Translation is difficult. Failing to carry details from one language to another is all too easy. A term in one language may have no equivalent in another, or the associations might differ wildly. Rendering idioms literally often makes no sense whatsoever. Subtleties get dropped and grammatical correctness slides when things get complex.
Puns, figurative speech, connotations and cultural references: they all create problems.
The risk for this is especially high when translating from one's native language into a second language, which is why most professionals translate into their own language.
Faced with this problem, translators have come up with various tactics. In extremis, some do a Gag Dub, or a Woolseyism. Some even hang a Lampshade on the untranslatable term. A skilled translator might need to be almost as creative as the original writer in creating a satisfying parallel text. And when the translator is really excellent, we don't notice their work at all.
When the original language of a film is mentioned in the film itself (for example, “Do you speak English?” in an American Hollywood film), translators, depending on country, might replace it with the phrase “our language”. Countries with the opposite conventions include at least Finland and Sweden, where nothing outside little children's and "family" films gets dubbed.
When done with this in fansubs, some often place a little note explaining the context of the pun or cultural reference. Other translations put a note explaining it. This often happens if the translator decides to Translate the Loanwords, Too.
For the film of the same name, see Lost in Translation (film).
Anime and Manga
- Baam's meaningful name (it means Night) and its homonymity to chestnut in Korean can't be properly translated, so several puns and metaphors need translator notes to explain them.
- In episode 17 of Kaichou wa Maid-sama: "Your enemies aren't your only opponents!"
- In Gundam Wing, one factor that made some fans decide Relena was an idiot was her seemingly random declaration that Heero was "the prince of the stars"; the translators didn't realize that this is the Japanese title for The Little Prince, which makes Relena's statement make a lot more sense (as Heero came to Earth from space on a "shooting star").
- Bobobo-Bo Bo-bobo parodies this during "Bobobo theater", when the ridiculously long string of Japanese characters are read as simple words like "Youth", with Beauty complaining about it.
- In Futaba-Kun Change!, where a fire-fighting cyborg that was a shoutout to Solbrain used a monkey brain, which was afraid of fire. "Sol" in Japanese would be written "soru", while monkey is "saru".
- A somewhat wacky bit of odd translation happened in a different arc of FKC. In a wrestling match, Futaba is forced to fight a genetically engineered giant flytrap. In the first chapter, the flytrap was called Dancer II. In the second, they reverted to a direct transliteration of its name, Odori II, rather than translating it as Dancer. Thus revealing the pun.
- In a French fan sub of Rozen Maiden, it became very obvious the sub was based off an english sub when Kanaria said she was going to play a requiem "pour la sorciere perdue" (for the witch that was lost), which is a mistranslation of what she said in the English sub: That which was lost.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, the character Chazz had a nickname and catchphrase inspired by some rather complex wordplay - his nickname was "Manjoume Sanda" in the Japanese version, Sanda meaning "thunder" and being a pun on "Manjoume-san da", meaning "It's Manjoume-san," ergo Manjoume is demanding people refer to him with a respectful honorific. His catchphrase incorporates this into a chant involving the Japanese words for the numbers ten, hundred, thousand and ten thousand. All of this was left out when 4Kids dubbed the show, and Chazz's catchphrase is a much less catchy and meaningful "Chazz it up."
- The closed captioning for the English dub of Spirited Away labels Yubaba's baby's rat-form's "chu" (Japanese onomatopoeia for a mouse's squeak) noises as "[sneezes]".
- The original run of Urusei Yatsura DVDs in the US included pamphlets full of explanations on the puns involved in the episodes on the disc they were included with, rather than translators attempting to localize the translations.
- Animeigo's dub of the series also used the title Those Obnoxious Aliens to translate the pun of the Japanese title. "Those Obnoxious Visitors" would've made a better localized title, considering the double meaning of the word "Visitor".
- Speaking of AnimEigo, in the Lupin III OAV Green vs. Red, a Mythology Gag involves one Lupin-impersonator spray-painting "Rupan" on a wall, and another asking, "Isn't that wrong?" This is a reference to the Market-Based Title "Rupan" that AnimEigo used on its English-language Lupin III releases. This is an example of an inverted Lost in Translation, given that relatively few Japanese viewers would catch the reference.
