Archive for the ‘Language’ Category

Fun with signs!

Here are some signs from my trips to Moscow and Istanbul. See if you can decipher them! Some are way easy because of the font/colors/logo, but there are a few noodle-scratchers in there I bet.

It's not going to get much easier than this one. On the Moscow River.


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A word that some of you may be familiar with is Engrish — humorous mistranslations into English from East Asian languages. The word of course comes from the way speakers of such languages allegedly are not able  to differentiate between /l/ and /r/ sounds. The following, from the menu of Kam Ho, a Chinese restaurant across the street from my office, got me wondering if there’s such a word for when this happens in French instead of English:

A pricey meal, at current exchange rates.

The English of course is problematic — corn source instead of corn sauce — but hardly worse than what you’d find at many a Chinese restaurant across North America. The French translation, however, tries for crème de maïs (cream of corn), but instead gives us crème de mains: hand cream. Needless to say, that makes for one unappetizing breaded fish filet.

So, what might one call such a linguistic transgression? One possibility is Flench, transposing l and r of French in the same way one forms Engrish. Nice and succinct, and kind of sounds like flense, one of my favourite words. Unfortunately, a quick trip to urbandictionary.com informs me that Flench can denote “the face one makes while passing gas” — a portmanteau of fart and clench. No matter, though — I’m claiming it here and let’s see which meaning wins out!

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Oh, Canada.

A friend once pointed out to me that in Canada, hockey is used to sell almost everything. The rest? Well, there’s this:


That’s Canada for you: selling real estate via curling. For those of you unfamiliar with the sport, it’s like shuffleboard on ice, where somehow it’s perfectly legal for your teammates to whip out brooms and sweep debris out of the way of your stone as needed. It’s the ideal “beer league” sport for middle-aged Canadians who are not quite fit enough for pick-up hockey during the 8 months per year that the weather is crap.

The caption says “faites d’une pierre deux coups…” which figuratively means “kill two birds with one stone”, but literally it’s more like “make two hits with one stone”, which works better in the context of a curling metaphor. I think one of those stones could take out a couple of ostriches.

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New name, ё!

I am now the proud owner of an official document with my new name: Djon Maksvini. No, I am not trying to rediscover my Italian roots, and a quick check of my residential history would establish that this is also not my porn name.  How did this name come about? The short answer:  the Russians are to blame. To quote J.K. Simmons from Burn After Reading, “The Russians??”


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I was riding my bike along Boulevard St-Joseph in Montreal’s East End, and I did a double-take when I first saw this:

For a Kafkaesque shopping experience

You might guess that this means “Market of the Store” – redundant at best, nonsensical at worst. I remembered after a moment that store means blind  (as in the window covering) so it suddenly makes a lot more sense, even though I still find it a tad excessive to have a mega-store devoted to window accoutrements. I did not actually go in, however – perhaps their focus is not quite so narrow and their merchandise actually runs the home-decoration gamut. To make things more interesting they could have called it Marché des Jalousies – now that would make for some ambiguity!

This is of course not the only false friend between English and French. A fairly well-known one is préservatif – if your jam is made with préservatifs, then it is not only not organic but will have some of these in it. I worked for one summer at a store called Canadian Tire – kind of a cross between a Target and a hardware store, with auto parts (although the branch that I worked at ironically did not sell tires). Every week, items that were on sale would get bright yellow stickers with Solde on them, this being the French word for Sale. An anglophone customer got belligerent with me, wondering why we were going to such pains to highlight items that had already been solde out?

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My mom and I will be spending two weeks in Moscow in June, staying at the Cosmos Hotel. Their website has been designed by someone who clearly is familiar with English yet is not quite ‘there’:

For when you’re feeling down.

I am incredibly bemused at the thought of this little critter sidling up to me in the dining room of some mysterious hotel and saying “looking good, Mr. M.!”.

This being said, I am resisting the urge to turn this blog into an annotated version of sites such as Engrish.com. If you’re unaware, it’s a compendium of highly witty and/or nonsensical mistranslations into English from around the world, mostly East Asia. Here’s a typical entry:

Anyone want to translate the Japanese?

Do I find such sites offensive? No. Should I? Possibly, but that’s a debate for another time. Do I find them funny? Oh yes. But I don’t want to imitate them.

I would also soon get out of my depths if I tried to perform genuine  scholarly analysis on this kind of thing — I am not a professional linguist, nor do I speak any non-European languages. If that’s what you’re looking for, Language Log has some very in-depth and enlightened discussions on such matters.

This is not to say that I will not post such comically-worded things from time to time; I simply want to keep this place from becoming a repository of posts on the theme “look-at-silly-foreigners-stumble-with-English”.

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