Monday, March 23, 2009

Overloaded, overcharged?

Kim Gizzard from The Daily Reflector reports that "In her first visit with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Secretary of State Clinton presented him with a “reset” button designed to symbolize that the United States was interested in starting a new relationship with Russia. The only problem was that a two-letter difference turned it from the Russian word for “reset” to the Russian word for “overcharged” or “overloaded.”
“We worked hard to get the right Russian word,” Clinton told him. “Do you think we got it?”
“You got it wrong,” he answered, in English.

Working with interpreters in Moldova, I learned that translating is no walk in the park. For phrases like that one, you can't merely substitute one language for another. A language teacher once told me that American idioms like “chew the fat” and “face the music” are a nightmare for people trying to learn English.

Some ideas simply cannot bridge the language barrier. For example, the teacher told me, when a minister from the South tried to get his translator to tell a congregation in Africa that he was “tickled to death” to meet them, the terrified churchgoers were told that their guest speaker had “scratched himself until he died.”

It's like the time I bought my husband an anniversary card that was written in Romanian. The way the translator explained it, the card sounded romantic. But when I got home and tried to write it in English using a translation Web site, it read, “I love your red blood corpuscles.”

(...) the Russian word for reset is perezagruzka, not peregruzka. But since Lavrov speaks English, maybe Clinton should have skipped the translation altogether. She could have just told the Russian foreign minister that she was “tickled to death” to see him.

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