TRANSLATORS SAY THE DARNDEST THINGS August 12 2002

Ah, those wacky translators. Those of you who live in the UK or the USA may not be all that familiar with subtitles, since the majority of shows or movies aired or projected over in the west are comprehendible to the viewers. And if I'm not mistaken, movies are dubbed in eastern Europe, so if you're my one Croatian reader, you may also be inexperienced with incompetent subtitle 'authors.' But at least my Scandinavian readers will be able to nod in recognition. I'm going to give you English-speakers and Slavs a treat at the end, though - the beatiful language of Engrish.

First, let's take a look at the concept of subtitles. Subtitles are a fantastic invention that gives the older generation of many countries a comprehension of what the actors of The Bold and the Beautiful are saying, while the younguns don't have to listen to some moron trying to lipsync Sally Spectra. While most Europeans (except Germans and the French, who still insist their languages are world-dominant) speak and understand English to a certain extent, not many above the age of fourty are able to follow an entire movie without losing a couple of plot elements along the way.

Sometimes, translators mess up. And I'm only talking about misspellings, I'm also talking about missing the point entirely. A combination of these can be found in Boogie Nights, where a miffed William Macey declares his wife "has a cock up her cunt." When translated back into English, the subtitles read "My wife has an ass in her dick." Here are some other examples:

Quiz Show:
Original line:    How did a guy like you get into Harvard?
Subtitles: How does a Jew get into Harvard?

Backdraft
Original line:    He's got an obstruction blocking his windpipe!
Subtitles: He's got a pipe in his windpipe!

Baywatch
Original line:    Help! Call 911!
Subtitles: Help! Call the lifeguard!

Cruel Intentions
Original line:    I'm completely fucked up!
Subtitles: I'm taking a dump!

Explorers
Original line:    Bloodshed is my life.
Subtitles: Incest is my life.

I guess I don't have to tell you about the flaming ball of pure ridicule flung at a Norwegian TV station after the Seinfeld episode where George explains the advantages of 'make-up sex.'

Outside Scandinavia, things are done a little differently. In Germany and neighboring countries, movies are dubbed. If an actor is internationally recognized, one person dubs all their roles for consistency. The interesting thing about this is that the voice actors often become celebrities themselves, and Demi Moore's official German voice actor is not the only one in the business to have her own fan club.

Of course, dubbing demands a lot of resources. Not only must the movies be translated, the new script must also be adjusted to fit the actors' lip movements, and finally the voice actors have to come to a studio and read the lines in sync. How is it possible for distributors to go through this entire process for sit-coms and soaps? Easy, they don't give a shit.

While vacating in Denmark in the very early nineties, my family decided to drop by Germany. This was a couple of years before I studied German, and when not one single clerk was able to understand my grade school English, I was pretty much on my own. While goallessly browsing through an electronics store, I was fortunate enough to witness bastardized editions of Santa Barbara and Full House. Let me tell you, if anything is worse than John Stamos whining about his hair while Bob Saget is walking around in an apron, it's John Stamos and Bob Saget so badly dubbed you can't tell which of them is talking. Also, German laugh tracks are absolutely nuts. This may have been a result of bad channel mixing, but I find it more likely it's a desperate attempt to make Bob Saget funny.

On a sidenote, this is where I first witnessed the NES game Noah's Ark, and I was immediately captivated. You never know, the seed that Encyclopedia Obscura sprouted from just might have been sown in Germany.

Poland. Now that's a country with an original approach to the language barrier. I used to spend a lot of time at a Polish friend's place, and his family had somehow managed to receive no less that six hundred eastern European channels. I once stumbled upon what appeared to be a broody Yugoslavian screen adaption of Seven Brides for Seven Grooms in sepia, and could barely hear the voices of the actors due to a monotonous male voice talking along. I assumed this was interference from another channel on the same band, but was told this was in fact a person explaining what was going on. And what's worse, the guy hadn't even seen the movie before, and had to correct himself on several occations.