- In Cardcaptor Sakura, upon first being referred to by the name, Kero-chan complains that it sounds like a frog's name. Makes perfect sense in Japanese, where "Kero" is the onomatopoeia for a frog noise, and a common cutesy way to refer to an animal is to append "-chan" to the sound it makes. In English, it's a non sequitur without further explanation.
- Not entirely beyond comprehension, due to the Sanrio character Keroppi. Maybe a little too obscure for some younger readers, though.
- One reason the Akazukin Chacha anime and manga never made it to the US is that they're absolutely stuffed with Visual Puns that are completely untranslatable and need to be explained in English.
- This slightly glaring example from the Love Hina manga. The Christmas themed banners on the bottom right panel say "Satan" instead of "Santa"
- In one episode of Sailor Moon, there is a shot of several boxes; one of them reads "天地無用" (tenchi muyo). Some fansubs interpret this as a shoutout to Tenchi Muyo!; the ADV "uncut subs" translate it literally as "no need for heaven and earth". "天地無用" is actually extremely common to see on boxes, and in that context means "This Side Up".
- A great deal of the humor in the American Funimation dub of Crayon Shin-chan comes from lampshading this trope.
- The name of Vegetto (ベジット, Bejitto), Goku and Vegeta's combined form in Dragon Ball, comes from a portmanteau of Vegeta's name (ベジータ, Bejiita) with Goku's Saiyan birth name of Kakarotto (カカロット). However, the name "Kakarotto" is romanized as "Kakarrot" in the FUNimation dub of the anime, while "Vegetto" for some reason became "Vegito", rendering his name meaningless. The Viz translation of the manga avoided this problem by renaming "Vegetto" into "Vegerot".
- In a more mild example, there's a point in the original Dragon Ball where Chi-Chi is trying to talk to Goku about their engagement (kon'yaku). Goku misunderstands, assuming she wants to talk about food (konnyaku). This joke doesn't really translate into English, so the English version had Chi-Chi wanting to talk about their impending marriage, and Goku assuming that "marriage" was some kind of exotic food. Luckily for the translators, this fits the character to a T. In fact, this joke is actually a well observed trope.
- There's also that all of Dr. Gero's creations were called "androids", even though 17 and 18 were cyborgs and Cell was organic. This is because the Japanese word used, Jinzōningen, has a more broad definition as any sort of Artificial Human.
- There's one bit where Krillin attempts a Kamehameha. Once he pronounces "Kame-" there's a quick shot of Turtle perking up (kame meaning "turtle").
- In general, a lot of characters in the series have (usually food-based) puns in their names that aren't translated.
- All of Bulma's family have underwear-related names. The dub keeps Trunks and Dr. Brief. Bulma is translated from Buruma ("Bloomers") and Bulla from Bura ("Bra").
- The Ginyu Force has dairy-related names.
Jeice = Jīsu ("Cheese") - translated in the manga as "Jheese"
- The Nameks have snail-related names. "Nail" and "Cargo" translated well, but there's also Dende (from Denden-mushi - "Snail") and Moori (from Kattatsumuuri - also "Snail").
- Chi-Chi = Udder/milk
- Krillin = Kuririn = kuri ("chestnut") + shōrin ("Shaolin"). The chestnut reference is retained with his daughter (Marron).
- Launch = Ranchi ("Lunch")
- I Will Definitely Protect You is an unusual example. The original phrase zettai ni mamoru is almost always (more or less literally) translated as I Will Definitely Protect You. The awkwardness of the phrase sounds like someone couldn't be bothered to translate it appropriately for the context, since the depth of its meaning is very contextual. However, if the translation took into account the context, it would entirely lose the humor of its use, which is almost always based on a misunderstanding of the context in which it's used. Then to get even more meta, it's probably also entirely unintentional that the original context is missed and probably really is just lazy translation.
