The Perils Of Translation

One of F.R. Scott’s best poems “Bonne Entente” begins:

“The advantages of living with two cultures

Strike one at every turn,

Especially when one finds a notice in an office building:

‘This elevator will not run on Ascension Day'”

It’s unfortunate that there were no poetry-lovers among the hot-shot soft-drink marketers who thought that it would be a great idea to mix up random words in English and French inside bottle-caps to amuse the lucky purchasers. You probably saw the result. An offended couple drew a bottle cap that combined the English word “you” with the French word for “late”, which unfortunately is “retard.”

When we consider that the perfectly respectable word for “shower” in French is “douche” you begin to glimpse the awful possibilities here (although you might develop a fine party game, devising amusing combinations). The marketers panicked, and shut the programme down.

I have recently been involved in studying the work of Sarah Binks, the Sweet Songstress of Saskatchewan. Sarah was a uniquely gifted translator. For example, translating the famous love poem by Heine  which begins “Du bist wie eine Blume” Sarah rose to new heights with the line “You are like one flower.”

Closer to home, the possibilities for mis-translation extend beyond the English-French divide. Noah Richler’s book, This Is My Country, What’s Yours? contains the fine story of a white official from the south trying to explain the modern industrial world to his Inuit audience, “Time is money!” he explained. This was faithfully translated by the interpreter “A watch costs a lot.”


5 comments on “The Perils Of Translation

  1. Alexandrina S. says:

    My Monday morning giggle.

  2. Leslie Nadon says:

    Thank you! You have a wonderful sense of humour… made me laugh. A good start to the week.

  3. Chris says:

    Donald Jack had a problem with the translation of his Leacock-winner, “Three Cheers for Me”: the French edition, “Hurrah pour moi”, had things like “Victorian Light Infantry Regiment” translated as “an infantry regiment formed in Victoria, western Canada”. But then, that pales beside the thought of the then-mooted movie productions of the book, first with Peter Sellers suggested for the lead character, Bartholomew Bandy, and then Dick Van Dyke…

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