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Mangled English


picture of exit sign

Yesterday was the first day of classes on campus. I enjoyed seeing my old students as well as meeting my new students. For some first-time language students, the thought of learning a new language is quite daunting. It's not always easy to express yourself well in another language, and opportunities for embarrassment from saying something wrong abound, like the EXIT sign on the right seen in a Hispanic country.

To encourage my students fairly early on, I tell them about the first time I went to France in the summer of 1972, between my junior and senior year of college. I wanted to visit some of my relatives there with whom I had corresponded often, but whom I had never met. In those days we were limited to writing letters — air mail would get a letter across the ocean in less than a week! For students used to texting and e-mail, that part of my story makes history come alive — they could show off their teacher on Antiques Roadshow! Anyway, I wrote to my cousins, trying to find out if I was invited to stay in their home without making them feel obligated. I told them that I could stay in an inexpensive hotel nearby or that I would be willing to sleep on the floor. They wrote back and offered me a place to stay. Phew!

Several days after my arrival, once we all knew each other better and discovered that we shared the same sense of humor, they pulled out my letter and asked me something they had been dying to ask, but hadn't, for fear of offending me. They said (in French, of course), "We know that you Americans are really special, but how did you intend to sleep up there?" (looking and pointing up) At first I thought they meant in their upstairs. But then they showed me my letter. I had written in French that I would be willing to sleep on the plafond (ceiling). I should have written plancher (floor). My being able to laugh at myself served only to endear me to my family there.

Today's iv is a list of some items found on menus and of some products available around the world, all of which have unfortunate names or descriptions that may not be so endearing.

Bizarre Menu Items

The following are actual menu items in which people have made incorrect use of English words and created some rather bizarre dishes:

Beef rashers beaten up in the country people's fashion (Poland)

Boiled frogfish (Europe)

Buttered saucepans and fried hormones (Japan)

Cold shredded children and sea blubber in spicy sauce (China)

Dreaded veal cutlet with potatoes in cream (China)

French Creeps (L.A., where I'll bet they meant crêpes)

French fried ships (Cairo)

Fried fishermen (Japan)

Fried friendship (Nepal)

Garlic Coffee (Europe)

Goose Barnacles (Spain)

Indonesian Nazi Goreng (Hong Kong)

Muscles Of Marines/Lobster Thermos (Cairo)

Pork with fresh garbage (Vietnam)

Rainbow Trout, Fillet Streak, Popotoes, Chocolate Mouse (Hong Kong)

Roasted duck let loose (Poland)

Sôle Bonne Femme (Fish Landlady style) (Europe)

Sweat from the trolley (Europe)

Teppan Yaki, Before Your Cooked Right Eyes (Japan)

Toes with butter and jam (Bali)

picture of divider

The sign below has an interesting list of the rules in one Asian restaurant.

picture of restaurant sign

Strange Product Names

Sometimes words that are innocent enough in one language can mean something quite different in another language. Would you English speakers like to buy the detergent pictured below?

picture of detergent box

Barf is the Farsi word for "snow." Somehow it's hard to imagine having snow-white, sweet-smelling clothes after you wash them in a detergent with that name!

Here are the unfortunate names of some other products from around the world.

Cat Wetty - Japanese moistened hand towels

Clean Finger Nail - Chinese tissues

Colon Plus - Spanish detergent

Crundy - Japanese gourmet candy

I'm Dripper - Japanese instant coffee

Kolic - Japanese mineral water

My Fanny - Japanese toilet paper

Pipi - Yugoslavian orangeade

Polio - Czechoslovakian laundry detergent

Shocking - Japanese chewing gum

Swine - Chinese chocolates

Zit - Greek soft drink

picture of divider

Are you eager to try any of those items? Do you have a personal experience of miscommunicating in another language?

quotation...

"The wise teacher knows that fifty-five minutes of work plus five minutes of laughter are worth twice as much as sixty minutes of unvaried work." - paraphrased from Gilbert Highet

=^..^= =^..^=
Rob

If you can't laugh at yourself, you may be missing some of the best comedy available.


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15 Comments on “Mangled English”

  1. #1 Robert Doucette
    on Sep 3rd, 2009 at 7:54 am

    That was really good. I can identify with this post because I have been living here in France for the past 5 years, and learning French has been quite the experience. I love the French language, but early on I made a mistake that could have had radical consequences. 😮 I was talking with a missionary here and was saying that we need to reach the lost with the gospel. Instead of using the French word for reach (atteindre), I used a slightly different word (éteindre) which means to put out as in a candle or a light. I caught myself right after I said it and we all had a good laugh. Changing just a couple of letters in word can sure give a totally different meaning.

  2. #2 Sharon B.
    on Sep 3rd, 2009 at 8:37 am

    As I’ve been trying to learn more French than just a few phrases, I’ve begun trying to translate French stories into English. I too have been finding that even one letter (and sometimes just an accent mark!) has a drastic effect on the meaning of a word. I just get bewildered when I can’t find the exact word that I’m looking for in the French dictionary, or in my 501 French verbs book. Mama always knows the answer though…usually right off the top of her head. The verb conjugations seem to mess me up the most. Especially the irregular ones if I remember correctly.

    The good thing out of all of that though, is that I’m learning a lot of new vocabulary. Sometimes when someone says a phrase in English, my brain automatically starts piecing together what it would be in French.

