I recently saw a newspaper headline that said, “Slain Officer Dies.”
Well, yes. While the subject matter was decidedly serious, the headline itself gave me pause.
We all use language to communicate. Sometimes we end up with unintended results.
As George W. Bush, a wonderful source for slightly off-kilter comments, once said, “In my sentences I go where no man has gone before.”
And it’s not just a problem in the English-speaking world.
In Quito, Ecuador, a trio of language pedants have taken it upon themselves to identify and correct misplaced commas and other atrocities in the city’s graffiti. They make sneaky corrections with spray paint. One of them, an environmental lawyer who goes by the name “Agente Punto Final,” or “Agent Period,” says that he acts out of a moral obligation that language matters.
Distorted translations can produce interesting results.
John F. Kennedy, speaking to an assembly in Berlin, famously gave a statement of solidarity that could be
Those of us who have spent Christmas Eve trying to assemble toys with directions written by someone with apparently minimal English skills and a dictionary appreciate how awkward translations can be. “For assembling tab B to slot 4A overreaching section D making solid contact in order to insert joiner F prominently in space.”
My brother had a favorite Vietnamese restaurant that he figured would become more popular when someone got around to retranslating the menu. Meanwhile, he enjoyed their spicy chicken and mushroom dish described as “chicken with fungus.”
And there’s the item on a Russian menu that describes “Beef language in cream with a mashed potatoes with pine nuts with cheese.” One can only think they were serving tongue.
Or the Swiss one that says, “Our wines leave you nothing to hope for.”
For the poor ladies—there’s the reported hotel signs “Please take advantage of our chambermaids.” A tailor shop in Hong Kong has a sign that says, “Ladies may have a fit upstairs.” In a store with female clerks, we are invited to “Please check out the cashiers.”
Pepsi allegedly introduced their slogan into the Chinese market "Come alive with the Pepsi Generation" translated into Chinese it read a scandalous "Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave."
Then there’s the instructions for drivers in Japan. “If pedestrian obstacle your path, tootle horn melodiously. If he continue to obstacle, tootle horn vigorously and utter vocal warning such as ‘Hi, Hi.’”
And the ominous notice: “Beware of greasy corner where lurk skid demon. Cease step on, approach slowly, round cautiously, resume step on gradually.”
An article aimed at pet owners to take precautions to prevent the spread of a fatal disease among mammals, including humans, warned it was present in the wild and that “Contracting rabbis is inevitably fatal.”
Dan Quayle, another rich source for twisted quotes, apparently attempted to quote the United Negro College Fund Motto of "A mind is a terrible thing to waste." Unfortunately, it came out, "What a terrible thing it is to have lost one's mind. Or not to have a mind at all. How true that is."
He also assured us that “Bank failures are caused by depositors who don’t deposit enough money to cover
As he said, “I stand by all the misstatements that I’ve made.”
All interesting statements, if at times a bit confusing. Leaving us to ponder, “What’s the point of a rhetorical question?”