Schadenfreude. Know that one? It’s a German expression that means “to take pleasure in the misfortunes of others.” A fine word, favored by middle-brow intellectual posers. Hey, works for me.
But it doesn’t go far enough. I think translators need their own special word to describe that special feeling of “pleasure in the misfortunate translations of others.” There has got to be a great German word for that too. I just don’t know it. I commission Z, the translator formerly known as Jost Zetsche, to identify the expression for me, but so far he’s ignoring my emails.
Well, I can wait no more. This is a concept that needs branding. Even the NYT is hopping on the “Translation Fail” gravy train. These are some of the best I’ve ever seen. My big brother Warren pointed me to the photo album sent by commenters . He has been insisting that I write a blog on this, which I’m not doing just because he said so, okay? I’m doing it because it’s so au courant.
While it’s pure recreational self-satisfaction when you read about these on the web, it’s the money shot on the phone for a guy like me on the phone. Not that kind of money shot, but the surge of adrenalin coursing through the veins of a sales predator as he prepares to pounce. Meow!
Adopting the regretful tone of a cynical undertaker, I gently coax out the gory details. All the time I can barely conceal my glee at the misfortunes of my competitors. It’s so sweet in the catbird’s seat.
Anyway, the NYT has a few all-time greats in this “best-of” collection. Hits like “Slip and Fall Down Carefully,” “Keep off the Lake,” and “Execution in Progress.”
“Shanghai Is Trying to Untangle the Mangled English of Chinglish” was Andrew Jacobs’ story on how the Shanghai Commission for the Management of Language Use is trying to stamp out bad English for this summer’s international Expo:
“Fortified by an army of 600 volunteers and a politburo of adroit English speakers, the commission has fixed more than 10,000 public signs (farewell ‘Teliot’ and ‘urine district’), rewritten English-language historical placards and helped hundreds of restaurants recast offerings.
“The campaign is partly modeled on Beijing’s herculean effort to clean up English signage for the 2008 Summer Olympics, which led to the replacement of 400,000 street signs, 1,300 restaurant menus and such exemplars of impropriety as the Dongda Anus Hospital — now known as the Dongda Proctology Hospital. Gone, too, is Racist Park, a cultural attraction that has since been rechristened Minorities Park.
“’The purpose of signage is to be useful, not to be amusing,’ said Zhao Huimin, the former Chinese deputy consul general to the United States who, as director general of the capital’s Foreign Affairs Office, has been leading the fight for linguistic standardization and sobriety.”
Well you can’t argue with that―especially if you want to avoid a hefty fine and perhaps some serious jail time.
It’s hard to imagine that in New York City. Even the English signs don’t make any sense.
So, I close as I began: with a question. What is the German word for “a translator’s pleasure in the mistranslations of others?” If we can’t find one, we’ll have to make one up, or start looking in other language pastures.