- An episode of Samurai Champloo has the protagonists caught in the middle of a conflict between two Yakuza families, and Jin and Mugen each ends up as a bodyguard of separate family. What's lost in translation is that the word used for bodyguard is Yojimbo, and that film is what the episode is giving a Shout-Out too.
- Debatable whether or not this was intended, but in Case Closed / Detective Conan, there is an episode in which Ran Mouri / Rachel Moore was called to model for a fashion designer, partly to serve as an alibi and to set up a murder. Upon finding out that Ran / Rachel's father was a detective, the fashion designer recoiled. Apparently, she didn't realize that Ran Mouri was related to Kogoro Mouri, a detective who was gaining local fame. To westerners, this would seem a little odd, given that not everyone would know many people with the surname, "Mouri", but the English localization had changed their surname to the more recognizable, "Moore". With all common surnames, it wouldn't be unlikely to assume a Rachel Moore / Ran Mouri is unrelated to a semi-famous one.
- Some of the cases in general are lost in translation. Some cases can only be solved by realizing something about a common Japanese game, and the Japanese language is often used as codes. Many of the codes have the Japanese pronunciation written, followed up by "which means", but some of the references to games that help solve a case are nearly impossible.
- Specifically, one case is proven by a lighter being placed in a specific position on a mat that matches a piece in a Japanese game.
- Another case is solved by the suspect saying he was at a Pachinko parlor late at night, which is disproven when Conan brings up that there's a law stating that Pachinko parlors can't stay open that late. How is someone from another country automatically supposed to know that?
- Some of the cases in general are lost in translation. Some cases can only be solved by realizing something about a common Japanese game, and the Japanese language is often used as codes. Many of the codes have the Japanese pronunciation written, followed up by "which means", but some of the references to games that help solve a case are nearly impossible.
- I don't blame them at all for not trying to localize this joke, but in Yu Yu Hakusho, at one point, Kuwabara says "A mulberry is a tree, and Kuwabara is a man!" The pun that would be virtually untranslatable is that the word "kuwabara" means "mulberry tree." In the English translation, it just comes across as a bizarre non sequitur on Kuwabara's part. (Which actually fits his character pretty well.)
- The line in the original Japanese was "Just as a cherry blossom is a flower among flowers, Kuwabara is a man among men." They changed it in the dub specifically for the Bilingual Stealth Pun.
- One other example of a common way to dodge around this trope/localize it comes when Itsuki recalls how he got Sensui to spare his life when the latter was a Spirit Detective. Sensui asks Itsuki if he had any last regrets, he regretted that he couldn't see Jun Togawa on a show the next day. Obviously, the chances of anyone outside of Japan knowing who this person is would be rather slim, so he merely said he had a TV show he wanted to watch. The Shonen Jump translation left mention of Jun Togawa in, with a side note explaining who that person was.
- The stock phrase This Is Unforgivable! suffers from this. The Japanese word yurusanai doesn't just mean "to not forgive"; it also means "to not allow". In quite a few cases, "I won't stand for this" works better than "This is unforgivable" (similarly, "I won't stand for anyone doing X" almost always sounds better than "I won't forgive anyone who does X"). Many, many subbers don't realize this, leading to lots of awkward translations.
- The One Piece character Edward Newgate's nickname, Shirohige, is usually translated as "Whitebeard", which gets across the reference to the real pirate often called Blackbeard, but seems like a non sequitir in that "Whitebeard" does not have a beard, but a mustache. As it turns out the word "hige" just means any sort of facial hair.
- Not to mention the puns that Oda loves so much.
- There was a scene in the second "Urusei Yatsura" movie in which Ataru is getting a wish granted. In English his words are translated as "Wa-water. No! Water. It's just water." As the room fills with water, which makes no sense. In Japanese, however "Mimizu" is earthworms and "Mizu" is water, which helps explain his sudden panic.
