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 Lost in translation - perdu aux traducteurs

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Meles meles
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PostSubject: Lost in translation - perdu aux traducteurs   Wed 14 Mar 2018, 13:37

I'm in the process of getting some legal documents translated from French to be sent to England, and I was rummaging around to see if I already had the translations done, when I came across an old 'certified' translation of a rental agreement that had rendered the clause, "the renter  can continue to live in the property only if he pays the rent by the stated date", as, "the renter can continue to live in the property if he doesn't pay by the stated date". So almost the complete opposite. Oh the joys of the French quasi-negative (eg. il ne parle que de brexit, meaning he only speaks about brexit, ... as opposed to il ne parle pas de brexit, meaning he doesn't speak about brexit).

But this got me thinking about the trips, traps, tropes and simple pratfalls of translation.

Over the centuries there must have been many occasions - some entertaining, some more serious - when dubious translation has gone completely against what was actually meant. Just from memory I recall a speech made by Winston Churchill to the French National Assemby, where he began by attempting to say, "When I look back over my past I see it divides into two equal halves ... ", but which unfortunately he rendered as, "Quand je regarde mon derrière, je vois qu'il est divisé en deux parties égales ...”, ie, "When I look at my backside I see it is divided into two equal parts... ".

So what other examples can we think of where something was lost, or maybe added, during translation? And were there any unexpected repercussions?


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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation - perdu aux traducteurs   Wed 14 Mar 2018, 13:56

Not a funny example, but a terribly sad and revealing one.

Professor Constantin Héger taught Charlotte Bronte during her stay in Brussels: she fell hopelessly and humiliatingly in love with him. He later wrote to the Brontë biographer, Mrs. Gaskell, of her subject's "pauvre coeur malade" - "poor, sick heart".  This was translated as "pauvre coeur blessé" - "poor wounded heart".

Sick or wounded? There's a heck of a difference.


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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation - perdu aux traducteurs   Wed 14 Mar 2018, 14:08

One mistaken example is the urban legend about JFK's speech in Berlin in 1963:

I am a jelly doughnut
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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation - perdu aux traducteurs   Wed 14 Mar 2018, 14:29

Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli described features he had observed on Mars during the opposition of 1877 as canali, meaning channels. This was however, translated as canals, leading many people including astronomer Percy Lowell to believe there was intelligent life on Mars.
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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation - perdu aux traducteurs   Wed 14 Mar 2018, 14:56

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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation - perdu aux traducteurs   Wed 14 Mar 2018, 15:26

Not as good as Trike's example but (paraphrasing - it is more than 40 years ago) when I purchased the descant recorder that I taught myself to play on (more like play at - I'm not very good at it), it was I think from Japan and part of the instructions said something like "The blowing of saliva into this flute is not to be highly recommended".
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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation - perdu aux traducteurs   Wed 14 Mar 2018, 15:51

@LadyinRetirement wrote:
... when I purchased the descant recorder that I taught myself to play on, it was I think from Japan and part of the instructions said something like "The blowing of saliva into this flute is not to be highly recommended".

But that just sounds like very good advice to me, whether given in Japanese or English.

As a recorder, tin-whistle, crumhorn, shawm and rauschpfiefe player  ... I fully concur with the Japanese and I don't think that's a misleadingly translation. In short, "blowing of saliva into this flute is not to be highly recommended", is indeed in my experience, very good advice. Simple wooden flutes and recorders (transverse flutes and flutes à bec) rarely have "spit-keys", and are simply left to drain out the end, which is not always entirely satisfactory: they often need a shake or flick to help things along ... but all modern brass instruments, like trumpets, trombones, horns, euphoniums and whatevems, and also many modern woodwind instruments, especially the more convoluted ones like bassoons and saxophones  ... all have a drain key (or indeed several), to drain condensed moisture out of the instrument's tubes. It's a well-known problem when they block.


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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation - perdu aux traducteurs   Wed 14 Mar 2018, 16:22

It probably isn't true that the Britons got all worked up and kicked him out when Caesar arrived and immediately called them "weeny, weedy and weaky"?

I learnt British history first and foremost from "1066 And All That!", which probably wasn't a great idea ...
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LadyinRetirement
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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation - perdu aux traducteurs   Wed 14 Mar 2018, 16:48

That'll teach me MM!!

At school we always pronounced Latin with a v words with a v i.e. venny viddy vikky but that's probably wrong - a lot of the time we learned church Latin (well it was a convent school).  I think they pronounced the v as a w at my brother's school.  My late mother said her teacher of Latin made his pupils inwardly groan with

"Caesar adsum iam forte"

which he translated as "Caesar 'ad some jam for tea"

but in those days it wasn't the done thing to cringe to the teacher's face.
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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation - perdu aux traducteurs   Thu 15 Mar 2018, 14:07

I'm surprised Caro hasn't been in yet and mentioned the Treaty of Waitangi - where a loose translation of "sovereignty" so that it could be understood as "governance" led to a constitutional and legal argument which still persists to this day. When the Maoris signed up to ceding "to Her Majesty the Queen of England absolutely and without reservation all the rights and powers of Sovereignty" they claim they had been given to understand they were retaining self-rule but simply agreeing to adopt Her Madge's legal system. And to be fair to them, in their tongue this is in fact also what their copy of the treaty said too in black and white.

