There never seems to be a lack of examples of the hilarity of poor translations. In this story, the author humorously describes the perils of using translators who are not competent in both the target and source languages. Very fun reading.
There is a shortage of bilingual people who are strong in both languages and can be trusted to do a good job while authorities who check and approve the final copy are equally bad, if not worse, in the English language.
Sometimes, the translation is so ridiculous, even offensive, that I have the sneaky suspicion that someone is playing a crude joke on the Chinese, taking advantage of their ignorance.
Otherwise, how would you explain the ATM machine being translated as “Help Oneself Terminating Machine”?
Or, dumplings stuffed with crab eggs being translated, disgustingly, as “dumplings stuffed with the ovary and digestive glands of a crab”?
Once I even spotted an item on a menu which described fried noodles as “screwed-up noodles” because the Chinese word, kan for dry fried also sounds like the “f” word in Chinese. How does one explain such translations, apart from assuming that the translator was out of his mind or simply being wicked?
Most translations are more amusing than atrocious, though. Still, they can be totally misleading.
Someone once e-mailed me a picture of a signboard placed by a riverbank, urging people to “carefully fall to the river”.
One of the more hilarious ones was written in bold on a placard displayed at a store. The sign read: “One-time sex items” You would be forgiven for thinking that that was an adult shop specializing in some kind of kinky stuff. But, no, it was just an ordinary shop selling disposable items like paper plates and cups.
The trouble is, there is no single Chinese character that means disposable, so the translator had resorted to using a phrase comprising three innocent characters – yi, ci and xing.
The phrase literally means “one-time in nature”. In other words, you can use it only once, after which it has to be discarded. The tricky word here is xing which can mean nature or sex.