health, to be safe (in one’s life)).
  2. See Maggie’s Costume Site for images of Kaylee’s olive-colored (teddy bear and heart) jumpsuit/coveralls.

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10. What’s the difference between the two Chinese translations for the word Serenity?


There is no one-to-one corresponding Mandarin word for the English word serenity (itself borrowed into English from Latin via French). The two chosen Mandarin words, ping2jing4 平静 (traditional: 平靜 ) and ning2jing4 宁静 (traditional: 寧靜 ), can appear in many related contexts with many English translations (especially ping2jing4), as the table below shows:

Back-translations for Serenity Across 8 Dictionaries

Old (Firefly TV series)

平静 ping2jing4

New (Serenity movie)

宁静 ning2jing4


Note: Usage nuances (in parentheses) from Kleeman & Yu, Qian, and Yahoo Taiwan (above).

balance (×1) [noun]
calm (×5) [adjective] (sea, surface)calm (×1) [adjective] (place, atmosphere)
calm (×3) [noun] (before/after a storm)
calming (×1) (influence, effect)
calmness (×2) (of water, weather, someone’s voice)calmness (×1) (atmosphere of place)
composure (×1)
equanimity (×2)
equilibrium (×3) (frame of mind)
halcyon (×1)halcyon (×1)
limpid (×1)
peace (×2) (of mind)peace (×2) (of mind)
peaceful (×2) (death)peaceful (×4) (garden)
peacefulness (×2) (of life)peacefulness (×2) (of place, time)
placid (×3) (sea, conditions)placid (×1) (Switzerland)
placidity (×1)
placidness (×1)
quiet (×6) [adjective] (life, night, sea, times)quiet (×6) [adjective] (life, night, evening)
quiet (×1) [noun]quiet (×1) [noun] (freedom from disturbance)
quietness (×2) (of life)quietness (×1) (of place, time)
quietude (×1)quietude (×1)
restful (×2)restful (×2) (scene, seaside town)
restfulness (×2) (from mother’s presence)
sedate (×1) [adjective]
serene (×2)serene (×3) (life, landscape, sea)
serenity (×1)serenity (×2) (of landscape, sea)
smooth (×3) [adjective] (water surface)
smoothness (×1)
soft (×1)
still (×4) [adjective] (lake water, water, sea, surface)still (×1) [adjective]
stillness (×2) (of water, weather)stillness (×1)
stilly (×2) [adjective]
tranquil (×8) (mind, expression, waters)tranquil (×7) (life, night)
tranquility (×2)tranquility (×2) (atmosphere of place, of the night)
undisturbed (×1)undisturbed (×3) (evening, life, village)
unruffled (×3) (water surface)
untroubled (×2) (waters, surface)


[Ancient Chinese] peace, peace and happiness (Firefly crew sweatshirt [image courtesy of the eBay seller])
(traditional: ): [might be abbreviation for ning2jing4 (above)] calm [adjective], chaste, gentle, motionless, not moving, passive [adjective], peaceful, quiet [adjective], serene, silent, static [adjective], still, tranquil (Serenity (movie), stickers on inside of Serenity)
安寧 an1ning2
(simplified: 安宁 ): calm [adjective], calmness, composed, free from worry, peace, peaceful, quiet and peaceful, rest [noun], restful, tranquil, tranquility (Serenity: The Official Visual Companion cover [the ning2 was cropped off of same image for the official U.S. posters])
平安 ping2an1
in one piece, in safety, peace, peaceful, quiet and stable, quietude, safe [adjective], safe and sound, safe and well, safety, without mishap, well [adjective] (Serenity Official DVD Site (USA) wallpapers and Serenity Official Movie site wallpapers, menu, and background)

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11. What’s the difference between the two Chinese translations for the name Blue Sun?


