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Off topic: What is your most curious translation request?
Thread poster: Ramon Somoza

Ramon Somoza  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 00:42
Member (2002)
Dutch to Spanish
+ ...
Oct 4, 2008

My most curious request happened as follows:

I got an (international) phone call from a German agency for which I work occasionally. The owner, a very nice lady, asked me very embarrassed whether I could do a translation for her agency which was "slightly out of the ordinary".

I asked her what the problem was, but she turned around the subject, simply saying that it was a publicity folder. She did not want to state what it was about, only if I would be willing to accept it. She did sound *very* embarrassed, and since I had very good experiences with that agency and she confessed that she was unable to find anybody, I blindly accepted the job.

So she sends me the document, together with a very nice mail, thanking me a lot for accepting this "unusual" job. So I look at it and it is a... brochure for a ***** enlarger! (the *s are on purpose, I don't want to offend anybody, but I imagine you get the idea)

I had to think it over for a couple of minutes before deciding whether to do it or not. There are things that I'll never take, no matter how much money they offer you, you need to draw the line somewhere. This was close, but not at the wrong side, so I eventually did it. Right, it was not a job that I'd taken up front, but since I had committed already to it and it was not something I could point out as really offensive, I had actually no choice, I am as good as my word.

I must say, translating the text *was* funny. It's incredible what some men actually are willing to suffer due to some inferiority complex. Though I sympathize, I spent most of the translation giggling, thinking about some poor guy using this contraption. And trying to glorify it when I could not imagine myself using it was also for a good laugh.

But also imagine the situation of the agency owner asking for the translation... a woman!

Sometimes you really get weird requests, but in 30+ years of translation I never had another one like this...


(Sorry, I originally wrote contraception, it was in reality contraption)

[Editado a las 2008-10-04 20:52]


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Tomás Cano Binder, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 00:42
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Touching the product ourselves... Oct 4, 2008

When we recently entered a new field (namely motocross) I went to the local dealer of the brand and got to know, see and touch the motorbikes and learnt a lot from the explanations of the dealers. I am glad I don't have to visit a sex shop because of a job assignment!

As for your question, last week we did the translation of a bread toaster. After dealing with rather challenging translations in many different topics for over a decade, doing the instructions of a toaster was very refreshing and lots of fun! We had plenty of good laughs in the office, and finished our working day with the pleasant reassurance of knowing that we were using our toasters correctly at home!

[Edited at 2008-10-04 19:09]


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Tomás Cano Binder, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 00:42
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Did you mean penis? Oct 4, 2008

Ramon Somoza wrote:
So I look at it and it is a... brochure for a ***** enlarger!


Half of the world's population has a penis. And the other half has a very clear idea of what we are talking about. A penis is just a penis and "penis" is a rather anatomical, medical term so I don't think it can offend anyone. It would have been a different question if you had chosen any of the full list of synonyms used in Monty Python's song from "The meaning of life":

"Isn't it awfully nice to have a penis?
Isn't it frightfully good to have a d**g?
It's swell to have a s****y, it's devine to own a d**k.
From the tiniest little t****r, to the world's biggest p***k."
...
...


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Hilde Granlund  Identity Verified
Norway
Local time: 00:42
English to Norwegian
+ ...
curious... Oct 4, 2008

Just out of professional (moahahaha) curiosity:
What sort of contraption will both enlarge your penis and act as a contraceptive?
I am sure there is a huge market for this
(you should have charged more for the translation...)


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Ramon Somoza  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 00:42
Member (2002)
Dutch to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Yes, Tomás Oct 4, 2008

But though it's a simple anatomical thing, I'm always surprised about how many people take offense by simply mentioning a word that should be just descriptive. It's like the idiots that start objecting because a woman is breast-feeding her baby, and they might have glimpsed a nipple. But I didn't want to raise a "politically correct/incorrect" debate.

Regarding the bread toaster, it might be fun, I've never translated one of those.

Some other curiosities I recall: I have translated a patent for a smokeless cigarette, test procedures for the acceptance of carbon fiber pre-preg, a manual for an egg-packaging machine, a folder for a teeth-whitening chewing-gum, the repair manual for the electronic warfare system of a frigate, the specification for an aircraft assembly line station, and a medical study about the impact of radars on cancer. Oh, and a few water boiler manuals, which actually taught me how to replace my boiler when it broke down, saving me some money.

The second most curious translation I recall, however, was around the directions for use for a medicine. Don't get me wrong, though I rarely translate medicine-related work (the job about radars and cancer was more radars than cancer, to be honest), I have translated a few times such directions for use. The curious thing about it was not so much the translation itself but rather the circumstances surrounding it.

