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Off topic: a troubling translation....
Thread poster: JH Trads

JH Trads  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:12
Member (2007)
English to French
+ ...
Oct 27, 2005

I just bought a heater from a household brand as the weather is getting chillier in the I was reading the instruction manual in Spanish, I try to understand the following title:
I'm certainly no techie, but thought I would be able to grab the meaning of a title in the instruction manual for a fairly basic appliance...can you guys guess the meaning? Just when I was ready to throw the towel or return a machine gun/heater , I thought...puntas: tips...disparar: to shoot...'troubleshooting tips' it was...I can tell you, I was on 'edge', it 'triggered' a deep meditation on translating and next time, why 'bother' reading the Spanish back translation? Good evening everybody, saludos a todosicon_smile.gif


Rosa Maria Duenas Rios (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:12
"Fertilice en resorte y caiga"... Oct 27, 2005

... was written on the Spanish instructions to grow a plant that I bought a while ago from Home Depot...

Get it?

Fertilize in Spring and Fall... of course!

Hurray for machine translations!icon_smile.gif

[Edited at 2005-10-27 20:34]


Gary Daine (X)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Not only machines... Oct 27, 2005

[quote]Rosa Maria Duenas Rios wrote:
... Hurray for machine translations!icon_smile.gif

One of my all-time favourites came in an advert for (I think) a portable radio, which I saw about 25 years ago, long before machine translations (or indeed, Internet) existed.

The radio used "pilas tan ligeras como una pluma" (batteries as light as a feather), which at first seemed quite logical, but struck a slightly false note.

Back translation led me eventually to 'penlight batteries'.
Pluma = feather [= quill = pen].

Obviously the (human) translator didn't know the term and had come up with an ingenious, and even plausible translation.



teju  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:12
English to Spanish
+ ...
One more... Oct 27, 2005

I once bought a nice cushion for my sofa. On the tag, it said in Spanish:

Cojín de abajo

After thinking, and thinking why was this a cushion to be used on the bottom, or below something, it hit me "Down cushion".

I love these pearls of wisdom. Keep them coming, we can all use a laugh!


tazdog (X)
Local time: 22:12
Spanish to English
+ ...
not always machines, part II Oct 28, 2005

One of my favorites, like Gary's, was the fruit of human efforts rather than a machine translation.

The company where I used to work (near Cleveland, Ohio) was recruiting a bilingual Sales Manager for Latin America, and the ad that was run in the local newspaper asked for résumés in English with a cover letter in Spanish. This was to screen out those who had done one year of Spanish in high school but thought they'd apply anyway. It was a good strategy, because I can only remember receiving one cover letter that had obviously been translated word by word using a dictionary. It was fairly easy to back translate to figure out what the applicant was saying, except for one thing: "Comerciante de Llano". I puzzled over that one for quite some time before it dawned on me: the writer had tried to translate the name of the newspaper where the ad had run. The newspaper was The Plain Dealer.icon_smile.gif

(For those of you who don't speak Spanish, think along the lines of "Merchant of the Plains". Sort of has a Lone Ranger-ish sound to it, doesn't it?)


marie-christine périé  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:12
English to French
+ ...
another one then Oct 28, 2005

I live in a French village by the Mediterranean Sea and I have a "chambre d'hôtes"/bed & breakfast. This year I received a mail from the States asking for accommodation, which said : "Il y a remorquage juste de nous, Charlie et Lynne", which means in French : "There is just towing of us, Charlie and Lynne". Well, it did take me a while to figure out they had machine-translated a text with a typo : "there are just the tow of us", meaning of course the two of us...
Eventually they came and were lovely people.


Melanie Nassar  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:12
German to English
+ ...
up on current events? Oct 28, 2005

A few years ago, my husband gave me an article to read about the peace process in Israel/Palestine. The article had obviously been written by a non-native, but I get a lot of those and can usually figure them out. This one stumped me, because Mr.Arafat was meeting with a Mr.Fathers, and for the life of me, I couldn't recall a Mr. Fathers on the political scene. After a few minutes, however, I finally got it. It was a machine translation from French, and Mr. Arafat was meeting with...Mr. Peres.


Rafa Lombardino
United States
Local time: 13:12
Member (2005)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
As the translation instructor said... Oct 28, 2005

... we have to start writing to these companies to let them know how bad their translated manuals are...

I'm finally getting a formal education in translation after working for 8 years in the field. During an information session at the beginning of the course, one of the instructors showed us the most awful piece of translation from English into Spanish. I can't remember the words exactly (since it didn't look like Spanish at all!!!), but you can easily find it by going to the nearest WalMart and looking through the socks section.

