This is a classic Pratchett, inspired by China in the early 20th century.
My favourite quotes include:
“Pig’s ear soup, eh? Now what does that tell you about the place, eh?”
Rincewind shrugged, “Very provident people?”
“Some other bugger pinches the pig!”
“I know about people who talk about suffering for the common good. It’s never bloody them! When you hear a man shouting “Forward, brave comrades!” you’ll see he’s the one behind the bloody big rock and the one wearing the only really arrow-proof helmet!”
You can read a full synopsis, but you might as well read the book – it’s more fun.
But if you want to get really nerdy I recommend reading the annotations, there are some great titbits in there like:
[p. 61/48] “… possibly the finest lager in the world.”
In our world, the advertising slogan of Carlsberg is: “Probably the best lager in the world”.
[p. 56/45] “‘Your Wife is a big hippo’”
In Interesting Times, much is made of similar sounding words having totally different meanings. Languages such as Chinese and Japanese pay great attention to the pitch and intonation of words, and the same wor
d with a different intonation can indeed have radically different meanings. (Of course not all different meanings are due to intonation — there are other possibilities, such as vowel lengths, and some words just naturally have many different meanings).
Just in case you think Terry is overstating things for comic effect, there is an anecdote told by linguist David Moser, who was learning Chinese, and was practising with some Chinese friends. He was tired, and said “I want to go to sleep now”, but got the intonation wrong, and what he actually said was “I stand by where the elephant urinates”.
Similarly, I am told that the Chinese glyph ‘sento’ can alternatively mean ‘public bath’, ‘residence of a retired emperor’, ‘first scaling the wall of a besieged castle’, ‘fighting together’ or ‘scissors’, while the Japanese ‘kansen’ can mean any of ‘main-line’, ‘warship’, ‘sweat-gland’, ‘infection’, ‘government’, ‘appointed’ and ‘witnessing a battle’.