Far from being an exact science, the act of translating from language to another can be full of pitfalls, which is why it is considered such an art-form. As I have already highlighted here in a number of posts, the precise meaning or sentiment of a phrase can often go awry due in part to the limitations of the target or source language and so, only an experienced translator should be relied upon for an accurate translation.
If you’ve ever tried using an online translation app such as Babel Fish, World Lingo or Google translate, you will probably already be aware that automated results are often far from perfect; and you would be forgiven for thinking that a reliable old bilingual dictionary might be a tad more dependable, however, I’m afraid to say that that’s not always the case.
On a recent excursion to a pleasant little auberge (hostel) in the Vosges for lunch a rather amusing translation became evident after a quick scan of the menu – upon which the waiting staff had helpfully provided both English and German translations of the dishes on offer.
“Crudités”, the French for mixed-salad, had been translated as “crudeness”. Sausages and seasonal crudeness. Soup, bread and crudeness. Pasta with crudeness on the side. Alsatian bake with local crudeness.
It was safe to assume that the waiting staff did not intend to deliver our meals with a cheeky innuendo and a Sid James style snigger. At least I hope so.
Here’s your sausages love. They’re a bit small mind. There’s more meat in my left bollock if you ask me, still, some girls are easily satisfied. Waf waf!
Anyway, when we pointed out the amusing faux pas to the waitress responsible. She was mortified, having of course believed that the direct translation provided by her dictionary had been accurate all this time. (they don’t get many English visitors apparently)
At the time I found it hard to believe that any dictionary would have crudeness as a direct translation of crudités … yet when I tapped the word into my Franklin-Larousse translating machine back home, that is exactly what came up. Interestingly however it did not offer the reverse translation (crudités for crudeness) rather it failed to recognise crudeness at all.
Seeing such glaring errors in your mother tongue makes you that extra bit nervous when translating your own words the other way. Can you really be sure that what you just wrote means what you want it to mean? In a word – non. Donc mefiez-vous!