Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

7 thoughts

  1. Even translating jokes across English speaking cultures can be fraught with danger. I am thinking of the American word ‘fanny’ which is a completely different (lady) body part in Australian English, hence a very crude Aussie joke about fanny flavoured ice-cream. A new American term I see used is ‘big fluffy’ which came from a movie. A ‘fluffy’ here is the result of breaking wind, hence a lot of sniggers from the unintended joke in theatres around the country.I do agree with the Dutch ‘Unfortunately peanut butter’ – always a disappointment.

  2. Well some of those look like they have a similar idiom in English, but others…

    “It rains steel pipes” -> “It’s coming down stair rods”
    “There is nothing on the hand” ->feels like->”I have nothing up my sleeves”
    “It’s dick black outside” -> “it’s pitch black outside”
    “It walks in the soup” -> “like wading through treacle”
    “I don’t trust you for a meter” ->”I don’t trust you as far as I could throw you”

    I remember reading a piece about the translation of Terry Pratchett’s books into Dutch. Apparently, the translator was considered very clever, and took great pains to choose the right idiomatic word or phrase to convey the feel of the original. So Granny Weatherwax’s name, instead of being translated as Wederwass (“weather-wax”) was instead translated as Wedersmeer, because it had the right ‘feel’ about it having connotations pointing to Oorsmeer (earwax)…

    In a previous life I worked for a Dutch company. They used a strange combination of English and Dutch in practice, and even had a word “Dunglish” to describe the mix. Their Japanese translator (a native Japanese speaker who had to learn English and Dutch (and Dunglish!) from the ground up) must have come close to a nervous breakdown trying to translate technical manuals…

    Language is strange!

    1. Really great comment! I sometimes do subtitles for English films in Sweden – they don’t dub here but put Swedish subtitles on English language films but they often get slang and idioms wrong. In Sons of Anarchy they really had difficulty with many of the biker slang and rude words for lady parts. They translated them all literally which made no sense whatsoever.

    2. I was thinking about Dunglish too! I don’t like the dutch translations of pratchett books, for me the translation is almost childish. BUT it was very cleverly done by a VERY good translator. Translation is very difficult, and it is often almost impossible to recreate the precise meaning of a word in another language. So much of language is cultural and bound up in a specific time as well.

  3. Or some Swedish ones:
    It’s banging and walking
    There is no cow on the ice
    I feel again you
    Easy as a platelet
    It’s raining tacks


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