Starting this blog has drawn me into some interesting ‘translation’ conversations with my chums (friends) in the US. There, you see? I’ve already had to explain one term in the first sentence!
I’ve also seen some translation bloopers, such as the website that advised an American that when in Britain if one wants to buy diapers, one should ask for napkins. Now that probably would have worked in Charles Dicken’s days, but these days a diaper is a nappy (whether disposable, washable or modern ‘smart’ nappy). And if you ask for napkins, you’ll be shown to the linen section so you can buy some damask table napkins for dinner. In fact, it’s much easier if you don’t worry and simply ask for diapers, as we get so much American TV here that I can’t imagine anyone would have a problem understanding you.
And things could be much worse. You could be Portuguese and trying to learn English back in the 19th Century. In which case you couldn’t turn to the web, but would have had to rely on a book called “English As She Is Spoke”. Unfortunately, it seems that the authors of this book had rather a fragile grasp on the language themselves; so not quite sporting to write a book that others may rely on, is it?
Probably my favourite mis-translation in it is:
“A cavalo dado não se lhe olha para o dente”, which should be translated as “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”, but somehow got translated as “A horse baared don’t look him the tooth”.
I don’t know about you, but I may have a spot of bother working that one out.
English as She Is Spoke is the common name of a 19th century book credited to José da Fonseca and Pedro Carolino, which was intended as a Portuguese–English conversational guide or phrase book, but is regarded as a classic source of unintentional humour.
The humour appears to be a result of dictionary-aided literal translation, which causes many idiomatic expressions to be translated wildly inappropriately. For example, the Portuguese phrase chover a cântaros is translated as raining in jars, whereas an idiomatic English translation would be raining buckets.
Mark Twain said of English as She Is Spoke that “Nobody can add to the absurdity of this book, nobody can imitate it successfully, nobody can hope to produce its fellow; it is perfect.”
And yes, you can get it from Amazon!
All I’ve got to say about Jose da Fonseca and Pedro Carolino is… Bless.
And we all know what that means, eh?