Translation of a translation

« previous post | next post »

At first I was going to call this "Lost and found in translation", but since it was lost but never found, I thought I'd change that to "Found and lost in translation".  That sounded weird, so I just went for the title at the top:  "Translation of a translation".  Now I'm thinking that maybe I should have called it "From bad to worse".

The text comes from this site: "23 times Chinese signs were definitely translated by a serial killer".  (I've already dealt with about half of the other 22 items on Language Log.)

The English:

"All is not what a real value, you cannot through hard work and hard to get."

The Chinese:

Shìjiān méiyǒu yī zhǒng jùyǒu zhēnzhèng jiàzhí de dōngxī, kěyǐ bù jīngguò jiānkǔ xīnqín de láodòng ér nénggòu dédào de


"There is nothing of true value in the world that one can obtain without going through arduous, toilsome labor."

I don't know what the original Edison quote is, but it certainly sounds like something he would say, since he often emphasized the importance of hard work.

It seems to me that a big part of the problem with this mistranslation stems from the double negative.  Of the many quotes from Edison that I've encountered, most are plainspoken and straightforward.  I wouldn't normally associate him with such a convoluted manner of circumlocution.

[h.t. John Rohsenow]


  1. DF said,

    March 13, 2016 @ 8:28 am

    From a random Edison quotes page, perhaps

    “The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense.”

    although perhaps not.

  2. Victor Mair said,

    March 13, 2016 @ 9:41 am

    Notice how they put the English at the top, as though it were the original. Hah hah!

  3. Gene Anderson said,

    March 13, 2016 @ 11:00 am

    Well, Mao Zedong said "all bad things in the world come from not working." And the Zen monasteries had the rule "One day no work, one day no food."

  4. Peter S. said,

    March 13, 2016 @ 8:35 pm

    That sounds an awful lot like

    "Nothing worth having was ever achieved without effort."

    It even includes the double negation.

    But that quote is generally attributed to Teddy Roosevelt and not Thomas Edison. Maybe the translation wasn't the only thing they got wrong.

RSS feed for comments on this post