While many Norwegian translators should stay away from more complicated assignments than 'My First ABC,' the Japanese are the absolute worst. If you want proof, read on. If you want further documentation, visit Engrish.com, one of my personal favourites on the net and the source of many of the images below.

The sample on your right is from the game Cho Aniki - Bakuretsu Rantou Hen, Gayest Game of All Time and the object of ridicule in a previous article. Before we move on, I want to grant Neil Gaiman Board poster Quixote's wish and present even more victory poses from this game.

Dear god, when you go to school sixty hours a day, you'd think there was room to squeeze in an English class somewhere. I've tried to learn a Thai some western grammar, and know the languages are vastly different from the basics and up, but this is just impossibly stupid. I mean, how is anyone supposed to understand this:

"Ultimate noodles are one, TUKEKARA NOODLE. The NOODLES of a phantom with the resistance to the teeth of boast of our shop. The exquisite rainy season which repeated trial and error and was completed. Colorful RED PEPPER of Asia. Domestic careful selection PORK with little fat of female liking is used. It has HEALTHY VEGETABLES with salad feeling fully."

Lord, how am I going to fit all these pictures into my design? I'm usually pretty good when it comes to stripping the graphics down to the bone and only include what's necessary, but this time, excluding an image would be like killing one of my pets. Or my roommate's pets, anyway. Of course, her cat had to invalidate my simile, walking across my keyboard and forcing her entire head into my mouth at the exact moment I wrote that. Stupid cat. Don't worry, she'll live. For now. Tell you what, I'll throw together a big-ass treasure hunt montage for you. Again, the images are from Engrish.com.


By the way, the Japanese part of the gray sign on the right reads "please do not carry unpurchased items into the restroom." I still don't get it. I love Engrish.

If you're a regular reader of the EO, you've probably played a fair share of Nintendo games. And if you grew up playing Nintendo, there's a 100% chance you've been exposed to Engrish. The magic of statistics, people. Not even the praised and acclaimed Legend of Zelda is an exception. In fact, due to the Zelda seires' popularity, the mysterious old man is practically an Engrish icon today, and the phrase "Dodongo dislikes smoke" is nearly as often quoted as the infamous "All your base are belong to us."

I mentioned in an earlier article that I'd stumbled over a zip file containing close to a thousand ROMs. Of course, I've practically been bombarded by Engrish intros and congratulations ever since, but one game stood out like a phosphorescent pimple on Pinocchio's nose. This game featured a whole new Engrish dialect.

Tom Sawyer from Square is in fact part English, part Japanese. At first, it seemed like half the population of Tom's town was Asian and the rest American, which would be a giant leap in polycultural acceptance, but it turned out to be the greatest example of shoddy programming ever to ooze its way onto the Internet: system messages and menus could jump between langues as often as twice a sentence.

Also, the illusion of anti-racism was shattered once I met the slave boy L'om, whose face is 1/3 lips, 1/3 fro, and 1/50 beady eyes. I can't tell whether he's got a stereotypical flat nose, since he's so black even the brightest of lights can't reveal any contours. I was in fact pretty relieved he spoke Japanese, so I didn't have to hear him say something along the lines of "You jes' tell L'om what to do, mastuh Tom. He be a good boy, suh! Wan' me to pick you a big ball-a-cotton?"

The game in itself is not what you'd expect. In fact, it's a turn-based RPG where you fight alligators, snakes and humanoid dinosaurs. Which is pretty peculiar, since snakes don't travel this far north. I didn't play it for long, not being able to read Japanese and all, but I can safely say it's the weirdest Tom Sawyer game I've played. Yes, there is another one. I'll write about it some time in the future.

Right, conclusion. If you've stayed with me all the way to the end, I'm sure you can agree that while incompetent translators can be the cause of much irritation and cringing, they can also be great fun. If you have any good examples, you know where to send them.

And thanks to the Real Jim at the X-E Forum for the Once a Thief pic.