A 007 encounter at the supermarket!



When Hong Kong supermarket chain Wellcome began offering a rewards program tied to a shopper’s Octopus card, things got a little weird.

It’s not uncommon for English words to be slightly mangled upon delivery, but sometimes the idiosyncratic localization of words produces some really strange results!

Consider the following scenario:

You’re at the checkout counter all ready to pay for your groceries, when the Wellcome cashier suddenly turns to you and says “Octopussy?”

It takes you half a second to understand the connotation and question. If you’ve registered your Octopus card for the rewards program, you now have an opportunity to collect additional points for your transaction.

Octopussy of course, is a word only uttered when referring to the title of a James Bond film from 1983. To hear it coming from the checkout counter while purchasing your daily necessities is mildly amusing.

Some native Cantonese speakers have linguistic habits that carry over into their English. For example, some people don’t like one syllable words or names. If your name is Ken, people will address you as ‘Ah Ken’. Similarly, some Cantonese speakers don’t like words that end in ‘S’. So words like bus are pronounced bus-EE. Octopus is occasionally one of these words!

(For the record, even though I’m a big fan of the Octopus card, I would never give out so much information about myself to the supermarkets and allow my purchases to be tracked. Do you really think they want to help you lower their income? The supermarket is just going to use the information they collect to find out more efficient ways to manipulate prices, so don’t help them! Plus it slows down the transaction time, which is already frustratingly long, unless of course you pay by Octopussy!) 😉


  • Second the collection of personal shopping habits. Try looking closely at the “Special Deals” these days you will find they aren’t always that great.

  • Yes, I totally agree with you. City Super is cheaper for certain important things. (Which is ridiculous because their rent is way higher and they do less volume!) Wellcome is totally manipulating their prices and ripping off average working families. It’s especially despicable since they have raised their prices during the economic downturn! That’s the trouble with monopolies. PCCW is just as bad.

  • Linguistically the way Hong Kong people pronounce English words by adding a vowel to consonants, like you mention bus-EE is not an isolated case. You may know Spaniards are called Español, in which case they also add ‘Eh’ before the “S” to make it a vowel. For your interest.

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