Lost in Translation (click to comment)


I enjoy the company of people who were not born in my country. Especially those who don’t speak English as their first language and can’t quite wrap their tongues around strange words, like Antidisestablishmentarianism. My books are translated into many languages and mistranslation can be hilarious. A sign in Delphi, Greece reads: “No introducing animals and food on the path.” Have you tried this? “Banana, meet my dog Mojo. Mojo, this is banana. Sit. Stay. Good banana.” On a menu that should say “bowl of salad” it says “Soul of Ballad.” In a Japanese airport, “Luggage disembowl.” In a restaurant: “Keep table clean after dying. Thanks for your corporation.” On a breath mint package: “Gives you strong mouth and refreshing wind.”

Here are some mistranslated signs in China:

– By a slippery floor: “Carefully slip and fall down.” Yes, it’s important to wipe out gracefully.
– This sign discourages loitering: “Dying right here is strictly prohibited.”
– On the door of a Hotel Room: “No smoking the bed.” I would have tried one of those when I was younger, if I could have fit my lips around it.
– A keep off the grass sign: “I like your smile, but unlike you put your shoes on my face.”

In fifth grade we’d played a game called Gossip. You had a circle of about ten people. The first would say something like, “My panda eats bamboo shoots.” Then whisper it to the person beside them. That person would whisper it to the next person and by the time it had traveled through the entire group the last person thought it said “Your mother wears army boots.” And a fight would break out. That’s how rumours spread. Most rumours are nothing more than truth lost in translation, and they ruin relationships, and reputations. “Gossip,” says Proverbs 16:28, is spread by wicked people. They stir up trouble and break up friendships. Tempted to jump on the gossip train? I suggest you buy these two products instead:

1. Duct tape. Make a decision today that you won’t say anything negative about someone who isn’t present. Use a strip of duct tape if necessary. Ephesians 4:29 say: “Let no corrupt talk come out of your mouths, but only what is good for building up…that it may give grace to those who hear.”
2. The megaphone. Spread good news loudly. If someone’s name comes up in conversation. Think of something good about them and tell others about it. You’ll be amazed at what happens when we stuff what’s evil and spread what’s good. And each time you hear gossip, let’s remember the warning on that breath mint package: May you have strong mouth and refreshing wind today, my friend.

Phil Callaway

Phil Callaway, the host of Laugh Again, is an award-winning author and speaker, known worldwide for his humorous yet perceptive look at life.

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