- Laputa: Castle in the Sky had "Laputa" removed from it not because it was meaningless in other languages, but because "Laputa" looks like "La Puta", which, to people familiar with the Spanish Language, means "The Whore." Considering it's a pretty family friendly movie...you can tell leaving it intact probably wouldn't have been a good idea, so the localization team thankfully changed it. (Of course, "Laputa" was taken from Gulliver's Travels, it's unknown if other interpretations dealing with the subject had this problem too)
- Of course, Gulliver's Travels was originally a satire, so the hidden meaning may have been intentional, which would mean the actual loss in translation was in the writing of Castle in the Sky itself.
- The Sengoku Basara franchise suffers from this to an extent, mostly due to the characters' different speech patterns carrying implications that are difficult to reproduce in English. But the anime has one specific instance: in the first episode Date "One-Eyed Dragon" Masamune says "There's more to the One-Eyed Dragon than just show." In Japanese this carries an untranslatable pun on Masamune's surname "Date" and the word "date" which means "showy" (and which actually got its kanji from Masamune's surname). You see?
- The English translation of "Fullmetal Alchemist" created a very-delayed-reaction translation problem by not literally translating Hagane no Renkinjutsuhi as "Alchemist of Steel" when the epigram at the very start of the manga ("A lesson without pain is meaningless, for you cannot gain something without sacrificing something else in return") was finally completed at the end of the series nine years later ("but once you have overcome it and made it your own...you will gain an irreplaceable fullmetal heart"), as "heart of steel" would make more sense.
- The English dub of Brotherhood rectified this by saying "...a heart made fullmetal" instead.
- In 20th Century Boys, the euphemism that the Friendship cult uses for killing people is the Japanese verb that means to break up a friendship. Since there's no single verb for that in English (at least until "unfriend" came along), they simply use "banish" instead.
- Several jokes have been lost in Yotsuba&!:
- One is concerning Yotsuba explaining what her dad's job is. In the ADV translation, Yotsuba thinks he's a 'trainspotter' when she's suppose to say 'translator'. The joke is that the word 'honyaku' means translator and that Yotsuba said 'konnyaku', a type of gelatin-like cake made from a yam-like plant. In a later chapter, Fuuka sounds like she was making a non-sequiter about Yotsuba's dad's konnyaku business being a trade secret when the reality is it's a callback to Yotsuba's earlier misunderstanding.
- Another is when Jumbo refers to Torako as a 'she' when he was looking at her photos of the hot air balloon event. This is problematic because the running gag is that Jumbo has never met Torako before and assumes that she might be Asagi's boyfriend. This can be explained by the fact that the Japanese language does not have words to indicate another person's gender (as in,no words like 'he' or 'she').
- A Filler episode of Full Metal Panic! has Sosuke, Kaname, and their school friends go to some war games at the local military base, thanks to their classmate Shinji Kazama's father being a pencil-pusher there. The head of the Opposing Sports Team is a Homage to Gundam's Char Aznable, something which the ADV team either missed or didn't bother translating. In particular, at one point he starts giving one of Char's famous quotes ("Nobody likes to admit to the mistakes caused by their youth and inexperience"), but both the sub and dub render his line as something entirely different.
- Sucking up the baby Lobzillas in Kirby 3D makes Kirby turn into Kabuki Kirby. (rather than Ice Kirby, as his powers would suggest) This seems like a non-sequitur in the English, especially when Tiff claims that Kabuki Kirby is a magical ninja. It makes more sense in Japanese. Kabuki Kirby is actually a kabuki actor, and Lobzilla's Japanese name is Ebizou, which means "Shrimp Elephant"—an apt description of the creature—but also sounds like (and is rendered the same in kana as) a notable Kabuki stage name.
- The Mona Lisa lacks the double meaning of its Italian name "La Gioconda." "Gioconda" translates to "cheery," in reference to the famous Mona Lisa Smile, and doubles as a pun on the surname of the sitter, Lisa del Giocondo.
- Relatedly, the title of Marcel Duchamp's readymade L.H.O.O.Q. is a pun. Reading the letters in French "Elle a chaud au cul" sounds like either "She has a hot ass" or "there is fire down below."
