• LOGIN
  • No products in the cart.

Words can be dangerous

mandarin-chinese-text.jpg


Language is subtle and constantly changing, challenging us to stay abreast of it. That's true for one's native language, but especially so for a second language.

语言是一门微妙且不断变化的学问,一不留神就把握不准了。对一个人的母语来说是如此,对第二语言来说更是如此。

Literal translation is dangerous, because it often creates inaccurate, incongruous, and downright funny results.

翻译时照着字面直译很危险,因为这样经常会造成不准确、不恰当,甚至极其搞笑的译文。

In the run-up to the 2008 Olympics, I stopped in a men's room near the departure gates in the Beijing Capital Airport. There was a campaign underway to improve English language skills of service personnel in Beijing in anticipation of the huge influx of foreign visitors for the Games.

2008年奥运会开始前不久,我在北京首都机场登机口附近上洗手间。由于预料到将会有大批游客因奥运而来,当时北京正在开展一场提高服务人员英语水平的活动。

For some reason, one misguided offshoot of this well-intentioned language campaign resulted in an English-language sign being posted above the urinals in this particular men's room.

不知道为什么,这场出自善意的语言学习运动出现了一点小偏差:就在这一间男厕所的小便池上方,贴着一个英文标记。

The sign read: "Urine Pond."

上面写着:"Urine Pond"(直译为小便池塘)。

While it's correct that a pond is a small body (usually) of water, most people would associated it as a place to swim, fish, or have a picnic next to, rather than in the context of a toilet. Fortunately, the sign was gone on my next visit.

的确,池塘(通常)是指一小块水体,但大多数人只会把它和游泳、钓鱼或者野餐附近的地点联系起来,而绝对不会想到厕所。好在这个标记在我第二次来上厕所的时候,已经不见了。

We've come a long way since the early days of China's export boom beginning in the 1980s. Looking back at China's export advertising in that era, there were some fairly awkward brand names in use. Some of these were famous brands in China, which either sounded funny when directly translated into English (e.g. Flying Pigeon bicycles), or were a thick jumble of impossible-to-pronounces letters for the average foreigner, because they were presented in the standard Chinese Romanization system: hanyu pinyin. Lots of "Qs" and "Zs" in unfamiliar combinations with other letters.

中国的出口业自上世纪80年代起开始蓬勃发展,至今我们已经走过了漫长的道路。回想那个年代的中国出口商品广告,有一些非常不好用的品牌名称,其中不乏中国知名品牌,一些名称直译成英文后听起来非常搞笑(比如"飞鸽"自行车,这个牌子英文直译为"Flying Pigeon",而"Pigeon"一词在英文中含有贬义,可用于形容"容易受骗的笨蛋"),有些品牌名称则是一般外国人根本念不出来的一大堆字母,因为这些品牌名称以标准的中文拉丁化系统——汉语拼音——书写,都是一些奇怪的字母组合,里面有很多Q和Z。

Words borrowed into English (or other languages) can also be tricky. In the mid-80s a French friend of mine in the textile business showed me an English language advertisement from a Chinese textile goods producer in Dalian. It displayed a type of fabric which they had on offer which was woven from silk yarn. It was no doubt a fine product, but the brand name, which formed the headline of the ad, was "Belle Pine."

英语(或其他语言)的借入词也可能带来麻烦。上世纪80年代中期,有位做纺织生意的法国朋友给我看了一个大连纺织品厂的英文广告,上面展示了工厂推出的一种绢丝织物,产品无疑是优良的,但组成广告大字标题的品牌名称却是"Belle Pine"(美人松)。

In English, "pine" is of course a kind of tree. "Belle" is a borrow-word from French which can mean beautiful, or an attractive young woman (e.g. "belle of the ball"). So far so good.

在英文里,"pine"当然是指一种树,而"belle"一词是从法语借来的,意思可以是美丽,也可以是迷人的年轻女子(例如,belle of the ball,即舞会上的美女)。只是这么看,还不错。

Unfortunately, as my French friend pointed out, "belle pine" in French means "beautiful penis."

可惜的是,法国朋友指出,belle pine在法语意为"漂亮的阳具"。

Whoops. Perhaps not what the ad agency had in mind.

哇,这应该不是广告公司的原意吧!

Acronyms are another tricky category in English usage, because of possible unintended similarities with regular words in spelling or pronunciation.

缩略语是使用英文时的另一个陷阱,因为它无意中可能与一些普通词汇在拼写和发音上有所相似。

An example comes to mind from the early days of the boom in international exhibitions and trade fairs in China. Trade fair organizers like to use acronyms to brand their events because, if properly handled, they are shorter and easier to remember than a long descriptive string of words.

我想起国际展览和商品交易会在中国刚兴起时的一个例子。商品交易会的组织者喜欢用活动的缩略语作名称,处理得当的话,缩略语比一长串描述性词汇更简短,更便于记忆。

In 1983 an ad appeared in Hong Kong's South China Morning Post announcing the 1st China International Hotel and Restaurant Supplies Exhibition in Beijing. The unfortunate choice of acronym was "China Hores," which sounds like something very different from hotel and restaurant supplies. No doubt an unintended pun.

1983年,香港《南华早报》刊登了北京即将举办第一届"中国国际酒店及餐厅用品展"(China International Hotel and Restaurant Suppliers Exhibition)的广告。它的缩写被不幸选定为"China Hores",听上去像是跟酒店和餐厅用品风马牛不相及的东西(这个缩写发音像英文"China whore",即中国妓女——译注)。显然,这是一个无意中造成的双关语。

As I've written about in an earlier post, there are certain words in English which are easily mixed up. The example in my earlier post was "cucumber" and "concubine" because of the phonetic similarities.

在较前的一篇博客中,我曾经提到,某些英语词汇容易相互混淆。那篇博文举的例子是 "cucumber"(黄瓜)和"concubine"(小妾),因为这两个单词的发音十分接近。

Other examples include "distinguished" and "extinguished." I was once part of a delegation to China whose Chinese host kindly offered us a farewell banquet in which he described our group in glowing terms but used the words "extinguished group" rather than "distinguished group." We knew what he meant, anyway.

其他类似的例子还有"distinguished"(尊贵的)和"extinguished"(被消灭的)。有一次,我随团来华,中方主办者友善地为我们举办了一场告别宴会,主人在宴会上用生动的词汇来形容我们,但他用的词是"被消灭的代表团",而不是"尊贵的代表团"。不管怎样,我们还是明白他的意思。

"Persecuted", "prosecuted", and "executed" also fall into the category of easily mixed up words.

"persecuted"(迫害)、"prosecuted"(指控)、"executed"(处决)这三个词也是属于容易搞混的。

An example was the notice posted by the Incorporated Owners of Gold Ning and Gold King Mansions in Hong Kong many years back, urging residents to ensure their dogs did not answer the call of nature on the premises.

一个例子是我多年前在香港高宁、高景大厦看到的业委会张贴的一张告示,上面内容是敦促住户确保他们的狗不在楼区内随地大小便。

The final sentence of the sign read "Any person who lets their dogs release themselves in the building's public area shall be liable to be executed."

告示的最后一句话是这样写的:" 放任犬只在大厦公共区域内随意大小便者将被处决。"

Pretty high stakes for pet owners.

对宠物主人来说,这可真够危险的。

2016-06-21

0 responses on "Words can be dangerous"

    Leave a Message

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    Copyright ©right 2017 Chinlingo Inc. All rights reserved.