Archive for Lost in translation

Chinglish with tones

4th tone – 3rd tone, it would appear:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (10)

The most important word in Finnish

Of course there are many words in any language that are similarly protean. In English, try "Okay". Or just "mm"…

Comments (13)

Four candles for Ronnie Corbett

Ronnie Corbett died on March 31, 2016, a year after his diagnosis with Lou Gehrig's disease. A long-planned memorial service for him was held a couple of days ago in Westminster Abbey. That's an honor reserved for only the most important figures in British life. At the front of the church during the service was the famous armchair in which he always sat to do his featured monologue (generally a ridiculous shaggy-dog-story joke with many digressions) during the TV show he did with Ronnie Barker, called The Two Ronnies. And just as at his funeral more than a year ago, four candles were displayed along with the chair. It was an allusion to the truly legendary sketch in which Corbett and Barker riffed on almost-indistinguishable phonetic strings in working-class vernacular Southern British English — pairs like four candlesfork handles. In the unlikely event you've never watched it (it's been mentioned on Language Log a few times, of course, especially by commenters), watch it now, and remember one of the finest of British comedians — perhaps the most loved of them all.

Comments off

Dophin sightseeing

Headline in the China Daily today (5/28/17):

"Dophin sightseeing in China's Taiwan".

As my colleague, Arthur Waldron, trenchantly remarked:  "They fear a dauphin. This may be an omen."

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (6)

On whether prairie dogs can talk

Ferris Jabr recently published in the New York Times Magazine an interesting article about the field research of Con Slobodchikoff, professor emeritus of biology at Northern Arizona University, on prairie dog alarm calls. The article title is "Can Prairie Dogs Talk?"

It is an interesting question. People who have read my earlier posts on animal communication have been pressing me to say something about my reaction to it. In this post I will do that. I will not be able to cover all the implications and ramifications of the question, of course; for one interesting discussion that has already appeared in the blogosphere, see this piece by Edmund Blair Bolles. But I will try to be careful and scholarly, and in an unusual departure (disappointingly, perhaps, to those who relished my bitterly sarcastic remarks on cow naming behavior), I will attempt to be courteous. Nonetheless, I will provide a clear and explicit answer to Jabr's question.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments off

Veggies for cats and dogs

This video was passed on by Tim Leonard, who remarks, "real-time video translation at its best":

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (8)

Sino-Japanese faux ami

Nathan Hopson saw this sign on the ferry from Hong Kong to Macau.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (4)

She would evaporate slippery chickens were north

Just because I haven't written a post about Chinglish for many moons doesn't mean that it has disappeared.  In fact, the following is such a paramount specimen that I would be remiss not to bring it to the attention of Language Log readers.

From C. Grieve (who comments "I'm assuming the restaurant was a greasy spoon . . .") via Elizabeth Barber:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (21)

Marg bar ___

This is a guest post by Reza Mirsajadi, who previously published a version on Facebook.


For much of my adult life, whenever I have had to defend the Iranian people to conservatives, they have fought back with the "Death to America" argument. This more or less amounts to "They [Iranians] want to kill us, they said so!" I am so fed up with these misconceptions, and the news media and translators need to take responsibility for their part in it.

As someone who does a lot of translating, I understand that there is an ethical component to the craft. People rely on your work to understand the Other. For this reason, cultural context is absolutely imperative. The "Death to ___" chant commonly heard in Iranian political protests for well over sixty years, is a mistranslation. Yes, the Farsi word "marg" can translate to "death," but "marg bar ___" translates to "Down with ___", as you can see in the lead photo for the Guardian article "Iranians turn out in force for rallies after call for Trump response", 2/10/2017:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (43)

Password nerdview

Steve Politzer-Ahles was trying to change his password on the Hong Kong Polytechnic University system, and found himself confronted with this warning:

You may not use the following attribute values for your password:

puAccNetID
puStaffNo
puUserGivenName
puUserSurname

Attribute values? This is classic nerdview.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments off

Water depth risk safety

Photograph of a sign taken by Boris Kootzenko on a recent trip to China:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (14)

The temperature is struggling

I commented back in 2008 on the ridiculous vagueness of some of the brief weather forecast summaries on BBC radio ("pretty miserable by and large," and so on). I do sometimes miss the calm, scientific character of American weather forecasts, with their precise temperature range predictions and exact precipitation probabilities. In recent days, on BBC Radio 4's morning news magazine program, I have heard an official meteorologist guy from the weather center saying not just vague things like "a weather front trying to get in from the north Atlantic," or "heading for something a little bit warmer as we move toward the weekend," but (more than once) a total baffler: "The temperature is going to be struggling." What the hell is that about?

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (54)

Coffee Yao, Finger Chen, Doy Chiang, and colleagues

Thorin Engeseth noticed that, at the end of the Taiwanese video game "Detention", there are some interesting adopted Western names among the people involved in the game's creation — especially Coffee, Finger, and Smiler:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (9)