When FireflySerenity Chinese Translator Jenny Lynn saw the original Blue Sun logo (Qing1ri4 靑日 ), she thought qing1 was the wrong choice for ‘blue’ and had the logo changed to Lan2ri4 蓝日 (Jenny Lynn, questionnaire answer in E-mail attachment to author, November 11, 2004). Both qing1 (variant of simplified/traditional ) and lan2 (traditional: ) mean ‘blue’. But qing1 also means ‘green’ (and other things), as the table below shows (ri4 means ‘the sun’ but, more commonly, ‘day’ (see note below)):

Back-translations for Blue Sun Across 8 Dictionaries

(“Serenity, Part 1” to “Ariel”)


(“The Message” and Serenity [movie])



Note: Usage nuances (in parentheses) from Kleeman & Yu, Qian, and Yahoo Taiwan (above). List includes meanings as independent words and as part of compound words.

black (×5) [adjective]
blue (×8) [adjective] (sky, water, feel blue)blue (×8) [adjective] (sky, eyes; in: blueberry, bluebird,
blue-collar worker, blue jeans, blueprint, blues music)
blue-green (×1)
blueness (×1)
dark (×1) [adjective]
gracious (×1)
grayish/greyish (×1)
green (×8) [adjective] (in: green tomato, green bean,
green pepper; lose color in face)
green grass (×2)
green pastures (×1)
greenish (×1)
greenish black (×1)
indigo plant (×6)
nature’s color (×2)
not ripe (×2)
young (×5) [adjective] (person)
young crop plants (×1)
youngster (×1)
youth (×3) (in: youth hostel)


  • Sun: Also tai4yang2 太阳 (traditional: 太陽 ): the sun; tai4: [for this meaning, used only in compound words]: great, grand; yang2 [used only in compound words]: the sun

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12. How could one translate X into Mandarin?

同盟 tong2meng2 (together + alliance) [on metal chest pins of Alliance officers and elsewhere in Firefly and on money bags on covers of Serenity: Better Days comics]
Badger [the animal]
狗獾 gou3huan1 (dog + badger [used only in compound words])
Blue Sun
蓝日 (traditional: 藍日 ) Lan2ri4 (blue + sun) [from “The Message” and Serenity (movie)]
Old: 靑日 (variant of simplified/traditional: 青日 ) Qing1ri4 (blue + sun) [from “Serenity, Part 1” to “Ariel”]

See also:

棕色外套 Zong1se4 Wai4tao4 (the color brown + overcoat/jacket) [from the Official Serenity (movie) Site].
棕外套 Zong1 Wai4tao4 (brown [used only in compound words] + overcoat/jacket), modeled on the British Redcoats ( 红外套 (traditional: 紅外套 ) Hong2wai4tao4) [courtesy of the wife of fan “Shiny”].
棕大衣 Zong1 Da4yi1 (brown [used only in compound words] + overcoat), modeled on Mal’s long coat [from me and others once the se4 [used only in compound words] ‘color’ was thought unnecessary].
Can’t Stop the Signal [tagline for Serenity (movie) from Mr. Universe’s line]
不能停止訊號 (simplified: 不能停止讯号 ) Bu4neng2 Ting2zhi3 Xun4hao4 (not-can + stop-stop + information-sign) [from the Serenity Role Playing Game]
Captain Tightpants
紧身裤子船长 (traditional: 緊身褲子船長 ) Jin3shen1-ku4zi5 Chuan2zhang3 (tight-pants + [ship’s] captain).
萤火虫 (traditional: 螢火蟲 ) ying2huo3chong2 (firefly [used only in compound words] + fire + insect) [standard word; on back of Firefly cast & crew T-shirt]
Plus: qian1 (firefly) [archaic word / obscure character; on inside of Serenity’s cockpit in Firefly and in Firefly press kit]
Firefly-class ship
萤火虫级太空船 (traditional: 螢火蟲級太空船 ) Ying2huo3chong2-ji2 tai4kong1chuan2 (firefly + class + outer space + ship)
萤火虫级运输飞船 (traditional: 螢火蟲級運輸飛船 ) Ying2huo3chong2-ji2 yun4shu1 fei1chuan2 (firefly + class + to transport + to fly + ship)
宁静 (traditional: 寧靜 ) Ning2jing4 (peaceful [used only in compound words (or as a place name)] + calm) [from Serenity (movie) and comic books]
Old: 平静 (traditional: 平靜 ) Ping2jing4 (calm [for this meaning, used only in compound words] + calm) [from “The Train Job,” “Safe,” “The Message,” Firefly Press Kit]
Serenity [ship name]
宁静号 (traditional: 寧靜號 ) Ning2jing4-hao4 (peaceful [used only in compound words (or as a place name)]-calm + [ship-name suffix]) (Note: The International Space Station’s Tranquility node is 宁静号节点舱 (traditional: 寧靜號節點艙 ) Ning2jing4-hao4 Jie2dian3cang1 (peaceful [used only in compound words (or as a place name)]-calm + [ship-name suffix] + node + module [used only in compound words]).)
Old: 平静号 (traditional: 平靜號 ) Ping2jing4-hao4 (calm [for this meaning, used only in compound words]-calm + [ship-name suffix])

See also:

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13. Is Joss Whedon’s first name Chinese?

No. The word joss isn’t Chinese, but it seems that Joss Whedon was misled into thinking that it is.

13.1. Origin of the Word Joss

The word joss (‘Chinese [deity] idol’, ‘luck’), according to The Oxford English Dictionary (OED), is not Chinese, nor of Chinese origination (2nd ed., 1989; emphasis added). Instead, joss is an English pidgin of Chinese seaports and seems to have traveled there from the (former) Dutch East Indies, as the chart below shows:

Path of the Word Joss

1. 16th-century Portuguese deos ‘god’ (Modern Standard Portuguese: deus)

2. 16th-century Javanese dejos/deyos ‘Chinese idol’

3. Dutch joosje ‘Chinese idol’ (diminutive of joos)

4. pre–1711 English joss ‘Chinese [deity] idol’, ‘luck’

13.2. Origin of Joss Whedon’s Name

When Joss Whedon changed his name from Joseph to Joss, he apparently thought the word joss was Chinese because of a book. This was revealed by him on The Colbert Report:

Stephen Colbert: What kind of name is Joss?

Joss Whedon: Well, it’s sort of a bastardized Chinese word meaning “luck” or…

SC: True?

JW: …“fate.” Yes. Well, if you read James Clavell it is. Probably, if you’re Chinese it’s not.

SC: I read Shogun, but that’s Japanese…

JW: Yeah,…

SC: …so…

JW: …you have to read Tai-Pan.

(Joss Whedon, interviewed by Stephen Colbert, The Colbert Report, Comedy Central, June 20, 2013 [archived video, 00:43–00:56]; transcript by author)

In James Clavell’s novel Tai-Pan (concerning mid–19th-century Hong Kong), after characters use the phrase bad joss to mean ‘bad luck’, the narrator explains to the reader that

“Joss” was a Chinese word that meant Luck and Fate and God and the Devil combined.

(James Clavell, Tai-Pan [1966; reprint, New York: Bantam Dell, 2009], 4)

The narrator of Tai-Pan was wrong. As explained above, the word joss is not a Chinese word nor derived from a Chinese word. It was originally a Portuguese–Javanese pidgin word that was brought to China by Westerners.

13.3. Words for Joss in Mandarin

The word joss translates to several Mandarin words. See the table below:

Some Mandarin Words for Joss
luck, fortune
(= joss)
运气 (traditional: 運氣 )
a religious idol/image
(= a joss)
of Buddha:
a joss house, a temple, a shrinemiao4
(traditional: )
joss paper
(paper / fake money for burned offerings)
冥钞 (traditional: 冥鈔 )
纸箔 (traditional: 紙箔 )
纸钱 (traditional: 紙錢 )
a joss stick, an incense stick (for religious rites)xiang1
线香 (traditional: 線香 )

13.4. The Name Joss Whedon in Mandarin

The name Joss Whedon is written in Mandarin phonetically with various Chinese characters, such as:

Joss Whedon [transliteration]
乔斯·温登 (traditional: 喬斯·溫登 ) Qiao2si1 Wen1deng1 (tall [used only in compound words] + this; to be warm + to ascend)
佐斯维顿 (traditional: 佐斯維頓 ) Zuo3si1 Wei2dun4 (to assist [used only in compound words] + this; [written] to be + to pause)

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Ying2huo3chong2–Ning2jing4 Zhong1wen2 Pin1yin1-dian3
Firefly–Serenity Chinese Pinyinary