The immediate effect of this poor (or maybe even mischievous and mendacious) attempt at translating was a war between the signatories, and then many years of the victor in that war ignoring the articles of the treaty anyway. Only in 1975 was it deemed prudent to set up a tribunal to interpret the thing properly for once and for all. The "once" in that aim appears to have been slightly optimistic, and the "for all" may be even more optimistic still. But at least the dictionaries are being more carefully scrutinised by everyone concerned this time.
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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation - perdu aux traducteurs   Thu 15 Mar 2018, 19:05

People in other countries sometimes go out of their way to communicate with their English-speaking tourists.

 Unfortunately, the message doesn’t always get communicated as planned. Here is a list of mistranslated signs seen around the world.
Here are some translations from their  local language into English
 As you can see, there is no shortage of them.


  • Cocktail lounge, Norway: “Ladies are Requested Not to have Children in the Bar”
  • At a Budapest zoo: “PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS. If you have any suitable food, give it to the guard on duty”
  • Hotel in Acapulco: “The Manager has Personally Passed All the Water Served Here”
  • Car rental brochure, Tokyo: “When passenger of foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage then tootle him with vigor.”
  • On an Athi River highway: “TAKE NOTICE: When this sign is under water, this road is impassable.”
  • Tokyo hotel’s rules and regulations: “Guests are requested NOT to smoke or do other disgusting behaviors in bed.”
  • In an East African newspaper: “A new swimming pool is rapidly taking shape since the contractors have thrown in the bulk of their workers.”
  • Hotel lobby, Bucharest: “The lift is being fixed for the next day. During that time we regret that you will be unbearable.:
  • In Nairobi restaurant: “Customers who find our waitresses rude ought to see the manager.”
  • In a New Zealand restaurant: “Open seven days a week, and weekends too.”
  • Restaurant window: “Don’t stand there and be hungry. Come on in and get fed up.”
  • On the menu of a Swiss restaurant: “Our wines leave you nothing to hope for.”
  • Hotel elevator, Paris: “Please leave your values at the front desk.”
  • A menu in Vienna: “Fried milk, children sandwiches, roast cattle and boiled sheep.”
  • Hotel in Japan: “You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid.”
  • At a Korean restaurant in Auckland, New Zealand: “We do not re-use the food.”
  • Supermarket, Hong Kong: “For your convenience, we recommend courteous, efficient self-service.”
  • Outside Paris dress shop: “Dresses for street walking.”
  • In a Rhodes tailor shop: “Order your summers suit. Because is big rush we will execute customers in strict rotation.”
  • A sign on a car in Manila, Philippines: “Car and owner for sale.”
  • Hotel in Zurich: “Because of the impropriety of entertaining guests of the opposite sex in the bedroom, is it suggested that the lobby be used for this purpose.”
  • Airline ticket office, Copenhagen: “We take your bags and send them in all directions.”
  • War museum on the River Kwai, Thailand: “The Museum is building now — sorry for the visitor”
  • Outside of Hong Kong: “Ladies may have a fit upstairs.”
  • In a Bangkok dry cleaner’s: “Drop your trousers here for best results.”
  • In an advertisement by a Hong Kong dentist: “Teeth extracted by the latest Methodists.”
  • Doctor’s office, Rome: “Specialists in women and other diseases.”
  • Instructions for a soap bubble gun: “While solution is not toxic it will not make child edible.”
  • In an Italian cemetery: “Persons are prohibited from picking flowers from any but their own graves.”
  • Detour sign in Kyushu, Japan: “Stop: Drive Sideways.”
  • Sign at Mexican disco: “Members and non-members only.”
  • A sign posted in Germany’s Black Forest: “It is strictly forbidden on our black forest camping site that people of different sex, for instance, men and women, live together in one tent unless they are married with each other for that purpose.”
  • Japanese hotel room: “Please to bathe inside the tub.”
  • On a South African building: “Mental health prevention centre.”
  • From Soviet Weekly: “There will be a Moscow Exhibition of Arts by 15,000 Soviet Republic painters and sculptors. These were executed over the past two years.”
  • Instructions on a Korean flight: “Upon arrival at Kimpo and Kimahie Airport, please wear your clothes.”
  • Aeroflot advert: “Introducing wide boiled aircraft for your comfort.”
  • Belgrade hotel elevator: “To move the cabin, push button for wishing floor. If the cabin should enter more persons, each one should press a number of wishing floor. Driving is then going alphabetically by national order.”
  • Athens hotel: “Visitors are expected to complain at the office between the hours of 9 and 11 A.M. daily.”
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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation - perdu aux traducteurs   Thu 15 Mar 2018, 21:24

@Triceratops wrote:
One mistaken example is the urban legend about JFK's speech in Berlin in 1963:

I am a jelly doughnut

Triceratops,

it seems that JFK was right with: "Ich bin ein  Berliner" I am an inhabitant of Berlin...

