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During the massforge meeting today, a chance remark by tmehlinger led to my showing him and thekuffs this page by crypthanatopsis, titled "All Your Base Is Belong To We". A demonstration of the havoc that ensues when comptranslation is applied to engrish, this page lists translations of "All Your Base Are Belong To Us" from the "original" English version of Zero Wing to various Italic languages plus German and their backtranslation into English.

As an interesting aside, there are a lot of phrases that either definitely don't have fixpoints under round-trip translation, or have horrific (and hilarious) fix points.

In any case, Tripitaka and I got to talking early this morning about the urban legends about product names and slogans in other languages. In particular, there is a persistent story that Coca-Cola was transliterated into something meaning "bite the wax tadpole". Now, one word for "bite" is ken3, to gnaw or chew; "wax" is la4; and "tadpole" is ke1 dou3. I've tried several times over the last 20 years to come up with any transliteration that even comes close, and I can't. Does anyone know what the exact transliteration (the Hanzi, or the Pinyin pronunciation with tonal inflections) is alleged to have been? Trip and I checked Snopes.com and found this article, but I can't produce any of the transliterations to which it alludes, save ke3 kou3 ke3 le4, the one depicted and the one Coca-Cola actually used. Literally, that's "allowing the mouth to be able to savor", as the Snopes page notes. (How the hell do you get from ke3 to "K'o", though?! If some of these transliterations turn out to be Cantonese, I'm going to be very annoyed.)

There's another unconfirmed urban legend that "Come Alive With Pepsi!" was translated into something to the effect of "Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back From the Dead". So far, my hypothesis is that both of these are apocryphal. People certainly like to embellish on them, e.g., turning "brings your ancestors back to life" to "brings your dead ancestors back from the grave".

Anyway, can anyone shed some light on these mysteries?
Also, does anyone have any funny translations to tell us about?
(If you haven't seen it before, here is "The Backstroke of the West", a page of SW Episode III Engrish subtitles.)



( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 17th, 2005 08:41 pm (UTC)
I've heard about both of those, I think it was on X-Play or something equally as silly, while discussing...well pretty much what you're discussing. Another classic is the "NOVA" car selling badly in spanish speaking countries because "No va" translates into "does not go". Which seems a bit silly.

Just did a search on Snopes.com and it lists it as undetermined too. It says the reason no one seems to be sure if that Pepsi has never actually denied the story. hm.
Sep. 19th, 2005 09:25 pm (UTC)
People do dumb things!

No va is pretty well attested, though, as it was actually marketed as such in Latin America. As was the Whirlpool MR-2 (sounds like emmerdeur) in France.

People do dumb things! Not least of all advertisers.

Sep. 19th, 2005 11:19 pm (UTC)
Re: People do dumb things!
I actually looked it up on that same urban legends website and it totally debunked it saying that there was no proof of bad sales for that car, and assuming that spanish speakers would be confused between "Nova" and "No va" would be like assuming english speakers wouldn't buy a dining room table set by a company called "Notables" because everyone would want a table.
Sep. 17th, 2005 09:50 pm (UTC)
An interesting experiment might be to do a retranslation of that page to see how free translation services (specifically, babelfish, which I used) have improved since 2000 or whenever it was I first did that.

I just hope people don't do too much poking around at my old website which is embarrassingly bad both in content and style.
Sep. 18th, 2005 02:37 am (UTC)
Off the top of my head there was "It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken" becoming "It takes a hard man to make a chicken aroused" in Spanish. And the one about the Chevy Nova ("no va" means "it doesn't go" in Spanish). I could've sworn that "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" -> "The vodka is strong but the meat is rotten" came from Hofstadter, but a quick skim of the "translation" index-entry for all three books* didn't give me anything obvious (it was a quick skim). Since rereading them is never a bad thing, I'm just going to point vaguely in their direction.

(I'm going to have to reread that subtitles page. I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard!)

* Gödel, Escher, Bach, The Mind's Eye (which is only edited by him, but still), and Metamagical Themas.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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