Archive for Lost in translation

One's deceased father grind

Reader Crystal's friend recently came across the following message which they believe was machine translated from Chinese:  "I'm a junior, ready to one's deceased father grind".

Ready to WHAT?

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Oh my melon!

Bryan Van Norden is a Visiting Professor at Wuhan University this semester, and he ran across an interesting bit of language play. Below is a still (taken with his cell phone) of a television commercial currently running in the PRC. It is for a watermelon juice drink. As you can see, the tag line is a bilingual pun, substituting guā 瓜 ("melon") for "God."

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In "Applenese", we examined the Chinese translations from the Mainland, Taiwan, and Hong Kong of this Apple advertising slogan for Mother's Day last spring:  "A gift Mom will love opening. Again and again."

Now let's see what is done with the new Apple campaign for the iPhone 6, "Bigger than bigger",  in Chinese and other languages.

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I remember Apple's Mother's Day advertising campaign for the iPad Air and iPad mini last spring:  "A gift Mom will love opening. Again and again."

I only found out yesterday, in this article, that the Mainland Chinese translation of this tagline is the following:

Ràng māmā kāixīn de lǐwù, kāile yòu kāi.


The grammar cannot be faulted, and the meaning superficially seems to make sense, but the more you think about it, the odder it becomes.  If forced to translate the Chinese translation back into English, I'd come up with something like "A gift that will make Mom happy.  She'll open it again and again."  (Or, for the second sentence, less forced but more awkward:  "She'll be hap[py] again and again.")  That's not what the English says.

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Michael Newton has called attention to this Chinese sign on Twitter:

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Burial Man: new hero?

Label on a display at the Nagoya City Museum:

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Japanese English trifecta: At the ¥100 Shop

Nathan Hopson reports that he "had a delightfully giggly trip to the ¥100 Shop today."

Among the gems were these three:

1. Pair Bloom (broom), a mini-broom and dustpan set
2. Crash Cashew Nuts (crushed)
3. Q-ban, my favorite. This was actually a whole product line. The shared distinguishing feature of all is their suction cup (吸盤 or きゅうばん [ kyūban]). I guess the only surprise is that they're not called Cubans.

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Can't find on Google

Max Pinton sent in this menu and said he "thought it was a refreshing approach":

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Eco Coke and No Smorking

While we're at it, here are two more contributions from Nathan Hopson in Japan:

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Well, Japan doesn't fall to deliver. I assume that this is meant as something like "individual," in the sense of "self-ish," but whether it's word play or misunderstanding is unclear:

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Please pee in the pool

Kenneth Yeh sent in this pair of signs from a restroom in China:

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Transliteration follies

From Arun Tharuvai, via his Twitter account, we find that Intersecting Bubbles has this brief but fascinating post on a multilingual notice:  "Shell Petroleum thinks that Hindi is English written in the Devanagari Script ".

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Dead and alive: metaphors for (dis)obeying the law

Many Language Log readers are probably aware of the food scandal at OSI in Shanghai, the implications of which have spread throughout much of East Asia, to parts of Southeast Asia, and even beyond, wherever shipments of Chinese meat products have reached.

In reporting this, CNBC made the following point:

"The rules are dead, and people are alive, that's simple," a worker said in the report. "Dead rules and alive people" is commonly used in China to indicate corners have been cut. OSI did not immediately respond to the news report.

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The rice is prosperous

Here follows an egregious example of bad machine translation without human intervention to correct or improve it.  This is a listing for a book in Chinese on Amazon.

Pinyin as given in the listing:  dao sheng he fu de jing ying zhi hui [ fu zeng / xue xi shou ce qi che ban lv ]

Chinese characters as given in the listing:  稻盛和夫 经营智慧  [附赠]学习手册 汽车伴侣 (click on the small image of the cover ["See this image"] to embiggen)

English translation as given in the listing:  The rice is prosperous and the management intelligence of the man [present|the study manual car companion ] (this is obviously errant nonsense and of no use to anyone who might want to buy the book)

The listing states that the book is by "unknown (Author)".

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Neoguri: raccoon or raccoon dog?

The typhoon that struck Okinawa a few days ago and is now passing by Tokyo is called Neoguri.  It gets it name from a Korean word meaning "raccoon dog".

The Japanese refer to it as Taifū 8-gō Neoguri 台風8号ネオグ リ ("Typhoon No. 8 Neoguri"), but most often without the "Neoguri" (see below for discussion of Japanese typhoon designation practices).  However, the Chinese are calling it Huànxióng 浣熊 ("raccoon"), which is a clear mistranslation.  The Chinese name for the raccoon dog is hé 貉 or háozi 貉子.

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