Lost In Translation

Sign on toilet door in Chengdu airport, China
Photo by Anne Roberts on Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA-2.0

There’s a real art to translation: zeroing in on just the right words to convey the nuance of what the original author intended.

Done well, a translated work can be a masterpiece in its own right.

Oftentimes, though, a translation can turn out to be a farce, as in the following examples:

A menu item in Chinese for a roasted gluten dish was translated into English as “Sixi Roasted Husband.” (The perfect dish for wives who’ve finally had enough of their mates?)

A hot and spicy chicken dish on another Chinese menu became “Chicken Rude and Unreasonable” in English. (No wonder the chicken met his end—he had it coming!)

Or this Google Translate zinger: “It’s been the goat in the budget, because His raining badly, so quite short, he is on the bucket month out.” (Not sure what this meant in the original Danish, but I hope the goat was able to figure it out.)

Then there’s the sign for a hair salon in China whose English name is “Could Not Connect To Translator Service.” (A bit of a give-away that they didn’t bother hiring a real live translator?)

Sometimes, we have a different understanding or “translation” of what God actually meant in certain Bible verses.

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When Words Fail Us

English Dictionaries. Photo by John Keogh on Flickr. CC BY-NC-2.0

Sometimes there’s something we want to express, but we can’t seem to find the right term for it. There’s a feeling or situation that we just can’t put into words. Or maybe the precise word doesn’t even exist in English.

On occasion we have to turn to words and phrases in other languages to describe exactly what we’re trying to say. For instance, in English we often borrow the German word “schadenfreude,” which means “pleasure at the misfortune of others”.

Maybe we should consider borrowing a few more foreign words that have no English equivalent. I suggest the following:

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