This must have been around 1980, while I was finishing my studies at the university but was working as a translator to pay for my living. I got a call at home (I assume because I had just passed the exam as a sworn German-Spanish translator) and a voice asked whether I did translations from German into Spanish.

So I answer yes, and this guy asks me to go immediately to a nearby hospital, and to make sure I arrived there really quick they were sending a police car. He also told me not to worry, I could send them later my invoice for the translation, plus any expenses I might incur in. Then he hang up.

This was only a few years after the end of Franco's dictatorship, so in those times you were actually not happy to see the police coming in to pick you up. But I went down (I was not sure I had a choice), got onto the police car that was just arriving and got shipped with sirens and all to the hospital. There, a doctor in his greens gives me a crumpled paper in very small letters and asks me to translate the German text aloud.

(You can imagine, me in my early twenties, not being a specialist in medicine translation, without a single dictionary, in a hospital, and the police looking on, how nervous I was). I do as he says, he tells me to do the translation in writing -handwriting, they could not wait for me to type it on a typewriter- and give it to a nurse, and gets off. So I made the translation as well as I could, the nurse gets off with my handwritten translation, and after a while comes back to tell me how to contact administration so that I can send them the invoice.

I never found out what the problem had been, but from my (lack of) medical knowledge I guess that either somebody had taken something incompatible with that medicine (the list of incompatibilities was very long) or some kid must have thought it was a good idea to eat it. I don't know either whether my translation helped or not, and whether it had saved somebody (or perhaps killed him, if I had made a mistake).

But boy, when I got back home I really had the shakes!


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Ramon Somoza  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 00:42
Member (2002)
Dutch to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Sorry, not both things Oct 4, 2008

Hilde Granlund wrote:

Just out of professional (moahahaha) curiosity:
What sort of contraption will both enlarge your penis and act as a contraceptive?
I am sure there is a huge market for this
(you should have charged more for the translation...)


My mistake, I originally wrote contraception instead of contraption. I don't think you could use the penis and the enlarger at the same time, the contraption did weigh 300g... The girl might object more to this thing than to the size of the man...

But would you believe it guaranteed an enlargement of 1 cm every 8 months, provided you carried it 10 hours/day!!!!!!

I checked the invoice: 46.20 Euros.

[Editado a las 2008-10-04 20:53]


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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:42
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
Method of finding age Oct 4, 2008

I once had to produce a translated abstract of a patent for a means of telling the age of a male patient from the strength of his urine jet.

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Juliana Starkman  Identity Verified
Israel
Local time: 18:42
Spanish to English
+ ...
Baby names. Oct 4, 2008

I am always getting bizarre requests from people (generally very religious Christians) in North America who want me to tell them what baby names mean. There are all sorts of books out there that claim that certain names are "originally from the Hebrew, meaning ...", when in fact they are no such thing.
I felt horrible once when someone e-mailed me and said "I named my baby Caleb, which I know is a Hebrew name from the Holy Bible- can you please tell me what it means?" Well, in Hebrew, Caleb (actually, Calev), means DOG!!!
People- ask first, name later!

[Edited at 2008-10-04 21:39]


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Jan Willem van Dormolen  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 00:42
English to Dutch
+ ...
Bizarre... Oct 5, 2008

My most bizarre translation was not only bizarre because it was only two words long. But I was asked to translate:
XXX Corporation
...where XXX was the name of a MAJOR corporation in home electronics.

Of course I informed the agency that this was totally absurd, to which the agency replied that, yes, they totally agreed, but the client insisted... Go figure.


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Ritu Bhanot  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 00:42
Member (2006)
French to Hindi
+ ...
A song Oct 5, 2008

Well, the strangest translation that I did was a Punjabi song (Punjabi to English). As far as the music is concerned, it's nice and catchy like most Punjabi songs. But the lyrics...

That was where the catch lied.

At times it is absurd and at times obscenties, abuses etc... in fact, it was a song that my father had actually banned out of our house, not really because it was on TV all the time but he couldn't help commenting how can people sing that?

It was for a long standing agency client. I called him and told him that it is really absurd and does the person really need it? He agreed that it was absurd but it was ok as it paid well!!!

And the person who had requested the translation (obviously someone who didn't know punjabi) had written in Roman script with lots of mistakes. Of course, I had to listen to the song and as most of the lyrics didn't mean a thing so easy to translate...

And at times it was so absurd that all of us were could do little else except laugh. I spent more time on that translation than I've on any other ('coz I was laughing most of the time)

[Edited at 2008-10-05 17:14]


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James McVay  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:42
Russian to English
+ ...
Letter to the Pentagon Oct 5, 2008

Two unusual requests stand out in my mind.