- An In-Universe example from Savage: Savage, under a pseudonym, is leading a crack team of terrorists disguised as Volgans to severely damage the Large Hadron Collider. One of his team, whose Russian is rather spotty, is approached by a Volgan guard who compliments him on his very nice watch, and asks if he can get any more. Our guy manages to interpret this as a sexual advance, panics, and opens shoots the guard. And that's only the start of the problems.
- Averted Trope in this Schlock Mercenary strip, in which the author states that no, the joke is not Lost in Translation.
- The Indonesian version of Asterix kept the original French names of the Gaulish villagers instead of translating it, rendering the Punny Names inherent in the series lost.
- Some Finnish subtitles for Star Wars translated a Stormtrooper's line "Maybe it's another drill" as "Ehkä se on pora". Technically, it's a pretty correct translation - except that "pora" is the Finnish word for the hole-making tool. This (Finnish) site [dead link] showcases some other translation bloopers from the film.
- Older or cheaply subtitled Bollywood movies often forgo subtitling the songs. As these often introduce, develop and resolve plot points or whole subplots, viewers not fluent in Hindi are left wondering just why the hell there is suddenly a happily ever after.
- Appropriately enough, this trope is played with several times in the film Lost in Translation. The director of a TV ad says a minute's worth of Japanese to Bob, which the translator renders in English as two sentences. The scene is especially hilarious if you find out what the director really says; the translation is technically correct, but a lot of emotional and cultural context is lost.
- also a "meta" example: The movie was released in Israel with the title "Lost in Tokyo". So the meaning of the title Lost In Translation was, well, lost in translation.
- Intentionally used in the movie Whisper of the Heart with Shizuku's various attempts to translate the song Country Roads into Japanese, a task she finds especially difficult since she's a city girl without any notion of what life in her own countryside is like. (She translates "Mountain Mama" to "My mother the mountain" at one point) Eventually she decides to ditch the country homecoming theme entirely and write something new that speaks from her own heart.
- In the movie The Great Raid, the "translated" Filipino lines makes sense in the context of the scene. Several, however, were clearly erroneous. One of the more poignant examples was a Filipino driver asking for payment being subtitled as him saying that there was only limited room for refugees in the vehicle.
- In the Norwegian subtitles for Independence Day "Oh my god, there's nothing left" is translated as "Oh my god, there's nothing to the left"
- Used in-universe in Charlie Wilsons War, when Gust tries to explain the animosity between Tajiks and Pashtuns by telling a derogatory Pashtu joke. When this fails to ellicit laughter, he admits that it's funnier in the original language.
- In the Italian version of Back to The Future, for some reason unknown to mankind the Flux Capacitor got mistranslated as "flusso canalizzatore", which roughly means "channeling flux" and has almost nothing to do with the original name; however, in the third movie, Doc's letter talks about the broken "condensatore di flusso", which is an exact translation of "flux capacitor"; the Italian audience was never able to understand what this "condensatore di flusso" was and why would it be of any importance.
- The (European) Spanish version names it "condensador de fluzo" in every moment despite fluzo meaning absolutely nothing in Spanish. Many people that saw the movies as children feel a bit disappointed when they realize the mythical, quasi-magical "condensador de fluzo" was just a "condensador de flujo" or flux capacitor.
- The Flux Capacitor seems to be a Problem in many a translation. In the German version it was called "Fluxkompensator" (Flux Compensator), where the right translation would've been all of two letters different: "Fluxkondensator"
- Used for laughs in the Russian movie The Diamond Arm (Brilliantovaya ruka). The (supposedly) Turkish speech of Istanbul residents is dubbed until they start to get...emotional. Then the interpreter explains that "Cue untranslatable play on words based on traditional idiomatic expressions."
- Another Norwegian example; in the dub of Lion King "meerkat" is translated to "marekatt", the Norwegian word for Guenon. So Timon was essentially called a monkey until the release of the third movie...
- Yet another Norwegian example; the translated title of the second Transformers movie, Revenge of the Fallen, was inexplicably translated into Transformers: The Defeated Strike Back (with Defeated being plural, rather than the singular Fallen).