Anyway, her motto is: "Let's bug these people until they understand that consumers, at the best, are laughing at their products! And, ultimately, consumers are considering their products to be ineffective due to poor assembling, usage, or washing instructions. If they realize bad translations can hurt their pockets, then they'll look for professionals next time..."

I'll have classes with her during the winter and I'm thinking about going to several department stores and researching some nice examples of bad translations. I'm not a technical translator, but I believe this exercise will help me learn more from the back translation and get ready for future assignments.

But, going back to these corporations, so far it seems that they only understand the losses that bad translations (and lack of cultural references) can bring about when they're exporting their products to another country, where most consumers only speak that target language and cannot refer back to English to laugh about it... Here in the US — specially when it comes to Spanish —, big corporations just assume that writing anything that looks like Spanish will do the job without realizing (or caring about) how offensive the results really are to the Spanish-speaking community.

Maybe, if we're more proactive as an industry and make these companies take translations seriously, we'll be saving them a lot of troubles and get the recognition (and the $) we deserve...


Nora Diaz  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:12
Member (2002)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Restaurant menus Oct 29, 2005

In Northern Mexico it's not unusual for restaurants to try to cater to an international clientele, and to do so, even the smallest taco place will have an English menu.

What's unusual, however, is for them to have the menu translated by a pro, so the results are most of the time puzzling, unintelligible, unappealing names and descriptions of their dishes.

One such example is a menu offering "handles in syrup" in their dessert selection.

A quick check of the original Spanish menu unveils the mystery: "mangos en almíbar".


Victor Dewsbery  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:12
German to English
+ ...
How to invent a war Oct 29, 2005

Some years ago I read an American novel in both the original and the German translation. (Peretti: This Present Darkness)
One of the main characters was a young church minister who was trying his best to be faithful, but was having a hard time because some of the leading members of his church liked to walk on the shady side of the "straight and narrow".

Peretti expressed this by using two metaphors that come over OK in English:
"He stuck to his guns while they were shooting at him".

The German translator (poor soul) translated this literally, giving this dramatic story an extra militarist twist that wasn't originally intended.


juvera  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:12
English to Hungarian
+ ...
A few more... Oct 29, 2005

Translated from Hungarian, the original said: indigenous trees,
translation: aboriginal trees.

From English into Hungarian: (from the film "Red October) "Follow the lead boat!" Tr: "Follow the lead (Pb, heavy grey metal) boat!"

Beauty and the Beast: "Look at the flying buttresses."
translation: "Look at the butterflies."

The origins of these escape me now, but all from films:

"She is on the pool deck".(of the ship) Tr: "She is on the deck with the little pond".

"They are picketing." Tr: "They are erecting a fence."

"Shall we talk about women's lib?" Tr: "Shall we talk about the castration of women?" (I still can't work this one out.)

"It takes all kinds." Tr: "Lots of ways to do it."

"Oh, the keys! I'll have another pair made tomorrow. We'll each have our own set then."
Tr: "Tomorrow a couple arriving here. They will be in my room."

"I got even with them." Tr: "I joined them."

Then there was the one, where the translator thought "Ensign" was the first name of the guy, and used it as such all through the film.


Lluc Potrony Juli� (X)
Local time: 22:12
English to Catalan
+ ...
The perils of technical translation... ...and one recent infamous case in Spain Nov 4, 2005

One of my engineer friends earned half an hour traying to realize which component was "la fuente del poder" (The Fountain of Might). It was the Power Source.


There has been an infamous case in Spain. The title of the last Asterix comic book ("Le ciel lui tombe sur la tête") it's a mess. In Catalan it has grave spelling and semantic mistakes "El cel s'ens cau al damunt" and has become news. In Catalan and Spanish the title has been poorly translated because it is a reference of a common saying in the series, which are very well know in Spain.

It is common to have bad translations in most comic books (i.e. the Sin City series) in Spain but some of them were treated with respect. Asterix was one of the well translated as far as I know.


Veronika Hansova  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 22:12
Member (2006)
English to Czech
+ ...
Buchholz relay in Czech Nov 4, 2005

[quote]Hugo wrote:

'troubleshooting tips'

I read a similar manual translated from En to Czech: Buchholz relay is a technical term for a relay equipped with gas and oil. In Czech it exists as it is, since there was some Mr. Buchholz who put this thing together. Anyway, the translator obviously did not bother to find this out and he/she translated it with some help of his/her basic knowledge of German as: a relay made of beech wood (that's what Buchholz means in German).


Local time: 16:12
Esperanto to English
+ ...
Seen in a kitchen bathroom in Texas Nov 30, 2005

Obvious material to be translated:
"Wash your hands before returning to work."
"Llevese los manos antes de regresar al trabajo."
(Yeah, I guess it would make sense to take your hands with you before returning to work, but it would make even better sense to wash ("lave") them.

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