Language Bloopers


Language bloopers usually end up in pretty hilarious situations. It usually happens when one tries to learn a foreign language without actually paying attention to the pronunciation, semantics and culture of the target language. The gap of understanding left unaddressed sometimes has amazing effects on the meaning of a conversation. I read about such a conversation somewhere and almost killed myself laughing. The incident happened in the year 2000 just before the G8 summit in Okinawa. Obviously, eminent heads of the states were attending the summit and Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori of Japan was hosting the summit. Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori was not very good at English and some of his language bloopers had already turned into political crises. So, he decided to receive some English coaching in order to be able to greet the dignitaries properly. During the coaching he was taught some simple English greetings. He was told that when welcoming the US President Bill Clinton, he would say “How are you?” The US President would probably reply “I’m fine, thank you. And you?” In response, Mori was taught to say, “Me too.” It was a simple and decent exchange of greetings to make the US President feel at home being greeted in his own language.

When he was actually welcoming President Clinton, Mori made a minute language blooper and instead of saying, “How are you?” he forgot the pronunciation and said, “Who are you?”

Clinton naturally did not expect this question and was taken off guard. However, in order to save the embarrassment and to show that he was not surprised by the question, he humorously replied, “I’m Hillary’s husband.”

As he had been taught to say it, Mori replied, “Me too!”

There would have been a lot of giggles around the spot. However hilarious it may appear, such mistakes can sometimes have serious consequences especially in the field of translation. Sometimes translators are completely unaware of the blunders that they commit. Sometimes words that have dual meaning or similar sounds are confused with each other.

For example, somebody wrote about a conversation two friends were having about the bus service in New York. During the conversation, one of the friends, obviously not very good at English, remarked, “The city’s bus service is highly erotic.” Whereas, she should have said that it was highly erratic.

Even punctuation mistakes can create great misunderstanding. Here is an unpunctuated promotional email:

Dear Sir,

We feel pleased to tell you that we sell disappearing ink pens attached kindly have a look at our disappearing ink pen brochure with rated pictures and other details any interested items please kindly inform us.”

The mail was naturally typed in haste and the punctuation was completely ignored. It should have been something like this:

“Dear Sir,

We feel pleased to inform you that we are now selling disappearing ink pens. Attached please find our brochure with rate, pictures and other details furnished. If you are interested in any of the items, kindly inform us.”

Bloopers like that necessitate the need of being qualified as a translator and knowing the figurative as well as the literal meaning of the words and phrases used in the target language. Moreover, punctuation and idiomatic usage also go a long way in delivering the correct sense.

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