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Monday, February 9, 2009

Lost in Translation

After the inauguration of President Obama, I’ve been thinking a lot about diversity and acceptance. I would like to think that, as a world, we’re coming together more and more each year and appreciating not only our similarities, but also our differences. In light of this cultural evolution, how can we better embrace diversity than through the adoption and admiration of different languages?

Without further ado, I give you a celebration of what can go awry when we dabble, with the best of intentions, in the languages of other cultures.

First, Hanzi Smatter, a blog dedicated to the misuse of Chinese characters in western culture. Asian character tattoos on westerners are an incredible way to announce your willingness to embrace other cultures. Truly, high school jocks and weightlifters are our cultural ambassadors.

Unfortunately for this “ambassador”, who was attempting to get “Knowledge, Loyalty, Courage, Warrior, & Father” tattooed on his back, ended up with:

識 knowledge, consciousness
寿 congratulations, celebration, long life, sushi
危 danger, dangerous
狂 crazy, insane, mad
父 father

“Dangerous, crazy, father.” Close, right?

Onto Engrish.com. Like the West, the East has truly embraced capitalism and shown its cultural inclusiveness by often having helpful signs posted in the local language and in English. Unfortunately, cross-cultural enthusiasm does not guarantee accuracy. Lucky for us, the mistakes are often hilarious. One of my favorites appears on their most popular list: http://www.engrish.com/2007/06/youll-block-traffic/.


-Thuy
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28 comments:

blueviolet said...

Sometimes it's best to just stick with what you know. ;)

Julie said...

That's too funny! Do you go with the "at least they tried" attitude?? LOL!!

Nadine said...

Very funny! That's why I would never have anything tattooed on me and especially not in a language I don't understand.

Dana-from chaos to Grace said...

HAAAAAAAAAAA!!! OMG "crazy, mad" That is HILARIOUS!!

My husband's been to China twice on mission trips and BOTH times I gave him STRICT instructions to bring me home a Chinese baby girl...and doggonit, BOTH times, he didn't. I shouldn't have let him in the door. Hmmpf.

Mama SeWELL said...

I have 2 chinese characters on my neck, thankfully I also have a chinese friend who double checked for me before I had it permanetly placed. Mine mean Love and Father, but my cuzs ex ended up with something like crazy party mom, or something close to that. My hubby also has a friend who got his initials in big letters on his arm, instead of EBL they gave him EBO. He has been called EBO ever since. HAHAHA!
Happy Monday!

tiburon said...

Love it! Where CAN I die?

pam said...

I am with Nadine, if you are not sure, don`t do it!!

♥georgie♥ said...

Oh my LOL toooo funny!!!! I♥your blog!

Barbaloot said...

Love those! When I went to China one of my favorite things were the Chinglish signs:)

Cheryl said...

...who knows and celebrates it.

Melissa said...

I'm all for embracing other cultures...but I draw the line at tattoos :)
That sign is awesome! I need one for my driveway...

Nancy said...

LOL.. I agree with your poster blueviolet... Sometimes it's best to just stick with what you know!

Lara said...

It's easy enough to do in a language that uses the same alphabet as we do, but to try to deal with Chinese...that's just playing with fire. :)

ImakehairROCK4u2 said...

I have an Aribic tattoo meaning "to empower". I always get teased that the guys at the mini-marts are laughing at me cause they know what it really means...My boss says it means "bite me"...I can live with that...lol

Grand Pooba said...

I'll make sure I die somewhere else!

Translation can be so entertaining.

Debbie said...

Oh how funny! I love that sign.

Mainly a midwife said...

That is too funny. And it's also the one reason why I never did get a Chinese character tattoo (I wanted to after seeing Julia Roberts in Dying Young). I could never trust anyone to put on an accurate tattoo. With my luck my tattoo that I thought meant "hope" would mean chicken butt or something else.

B said...

I only have one question. Is dying slightly to the right of that sign acceptable?

Counselormama said...

My friend went to Viet Nam and came back with these hallmark type cards that were supposed to be romantic, but the English was WAY wrong. Example: "Close your weazly eyes and remember our oranger story..." This quote we still say to each other when something random happens. I know they really butcher movie titles as well.

Ali said...

There is chit-chat that there will be a rotating Blissdom schedule at different locations every fall. If it makes it's way to the west coast, you will have to attend!

Domestically Disabled Girl said...

One of my classmates had an elderly chinese man write her hubby's name in Chinese for her, then had it tattoed on her wrist.
Did I mention:
She was in vegas?
She had never met this man before?
And she met him on the street?

TrueLoveIsaMama said...

This is why I never buy anything with characters printed on it that I cannot read. Because I am paranoid it really means "i am an idiot" when you think it means something else!

The Blonde Duck said...

I'm in total agreement with blueviolet.

I moved! Come visit me at www.aduckinherpond.com.

Ronnie said...

You're cracking me up.

Mary Moore said...

I love engrish.com. One of my fave sites. Mexico is a lot like that too. I think I could make a mint in Mexico just re-translating everything for them from Spanish to English, only properly.

Kathy said...

The engrish signs made my favorite-things-about-China list, right there between the Terracotta soldiers and the Great Wall.

wenbren explains it all said...

So what happens if you die there anyone know!!!???I mean who would actually care you're dead what more can they do to you!!

Shupe said...

Engrish dot com is a blast! Thank god my kanji means something to me- and I knew what I was getting before hand- although- He did forget a couple of the lines on one character- but that was corrected quickly with no issue!
This is also the wonderful part of SF- the culture.
I enjoyed being there for Chinese New Year !!!! Love the Lion Dances! Brilliant!