We’ve all done it. Laughed hysterically at half-baked English translations on menus, street signs, packaging, and the like. The seafood special of “fried rice with crap” doesn’t sound terribly appetizing, and you and your buds can’t wait to patronize the Gentlemen’s Club that boasts “special cocktail for ladies with nuts.” Yet, would you rather there be no translation?
First published in:
Thursday, May 10, 2007 – Volume 53 Issue 28
Arts & Entertainment Page 9
We’ve all done it. Laughed hysterically at half-baked English translations on menus, street signs, packaging, and the like. You see menu item #56 “beef beaten up in country people’s fashion”, and wonder if #58, “cowboy leg” would be slightly more humane. You’re all set for your usual order of leek potstickers, but suddenly find your craving for “Chinese dumping” is no longer… especially when you spot the “rest room for deformed man” sign at the disabled cubicle. And you and your buds can’t wait to patronize the Gentlemen’s Club that boasts “special cocktail for ladies with nuts.”
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t amused… maybe even slightly mortified. But I’ve also encountered more than my fair share of otherwise perfectly reasonable and intelligent people who readily go beyond good natured ribbing into dancing around, sniggering “Nyah, nyah, nyah… your English sucks!” territory.
And while I agree that the “seafood special” of “fried rice with crap” doesn’t sound terribly appetizing, I can’t help but ask: Would you rather there be no translation?
After all, if you could read the menu/road sign/etc. in the original Japanese/ Spanish/ Tagalog/ Indonesian, the descriptions, I’m sure, are likely to be eloquent enough. So what these people have done, pretty much, is attempt to make your experience in their restaurant/city/place of interest more accessible.
And you sneer at them.
What’s that? What’s that you say? They’re mangling English, YOUR language? And you “can’t stand it”? You should hear yourself butcher your “Just Enough French” phrasebook. And thank the market vendor for keeping a straight face when you asked for “un gros carottes.”
Oh yes, I’m perfectly aware it’s not one-way. That market vendor probably tells everyone how the bold American chick unabashedly asked for “un gros carottes” – in broad daylight, no less!
Just keep in mind that basketballer Marcus Camby has the Chinese character for “ghost” tattooed on his neck. Not a prank, merely the unfortunate fact that “I’ve got soul” lost its original nuances and gained new ones in the translation process.
You know the drill. Languages are so complex that flawless translations are almost impossible. Which is why tonight, I’ll be tossing back “wine that leaves you nothing to hope for” with the beau, while we puzzle out the wisdom on a fortune cookie slip I got recently: “Confucius says, love in triangles not in squares”.
Smiling, not sniggering.