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Features - Comedy Translations
stephen pryke

In these times of growing European integration, the need to understand and be understood in a language that isn’t your first is becoming greater and greater everyday.

Currently, according to a European Union report, there are 36 languages spoken in the European Union, which might seem like a massive amount, but most of them are rubbish ones that only a handful of people speak (joke), and at least it gives professional translators something to do.

But the fact remains that most of us can’t speak more than one or possibly two languages. In my experience, a lot of British people struggle with their mother tongue let alone any foreign language. For instance, the use and misuse of the apostrophe is nothing short of criminal. People have, despite extensive teaching, continued to use them for plurals (where did that originate from?) even though it’s one of the simpler rules of English grammar. And another thing, people have also started using both ‘more’ and ‘-er’ for the same comparatives (e.g. “this is more easier”). What the fuck’s the story with that? …But get off your high horse, Stephen, you’ve spelt ‘professional’ wrong for years, so you can’t talk.

No, the need for new translation tools is obvious. And some of the best are to be found online.

Most of you have probably experienced AltaVista’s Babel Fish, or Lycos’ Translator, and had mixed results, so we at Oilzine have invested numerous hours into producing our own translator. What we’ve ended up with is something we regard to be the best and fastest translation tool currently available. If you fancy a try click here.

Fully interactive and powered by F1, it will return a result for even the most unusual vocabulary, and breezes through complex sentences like a wife through clutter. A word of warning, however, the results are not always perfect translations of sentences, but they do try to capture the gist of the text.

Translating from one language to another is a notoriously difficult process, especially if you don’t really speak the ‘other’ language very well. From experience, I can say that lots of Europeans learn English through watching “Dallas”, “Eastenders” or “The Bold & The Beautiful” on some bizarre European cable channel. This clearly has its problems, not least that the standard of language on these programmes is not ideal. Others may have studied English at school to an elementary level, and since then forgotten most of it, whilst retaining a basic grasp of the concepts of the language. These ‘students’ are potentially more dangerous.

The trouble with different languages is not just confined to the riddle of converting the vocabulary, more often than not, the grammar of a language is entirely foreign, if you pardon the pun. For instance, as a very rough outline, take the Russian for “I am a teacher”, which is (very badly translated from the Cyrillic Alphabet) “Ya oochitiel” and approximately means “I teacher”. The differences are that they don’t use the verb ‘to be’ in this case and never have articles (a, the, etc.). The lack of articles often makes it simpler for English speakers to learn Russian, but not the other way round. However, like French, they do have genders (masculine, feminine, neuter), which certainly caused many problems for me personally.

On foreign travels, which I’m sure you all make at one time or another, you’ll discover some peculiar forms of English that will entertain, enthral, and amaze you.

Most of the time it’s a very good effort at a translation by an amateur, and they have just used the wrong register (variety of language used in particular social setting, e.g. informal register, medical register), such as “Not to perambulate the corridors in the hours of repose in the boots of ascension” (which was a sign that appeared in an Austrian hotel that catered for skiers).

But more often than not, it’s just hilarious. And we feel it’s our duty at Oilzine to bring you those ones.

So here, we present the best of worst translations:


The top five ‘genuine typos’

(Presumably just pure spelling mistakes or typo errors, which they’ve missed upon checking)

5) Fried God – menu, Denmark

4) Dreaded veal cutlet with potatoes in cream – menu, China

3) Sweat from the trolley – menu, Italy

2) French Creeps – menu, USA

1) Curried Ell – menu, Denmark (now is this ‘eel’, ‘elk’ or even ‘arm’ – Old English word 'ell' meant 'arm', hence 'elbow')


The top ten ‘out of context’ or ‘inappropriate registers or styles’

(Often words have more than one meaning: ‘set’ for instance has over 40 different meanings and that’s not including Phrasal Verbs like “set up” “set out”. So a translation of “Kiss the snake on the tongue” into German comes out with the equivalent of “Embrace the queue on the language” [schlange = snake and queue]. This comedy of errors is in fact the very basis for our Jim’s Wisdom section)

10) I'll fire aimlessly if you don't come out! – film subtitle, Japan

9) Special cocktails for the ladies with nuts – bar, Japan (get a lot of visitors from Bangkok then?)

8) The manager has personally passed all the water served here – hotel, Mexico

7) Visitors are expected to complain at the office between the hours of 9 and 11 A.M. daily – hotel, Greece

6) Are you lactating? – advert, Mexico (the Dairy Association’s effort at translating their catchphrase “Got Milk?”)

5) You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid – hotel, Japan

4) If you are unable to leave your room, expose yourself in the window – fire instructions, Finland

3) Suffer from diarrhoea – advert, Spain (Coors had tried to translate their slogan “Turn it loose”)

2) Drop your trousers here for best results – dry cleaner’s, Thailand

1) We take your bags and send them in all directions – airline ticket office, Denmark


Top five ‘easily confused words’

(We British can't talk. How many people do you know that can't use there / their / they're correctly? Hint: Over 5)

5) Please leave your values at the front desk – hotel lift, France

4) Pork with fresh garbage – menu, Vietnam

3) Teeth extracted by the latest Methodists – advert, Hong Kong

2) Lamp Chops – menu, Israel

1) I saw the potato – T-shirt, USA (shirts printed for the Spanish market promoting the Pope's visit to Miami read "I saw the potato" [la papa], instead of "I saw the Pope" [el Papa])


Top five ‘other funnies’

(Stuff we couldn't fit in other categories, but they're funny anyway. Mostly just bizarre)

5) You are welcome to visit the cemetery where famous Russian and Soviet composers, artists, and writers are buried daily except Thursday – hotel, Russia

4) Specialist in women and other diseases – doctor’s surgery, Italy

3) Warning, keep out of children – instructions on knife, Korea

2) Special today: no ice cream – bar, Switzerland

1) Do not attempt to stop chain with your hands or genitals – instructions on chainsaw, Sweden


Top ten product names

(Giving a product an arbitrary English name for prestige value is a dangerous game)

10) Shitto - Ghanaian pepper sauce

9) Zit - Greek soft drink

8) Kolic - Japanese mineral water

7) Colon Plus - Spanish detergent

6) Homo sausage - East Asian fish sausage

5) Pee Pee Pot – Japanese kettle

4) Hot Piss – Japanese antifreeze spray

3) Last Climax - Japanese tissues

2) Ass Glue - Chinese glues

1) VD Facial Cream – Japanese cosmetics (VD acronym of Visible Difference)



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