- Ditto the Swedish version; Transformers: De Besegrades Hämnd (Transformers: Revenge Of The Defeated)
- The Danish version decided that "The Fallen" was plural, thus sorta assuming that these "fallen" were a group, instead of the name of the film's Big Bad
- The finnish title, Transformers: Kaatuneiden Kosto, is also implying that there are multiple "fallen".
- And, what's surprising, in Polish version too - they got the word "Fallen" right, but plural instead of singular: Transformers: Zemsta Upad³ych" (should be "Zemsta Upad³ego").
- The Russian version also assumed "the Fallen" applied to multiple fallen characters and named the movie Месть падших instead of the singular (and capitalized) "Падшего". The character Fallen was simply transliterated as "Фолен", losing all meaning.
- To be fair - fallen is both singular and plural and can sometimes mean defeated. Having seen this movie from start to finish, I can understand how translators would miss the identity of 'the fallen' as "In June 2010, Michael Bay officially apologized for the film and promised to make the third one better."
- The Swedish subtitles for the Bond movie "A View to a Kill" contains a real gem. As the bad guys are flying in their blimp over San Francisco (with the obligatory view of the Golden Gate bridge) they comment: "What a view." "To a kill." In the Swedish subtitles it goes: "What a view." "Yeah, Tokyo."
- In Mexico, the movie Outlander, for some incomprehensible reason has been titled La Tierra Media y El Tesoro del Dragon Solitario (Middle Earth and the Treasure of the Lonely Dragon), there seems to have been to translation attempt going on at all for the title, which could have easily been translated as Extranjero.
- In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in Malaysia, the part where Quirrell bursts in and announces "THERE'S A TROLL IN THE DUNGEON!" has "troll" translated in the Malay subtitles as "orang kerdil" - "tiny person".
- Return of the Living Dead falls victim to this, as the funniest line in the movie ("You mean the movie lied!?", spoken in shock by Frank after finding out that Removing the Head or Destroying the Brain doesn't kill the zombies) is translated in the Italian dub as "Continua a muoversi!" It should be noted that Frank's mouth moved enough in that one line for a literal translation to fit almost perfectly.
- Many idioms and phrases in The Bible and other ancient religious texts are lost to us, making this one of The Oldest Ones in the Book.
- Even those still known can pose a problem. Most clergy and studious laymen are familiar with three of the four Greek words for love: 'eros,' meaning a romantic attraction; 'philia', more of a friendly type of caring or loyalty; and 'agape,' which in ancient Greek was the kind of unconditional, absolute love that would cause you to sacrifice your life for a person. All three are translated 'love' in all versions of the English Bible. While it's not always detrimental, it really subtracts from the passage where Jesus asks Peter 3 times if he loves him. The first two, he uses philia, the third time, agape.
- Also, Jonah. When studying the original Hebrew, Jonah's prayer of repentance in the big fish is actually a list of quotes from Psalms. When each complete Psalm is taken in context, Jonah's repentance seems less than genuine, making his later behavior consistent.
- In the passage where Jesus is talking to Peter and says he is the rock on which he will build his church; 'petra' in Greek means rock and it was also close to Peter's name in Greek. So basically, 'Rock, on this rock I will build my church.' That Jesus, quite the joker.
- Peter's actual name was Simon, Jesus called him the Rock (in Greek petros), hence "Simon called Peter".
- A lot of translations have occasional footnotes that read "the meaning of the Hebrew for this phrase is uncertain".
- A common problem in Poetry, since so much of a poem's meaning can depend on rhyme, rhythm, and the connotation of words, none of which are anything close to constant across languages, even similar ones. Many translations of poems are valid, but it's a hard job for translators to balance the need for clarity with preserving the author's original intentions with the poem.
- In one of Stanislaw Lem's books, one robot has a battle cry "awruk!". Some translators put it literally, some not. In fact, this is a Polish word spelled backwards, thus can be represented in English as "oh!"
- In this particular case, a more faithful translation would be something along the lines of "kcuf!".
- In fact, Michael Kandel translated it as "tickuf!"
- In this particular case, a more faithful translation would be something along the lines of "kcuf!".
- