License plate linguistics

Here’s a little fun with writing and ambiguity. A few nights ago I saw a license plate with some friends that read:


Oddly enough, I parsed this first as being “Oya Baby” — drawing from my Japanese knowledge. In Japanese “Oya” is “parent”, and there is a dish served with chicken and eggs over rice called “oyako don”: Parent (oya) and child (ko). So, my first thought was that this plate was a Japanese oriented person making some sort of strange reference like that.

Then I hit upon another interpretation… Maybe this person was Jewish, with a nice “Oy! A Baby!”

Of course, right as I said this aloud, my friend proclaimed what seemed like it should have been obvious: “O Ya Baby!”

It seems my knowledge of Japanese and Jewish exclamations trumps my coolness.

What I particularly liked about this exchange was that each of the three parsings covered all the possible combinations for those letters:


And, with each parsing, the polysemous meaning of “Baby” took on a different meaning. For the first two, it was an infant, while for the second it was a familiar term of endearment (for lack of a better descriptor). (Though, you could flip the Baby meanings too: “O Ya Infant!”). It’s a nice demonstration of how ambiguous written representations can be without an express phonemic link.

Of course, that license plate still isn’t even close to my favorite plate from Berkeley: GRRARGH


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