    I’ll keep trying, and maybe I’ll come out knowing a lot more French!

  3. #3 Jessica
    on Sep 3rd, 2009 at 9:15 am

    Fantastic. =) Some real “LOL”s in there.

    I have worked intermittently at an eyeglass store for the past 5 years. At this particular store, we have an ongoing promotion where a customer can purchase two complete pairs of eyeglasses for $99. Having a decent command of the Spanish language, I’ve made myself useful to the company by assisting Hispanic customers. Unfortunately, my Spanish isn’t perfect; it was nearly a year before someone was kind enough to tell me that the word I was using for “pair”–“pareja”–didn’t mean “pair” at all… unless my intention was to talk about a married or dating couple! I should have used “par” instead.

    Of course, I’ve made similar mistakes in English. I used to write short stories frequently as a child–one of them featured a man who was out of jail on “payroll.”

  4. #4 b.j.
    on Sep 3rd, 2009 at 9:56 am

    I wonder if that toilet paper is a mistake, or intentional! Sounds appropriate…

  5. #5 Vikki
    on Sep 3rd, 2009 at 10:02 am

    Sign in a Spanish elevator:

    NO MEAL IN LIFT
    NO DRINKS IN LIFT
    NO SPIT IN LIFT
    WHEN DOOR CLOSE NO JUMP IN LIFT
    DAMES BE CAREFUL GO IN LIFT ALONE
    NO PRESS NO BUTTON ONLY FLOOR TO GO

  6. #6 Rob
    on Sep 3rd, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    @Robert Thanks for sharing your experience. There are a couple of letters’ difference in the spellings, but there’s only one difference in the sound — the initial sound of ah versus eh.

    @Sharon I’m glad that you are so diligent in acquiring French and that you are enjoying it so much. I hope that continues and that I can have you as one of my “grandstudents” in class one year soon.

    @Jessica That’s a great one! I wonder how many people enjoyed telling about your word usage before you made your course correction. 😀

    @b.j. It does make you wonder, but I also know that they could have easily thought of the name, little knowing the slang use of that word.

    @Vikki Thanks for the elevator sign. When you read things like that you know that there must be people who have done those things often enough that it’s deemed worthy of being part of the prohibitions. 🙂

  7. #7 Michael
    on Sep 3rd, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    First, thanks for the quote about teaching with laughter. That is something I try to subscribe to on a daily basis. Hey, I want to laugh as much as the kids do. And, as for words overseas, I remember being on a tour of Europe several years ago when our tour director (who was Dutch but spoke good English) kept reminding us of the German word for “exit” when we were on the Autobahn. It is “Ausfahrt”. Seems like an appropriate translation of the word “exit”.

  8. #8 Rob
    on Sep 3rd, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    @Michael I can see you using regular doses of laughter in your teaching. 🙂 To quote an older acquaintance who was visiting Germany, knew German, and was reminded of the German word for “exit” as he rode along the Autobahn, “I don’t have any trouble with the Ausfahrts … it’s the Einfahrts that I can’t handle.” 😀

  9. #9 Becky
    on Sep 4th, 2009 at 2:54 am

    It’s not a mangled version, but there is a cookie that they sell here called “Digestive”. It is hard to get excited about such a cookie.

    Also, we have kind of Cola here called Hoop Cola. Their slogan has been “No to Hoop”. It means more or less “Yes! It’s Hoop Cola”. But it is funny since I can’t help reading it as if it were English.

  10. #10 Rob
    on Sep 4th, 2009 at 6:13 am

    @Becky Are the Digestive cookies supposed to be helpful, or is it just an odd name? The Hoop Cola is funny, especially that “no to Hoop” is basically “yes to Hoop.”

    Speaking of colas, since posting, I ran across the following cola that I’m not at all tempted to try.

    picture of cola

  11. #11 magina
    on Sep 4th, 2009 at 10:57 am

    it’s my first time to visit your blog and i enjoyed it. i learn alot from you. thanks for sharing those information. i’m sure i will be addicted to this site

  12. #12 Kathleen
    on Sep 4th, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    My sister had an enjoyable (for the rest of us!) language experience a couple of years ago when we visited France. She collects porcelain dolls, and she saw one that she really liked in a store in Paris. The only problem was that she had forgotten the French word for “doll”. So she asked, “Combien est la “doll” dans la fenêtre?” The shop assistant looked very blank! There was another person who clearly knew some English, because he figured out what she was asking. She got a French lesson, and none of us will ever forget that French for “doll” is “poupée”!!

  13. #13 b.j.
    on Sep 5th, 2009 at 10:40 am

    Re: kathleen’s comment… I had to laugh at the French word for doll, as I read it the English way. Funny how the word is appropriate for describing what dolls represent – babies! and what can better represent babies? haha! (other than their cuteness and laughter)

  14. #14 Rob
    on Sep 5th, 2009 at 9:48 pm

    @magina I hope you will visit my blog often. Glad you like it.

    @Kathleen and b.j. The French word “poupée” is pronouned poo-pay (basically). I think it’s related etymologically to the English word puppet.

  15. #15 Kathleen
    on Sep 8th, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    We also learned how it is pronounced, but my brothers take great delight in mangling it intentionally. I leave it to your imagination how exactly they mangle it….