Saturday, September 08, 2007

Lost in translation

Household Name's latest post about some funny stories of bad translation reminds me of this joke.

When President Nixon first visited China, he and the First Lady were introduced to Chairman Mao Tze Tung and his wife.


NIXON: You have a lovely wife.

MAO: 哪里,哪里.

Interpreter: Where, Where?

NIXON (looking puzzled): Eh ... Everywhere

MAO: (looking shocked): 不见得, 不见得.

Interpreter: Cannot see, cannot see.


At one time, years ago, the Straits Times had a daily Bilingual Page. I remember reading this story of a chap who visited Japan. He saw a huge banner outside a Tokyo departmental store which gave him a shock. It read:

出卖大日本, which meant "Betray the great Japanese empire (dai Nippon)"!

Actually, the same words when read in the other direction say; "Big sale today".

8 comments:

Victor said...

Haha, good one. I mean the joke, not the interpreter whom ought to be sacked!

[e] said...

This is what happens when you don't understand the culture of other races or country.

Some actions maybe perfectly fine to do it in your country but when you are doing it in foreign countries, they may take it as an offence if they don't know how your culture is like.

zen said...

Some years back, while holidaying in Japan, we had some problem trying to locate our hotel in Tokyo. My sister-in-law asked a policeman in front of his station for assistance in English. The poor guy found it difficult to understand us, meanwhile mumbling: "ano, ano....." going nowhere. Luckily my daughter managed to spot the hotel which was just behind the police station.
In contrast, while enjoying in a hot-spring resort at Kanagawa, we were being looked after by an elderly lady aged around 70 named kumi. We communicated mostly by sign-language, with us throwing in a few Japanese words (learnt during the trip). The easiest word for her to pick up from us was -'OK' and she would enthusiatically use this word whenever possible. When we left, the resort staff, including Kumi, bade us farewell. The spritely old lady's learning spirit, despite her age, stood out for us to emulate, though it was only a single (not even) word.

Victor said...

I saw a CD of English oldies songs the other day, obviously produced in China. It had Elvis' family name printed as "Priestly". Haha.

Lam Chun See said...

Here's one more. In Chinese 小人 refers to a dispicable person. Do you know what it means in Japanese. If I am not mistaken, it's kodomo.

zen said...

When I tried to learn a little bit of Japanese through a book, I found it quite difficult, with those grammer and sentence construction. When in a crowded Tokyo I knew only one effective word - 'sumimasen' (excuse) to get by. On a less crowded train in the afternoon, while returning back from the toilet, a train warden blocked my passage-way with his back facing me. I politely used the word sumimasen, he quickly leaped aside when hearing the word to let me passby. On another occasion, I saw a young lady being obstructed in a crowed park, she just used the word kudasai (please) and easily got through. So I learned another word through actual encounter.

Anonymous said...

Hey Chun See
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Speak soon ..Simon Chu

Lam Chun See said...

Hey how come no takers? 小人 in Japanese means 'child'.