Lost In Translation
Collecting things from the far east and elsewhere, I’ve turned up some packaging, ads, and instruction sheets with amusingly bad/funny translations. Languages are structured differently, obviously, and word for word translations are always clumsy. And then there’s grammar, idioms, and cultural differences. Lots of excuses for bad translations. But only one real reason: Somebody should have hired a competent translator but saved money instead. With sometimes hilarious results.
The wonderful Maxtone ad appeared in the June 1985 issue of Modern Drummer magazine. Tafenglong! The ad is graphically goofy enough for honorable mention but the text is unspeakably wonderful and I quote it verbatim: “Please kindly review the new creation and invention, absolutely not imitation, of TAFENGLONG. With sweet sound they can be not only for professional drummer’s playing, but also for practical use by using the headphone to adjust the volume. Of Special material on the drum head they can prevent the hands from soreness even after long time playing. Meanwhile, they also provide charming sound, attractive looking, various purposes and small dimension to bring easily.” After that, even “New Type No. 31” seems funny to me. “Fitting with 60W amplifier to play a wonderful sound.”
No, I did not place this Squirt Transistor picture here in reverse, but that is the funny part. This toy was made in Hong Kong in the mid-1960s. It has a perfectly fine English translation, so somebody went to some effort to get that part right, at least. And off to production it went. The thing is, though, negatives for making offset printing plates, the kind used here, can easily be turned upside down. Normally such a mistake would be quickly seen. But if such a thing should happen in an all-Chinese-speaking printing plant, who there could tell the difference? All Greek to me, right? And so it went from plates to press, to trim, to assembly, to shipping, and out the door to America.
With Magic Float, “Your fish pleases you by light-up.” Huh? The thing is a sort of fishing bobber that lights up when you’ve caught something. “Your game just tells you it’s catch by beautiful flash.” Oh yeah.
Now don’t think I sit here as some arrogant American smart-aleck pointing out the folly of “foreigners.” I know that Americans are foreigners too, in every other part of the world. And I have no doubt that—even though my ignorance of other languages and cultures would prevent me from seeing or understanding it—Americans have made, and probably continue to make, similarly goofy mistakes and translations seen in other parts of the world.
I’m not sure what to make of How to Write to Oriental Ladies. It’s just curious, I think. It’s a 1980 (second edition) of a 1979 booklet. Inside it says, “We have designed this booklet for use with Cherry Blossoms— our bi-monthly publication which contains photos and descriptions of Oriental ladies seeking friendship or marriage with American and Canadian men. We are sure, however, that you will find it to be useful for any letter writing you do.”<
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