And he can be right if he pronounced the new spelling of Latin as in his "civis", as we had to do 15 years old in the Latin class, before it was César new spelling: Kaisar. Cicero new spelling Kikero as in Greek Kikeroon (oo is pronounced as the Greek omega)
The year the spelling was changed, we had an odd teacher of Latin, nicknamed I don't know why "the Czech". We had as it was a Catholic school, to pronounce the Ave Maria before each lesson of Latin and of course in new spelling. Maria, qui es in coelum, pronounced before I guess in English something like "chealum" with the ea of I think "bread" and in the new spelling it became quite otherwise pronounced as something like "koilum" I guess as in "boiling".

Kind regards from Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation - perdu aux traducteurs   Sat 24 Mar 2018, 23:03

The Balkans are sometimes prone to mistranslations. In one instance in 1788 during the Habsburg-Ottoman War the Habsburg army was encamped around the town of Karansebes in the Rumanian Banat. As night fell the camp settled down while camp followers sold food and drink to the troops. 

Particular popular was the strong moonshine being sold by local gypsies. The Rumanian word for brandy or schnapps is țuică. Some Hungarian hussars got rapidly drunk on this and rowdily began calling for more. More soldiers arrived to join the party and more bottles and barrels were produced. One particularly inebriated fellow, impatient with the speed at which the barrels were being opened, took it upon himself to shoot a barrel with his musket in order to open it. 

The shouts of “țuică! țuică!”, now coupled with the sound of gunfire, caused others in the vicinity to mishear the cry as being one of “Turci! Turci!” and interpreted this as meaning that the Turks were attacking. Panic spread through the entire Habsburg camp and the cry of “alarm!’ alarm!” went up as troops began fleeing in all directions. Officers tried to regain control by shouting “halt! halt!” but the combined cacophony of this was again misheard as being “Allah! Allah!” thus reinforcing the belief that a Moslem army was attacking. In the darkness various units of the Habsburg army then began fighting each other with each believing the other to be the enemy. This included an artillery corps blindly firing into the melee.

By the time dawn arrived and order was restored, the army had badly mauled itself, was understandably demoralised and so forced to withdraw. Thus a couple of days later when the real Ottoman army arrived it was able to take Karansebes virtually unopposed.
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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation - perdu aux traducteurs   Sun 25 Mar 2018, 10:38

I like that tale Viz ... and it wouldn't have helped if the Hungarian hussars, rather than relying on the Romanian gypsies for their hooch, had brought with them their own favourite booze; the sweet, very alcoholic, Hungarian wine, Tokay ... which I can envisage being equally misheard at "Turci!"
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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation - perdu aux traducteurs   Mon 26 Mar 2018, 11:03

Though sometimes it can be an advantage:

Gaelic speaking soldiers escape Nazis.
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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation - perdu aux traducteurs   Tue 27 Mar 2018, 16:03

Here's one for all you keen Biblical scholars out there. I have been reading - like you do - about the Book of Job. I have learned that Job, in his anger with his comforters, asserts that he has a Defender, or an Avenger - a go'el - who will eventually establish his innocence. Whether poor old Job is referring to God or to some Celestial demiurge, is a matter of debate among scholars (who clearly have nothing better to do with their time), but the mistranslation of the phrase in the Authorised Version of the Bible is interesting. It is "I know that my Redeemer liveth", a phrase which Christian piety has applied to Jesus of Nazareth in his Resurrected form. It must surely, particularly when set to music by Handel, be the most inspired and glorious mistranslation in the history of literature.


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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation - perdu aux traducteurs   Wed 28 Mar 2018, 11:29

I seem to have a vague memory of MM mentioning on another thread that Cinderella's glass slipper was a fur slipper in a French version.  Of course, there have been lots of Cinderella versions over the years - I think the story predates Perrault's version (that may have been mentioned in the original thread).  Now I'm not sure if MM mentioned this before, so apologies MM if I'm nicking your idea, but in the French version of "Sleeping Beauty" - "La Belle au Bois Dormant" it was the woods that were sleeping rather than the princess.
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PostSubject: Re: Lost in translation - perdu aux traducteurs   Fri 30 Mar 2018, 20:43

Yes indeed, it has long been suggested that Perrault originally intended the "glass slipper" (pantoufle de verre) to have been a "squirrel fur slipper" (pantoufle de vair), perhaps in some as yet unidentified earlier version of the tale, and that Perrault or one of his sources confused the words. However it could well be the glass slipper was a deliberate piece of fantastic and improbable poetic invention on Perrault's part ... clear crystal glass then being very expensive and as well as completely impractical for a shoe, so just the sort of thing a fairytale princess would wear. In the Brothers Grimm version, Aschenbroedel, it's a gold slipper: again very expensive and completely impractical as footwear.
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