Sunday, May 14, 2006

Arab to English: Challenges in Translation

I think that any native English speaker must truly enjoy coming to the Arab world. Perhaps it's just my verbal bent, but I love having fun trying to figure out what it is that they are trying to say. I find that everywhere I go I get a kick out of the translation. This little hobby of mine (collecting funny ways of saying things) began with my first trip to Jordan. Some of the amusing things I saw then were:

1. An announcement in the English newspaper with a listing for a job with a reputed oil company. So, we don't know what they REALLY do, but people on the street say that they are in the oil business. Most Americans have only ever heard this word used in a sentence containing mobster (a reputed mobster of the XYZ crime family). I suspect they meant reputable...

2. A menu at Pizza Hut offering a new pizza with a trible blend of cheeses. As funny as that was, we couldn't help ourselves and had to order to the pottle of water to go with it. Now, I knew about the P/B problem, but this was a fun visual sign of it.

3. El 3atal and I went out for icecream and the store had a wide variety of choices. I was tempted to order the one with red fruit in it that indicated that it was Plueperry icecream. They assured us that even though it was red, it was in fact blueberry.

Since we've moved here, I encounter these types of linguistic calesthentics every day. Buying herbs in Safeway, I had the opportunity to purchase Marry Rose. Funny, it looked just like the spice I was looking for (Rosemary), so I bought some, strange name notwithstanding. Yesterday, though was my favorite. Tess, our helper, had a birthday yesterday, so we went to the Safeway bakery to get her a cake. While waiting, we reviewed the items they had to offer (which were lovely by the way). The first thing I noticed was the Scuster Eclair. Imagine, it looked just like a custard eclair... However, that one was thrown totally out of my mind by the White Shallot cake. Wait a minute, aren't shallots onions? So, (not totally trusting myself) I checked it as soon as we got home. Here's what I found:
shal·lot ( P ) Pronunciation Key (sh l t, sh -l t )n. In both senses also called eschalot.
A type of onion with long, pointed, pear-shaped, aggregated bulbs.
The mild-flavored bulb of this plant, used in cookery.

I wasn't wrong, and the idea of a shallot cake is honestly appalling. Honestly, I often feel that I should go around with a black Sharpie (permanent marker) and just modify these things as I encounter them. Now, for the admission of secrets, I actually copy-edit everything. When I'm reading novels, I make the changes in pencil. When I'm reading magazines, I edit in pen (or just my head). So, perhaps all these years I've missed my true calling. A career change might be in order, I'll become the crazy American who copy-edited the country of Jordan! At any rate... as always...



At 11:32 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

My favorite "B" and "P" mistake was in Egypt when "Dumb and Dumber" came out... they were advertising for "Dump and Dumper." Also an appropriate name :)

At 2:04 AM , Blogger MommaBean said...

Wow, thanks for sharing! That is perhaps the best I've heard of.

At 8:34 PM , Blogger BR_CAJUN_MOMMA said...

So, what exactly was the white shallot cake supposed to be? You need to come home so I can make you a cheesecake!

At 7:30 AM , Blogger MommaBean said...

El 3atal's only guess was that it was a Charlotee cake (which I've also never heard of) the employees were totally clueless. I miss the cheesecake and hope you send one soon (teehee).


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