Don't mind the language


It is often said that England and America are two nations divided by a common language. It is attributed to George Bernard Shaw who had also bemoaned...

It is often said that England and America are two nations divided by a common language. It is attributed to George Bernard Shaw who had also bemoaned the way the English language is written, spoken and pronounced in the country of its origin. GBS despised all those who literally murdered the language of Queen and King and poured scorn over Pidgin English in his satirical play Pygmalion which became a Hollywood hit with the title My Fair Lady. GBS will turn in his grave if he sees and hears what's happening to his beloved language not only in the land of his birth but in every other country that has adopted English as the first, second or third language. Thanks to British colonialism, wherever the rulers had set their foot, they had made it a rule to spread the language through school curriculum and as an administrative vehicle, largely to ease their workload, and made it the language of the Empire in all their colonies. It's debatable whether English learning has spawned an elite class and divided an already caste-ridden Indian society. But it has permeated every segment of our life and every regional language has its own version of English. Heavily influenced by the local accent and words, English often gets transliterated, resulting in confusion and amusement; misspelt, giving an altogether new meaning; and misused. Examples are galore, not in newspapers and magazines, but in established periodicals. That happens not only in this country but also everywhere else where English is not the mother tongue and when the thought process is done in one language and words are formed in English. The victim of true translation is the meaning or the message that fails to reach the other person; or making no sense. It occurs with people whose understanding of the language and use (or abuse) of words is limited. They can't be blamed, either, because in their eagerness to make everyone understand what they are saying they try to make the message as simple and as effective as possible; doesn't matter the blunders. If we ignore and make some meaning out of them, we can pat our backs saying 'a job well done.' If not they are just blurbs to tickle our funny bone. We come across such simple announcements at shops, rail and bus stations, restaurants, hotels and public places. They are like well-meant graffiti; the only problem being the real meaning is lost in translation.
A recent article in Daily Mail has quoted dozens of them from different countries with China topping the list. For instance, if you happen to be at a Chinese airport and see a signage warning "Be careful of landslide," be assured that you are in no such danger. What it means is "Careful: Slippery surface." A sign above the door of a Chinese aircraft: "Gets hold of arm rest to fall the wound carefully." No reward for passengers guessing it right. A poster on a vending machine, again in China, urges thirsty travellers, "For keeping sanitation, don't share one can if not the lovers!" Another sign with a board above a graphic head warns air passengers, "Mind Crotch." Somebody got it horribly wrong for head, possibly. If you happen to see "flesh juice" board in Japan, make sure the shopkeeper is squeezing the liquid out of fruit, not from anything else. Thailand is a favourite tourist destination for millions of people. Bangkok and other places abound in temples but be careful while visiting them. A warning sign in a Bangkok temple: "It is forbidden to enter a woman, even a foreigner, if dressed as a man." Probably, it is an English translation of some vernacular saying that has made to a holy place. A dry cleaner in the same city advises his clients, "Drop your trousers here for the best results." However, he hasn't said how much time it takes. An advertisement in Thai newspaper: "Would you like to ride on your own ass?" European and African countries, where English is not compulsory in the curriculum, too produce hilarious signages. For instance, a cocktail lounge in Norway urges "Ladies are requested not to have children in the bar." If you are a wine lover and go to Switzerland, you may find on the menu of a restaurant, "Our wines leave you nothing to hope for." From bars to chambermaids, how meanings are lost in translation are best illustrated by hotels' rules and regulations displayed at bedside in laminated frames. A Tokyo hotel requests guests "not to smoke, or do other disgusting behaviours in bed" and another hotel in the same city invites guests "to take advantage of the chambermaid" whereas a hotel in Yugoslavia tells occupants that "the flattening of underwear with pleasure is the job of the chambermaid." A Zurich hotel minces no words in advising guests what to do with a female visitor: "Because of the impropriety of entertaining guests of the opposite sex in the bedroom, it is suggested that the lobby be used for this purpose." Among others: A signboard in front of a laundry in Rome, "Ladies, leave your clothes here and spend the afternoon having a good time." On an Abu Dhabi shop window, "If the front is closed please enter through my backside." Finally, in India. At a Punjabi restaurant: If you don't like the food then complain before eating! Typically Punjabi. Spelling howlers are common on many Indian signboards put up by small businesses. For example, pants become 'pents,' meat turns into 'meet,' mutton is converted into 'mattan,' hair dresser puts on 'air' and so on.
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