In my first job as a translator in the early 1970s I worked for the U.S. Army during the height of the Cold War. One day I assigned to translate a handwritten letter sent to the Pentagon from a Soviet citizen who owned a 1941 American jeep that had stopped running. I imagine it was part of the military equipment that the U.S. had shipped to its World War II ally, the Soviet Union. In the letter, the man asked the Pentagon to send him the replacement parts he needed to repair the jeep. I translated the letter and sent it back to the Pentagon. Needless to say, I never heard if the guy got his parts, but somehow I doubt it.

While still in college in Tallahassee, Florida, I got hired by a local Christian evangelical group to proofread the galley of a Russian-language comic book depicting the life of Christ. I was told that the book was to be smuggled into the USSR for use in teaching children about Christ. The source material I checked the galleys against consisted of photocopies of verses out of the Russian Bible that had been cut out and pasted onto a mockup of the comic. Chapter and verse weren't given. Most of the photocopies were clear, but the person making the copies had just laid the thick Bible on the copier, so parts of the text were distorted or illegible where the pages didn't lie flat. There was one particularly bad section where a long verse tailed off into illegibility. The typesetter copied the verse until he got to the part he couldn't read, then he entered, "Бог знает, что там написано" -- "God knows what is written there." I had to locate a Russian Bible in Tallahassee -- which had no Russian community -- find the right verse, and make the correction. I was paid little for the job, but as a destitute student I felt lucky to get the money.

They gave me a copy of the book after it was printed, and I still have it. They did a nice job.


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 21:42
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Dubbing Chinese video from English subtitles Oct 5, 2008

A dubbing studio director once asked me about translating some 300 full-feature (90+ minutes each) Chinese martial arts films for lip-sync dubbing. The catch is that they would come with the original soundtrack in Chinese and subtitles in English, from which I was expected to translate and build a script for dubbing.

On top of not knowing one single word in Chinese, I'm totally unable to replicate its sounds. So if anyone drilled me on how to say Can you point me to the door of the men's restroom? in Chinese, I bet nobody in China would understand my "version" of it.

So I wouldn't be able to sort out in-fight utterances (and these should be countless) from actual words. Also, as you know, subtitles are the most concise versions of what's actually said, therefore I'd have to invent A LOT of garbage (what else could I invent?). And what about lip-sync?

Plain common sense made me say no! right away. Never saw any of them, though I know the story of them all, it never changes. Two parties are in conflict. One kidnaps a member or something valuable from the other. Then they fight and fight for most of the film, until whatever was taken is rescued. I find it amazing that 300 movies could be made with roughly the same story.


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Capesha  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:42
Member (2006)
English to German
+ ...
2 words and an adult website Oct 5, 2008

The most curious things were:

a) 2 words "goat leather" for 1,20 Euro and

b) a website with "adult contents". I didn't know the subject, just the word count and offered a price of 1200 Euro (which wasn't a high per word price, really). They wrote back and offered a budget of 500 USD. *muahahahaha*. To my question, if they were kidding, I never received an answer.......

You may imagine that I refused the job. Besides the strange subject, I think that I am too technical in order to deliver a well done adult's page.


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Nicole Schnell  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:42
English to German
+ ...
Broken English into broken German and an obscene rap song (respelled) Oct 6, 2008

The first one was an interview in English with a non-native speaker. I was supposed to convey the garbled and distorted language into my translation.

Creative writing...

The second one was an insanely obscene rap song that the singer wanted to perform for the German audience during her European tour. To make things worse, the singer didn't speak a single word German. To make things even worse, the singer wasn't familiar with any symbols used in phonetic transcriptions. So I had to respell the entire thing. The text looked like something written on planet Gaga - until you read it out loud. My husband who doesn't speak German had the pleasure of this task. Of course he wanted to know, what it means.

Blush.

Now, that was creative writing....


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Gillian Scheibelein  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 00:42
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
An April Fools' Joke Oct 6, 2008

In the 1980s, I was asked to translate an April Fools' joke in the form of a letter from "The Royal Australian Society for the Preservation and Protection of Endangered Kangaroos" to the headmaster of a local school who was being sent up by his second in command. The Society were purported to be building a special enclosure for an endangered species of Australian kangaroo in the Black Forest because there was some sort of parasite that was killing them off in Australia and the lack of industry in the Black Forest gave ideal conditions for them. The Society (a charity) was under the patronage of Diana, Princess of Wales. Anyway, the letter asked him to help organise the opening ceremony that was to be undertaken by Diana herself and who he would of course meet.

It was printed on very expensive paper with a very elaborate header and design. Apparently, the headmaster got quite excited about it until he spotted the perpetrator giggling in the corner, then he noticed the date!


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