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Lust in translation

Published:Friday | November 6, 2015 | 12:00 AMTony Deyal, Contributor

The sign in English in the window of a Mexican restaurant said, 'Don't stand there and be hungry. Come on in and get fed up.' On the other hand, there is a story about a US company that decided to market its 'no-leak' pens in Mexico.

The actual advertisement featured a young woman with a pen in her shirt pocket and the tag line that the pen would not embarrass you. Unfortunately, the person doing the English-to-Spanish translation used the word 'embarazar' thinking it meant 'to embarrass' when it actually means "pregnant".

So, it is said, a lot of young women felt that putting one of the pens in their pockets was all the contraception they needed. It was just as effective as the sign in a South African maternity ward that read, 'No Children Allowed'. There is no question that a lot is lost in translation.

Take the story about the Mexican bandit who crossed the border into Texas and robbed the banks in the border towns. A Texas Ranger finally caught up with the bandit in a cantina in Nogales where the only other people were a scrawny guy and the bartender. He pulled his gun and announced, "You are under arrest. I get a reward for you, dead or alive. Tell me where the money is, and I'll let you live. If you don't, I'll shoot you right here and save myself the trouble of having to take you back to Texas alive." The bandit did not understand a word.

The man at the back of the bar told the ranger, "I'm a lawyer. I can speak Spanish and will help you." The ranger told the lawyer, "Let him know that if he doesn't tell me where the loot is, I'll shoot him here and now."

Upon hearing the translation, the terrified bandit blurted out in Spanish that the loot was buried in an old barn at the outskirts of town. "What did he say?" asked the ranger. The lawyer answered: "He said, 'You don't have the nerve to shoot me, Yankee pig.'"



Truth, however, is stranger than fiction, especially in these days of instant computer translation. However, anyone taking the easy way out should be warned that the first attempt to translate the English phrase, 'out of sight, out of mind', into Russian ended up with the Russian equivalent of 'invisible maniac'.

The people of a Spanish town had no smart lawyers, just Google Translate. According to a media report, a town hall in northwestern Spain was left red-faced after a Google Translate error led to it advertising its local leaf vegetable celebration as a much more X-rated affair. One of the highlights of the year in the town of As Pontes in Galicia, northwestern Spain, is its annual 'rapini' festival, when townsfolk celebrate the town's speciality, a leafy green vegetable similar to spinach.

But when residents clicked on to the Castillo Spanish version of the town's website - provided by Google Translate - to check the dates for next year's fest, they were shocked at the new turn the festival had apparently taken."

What it said was, "The clitoris is one of the typical products of Galician cuisine." What happened was that the original version was written in the local 'Galician' dialect and Google recognising the word 'grelo' as Portuguese, instead of Galician, translated it into the Spanish word for clitoris'.

It was a heck of a 'G-spot' error, especially when the Spanish version read, "Since 1981, the festival has made the clitoris one of the star products of the local gastronomy." Talk about having your Kate and Edith!



Even in the Caribbean where it is assumed by outsiders that all of us speak the same language, spinach-like vegetables can create some confusion. In Jamaica, at Kingston's Liguanea Club, I asked the waiter what was on the breakfast menu and he said, "Callaloo." In Trinidad, this is a soup, and we normally have it for lunch.

I persisted, and after some discussion and a little help from the people around me, found out that it was fried spinach with a little salt fish, something that in Trinidad is increasingly known to all by the Hindi name 'bhagi'.

So then I asked the waiter what the soup made from spinach was called, and he said, "Pepperpot," which in Guyana is serious business. Because of the cassava-based preservative, cassareep, the food never spoiled and could be constantly topped-up and reheated.

Sometimes, there are well-known English words that trigger very negative reactions. An Asian man walked into the currency exchange in New York City with 2,000 yen and walked out with $72. The following week, he walked in with 2,000 yen, and was handed $66. He asked the teller why he got less money that week than the previous week.

The teller said "Fluctuations." The Asian man got very upset, stormed out of the cambio, and just before slamming the door, turned around and shouted, "fruc you Amelicans, too!"

And if that is not bad enough, on a visit to the United States, Charles de Gaulle was honoured at a banquet in the White House. Seated beside his wife was an official who spoke no French, but who tried to engage her in conversation by asking "Madame de Gaulle, what do you think the most important thing in life is?" "A penis", she replied. Overhearing, her husband said gently, "I believe, my dear, that in English it is pronounced 'appiness'."

- Tony Deyal was last seen extolling the virtues of a Paris hotel which reminded guests, "Please leave your values at the front desk."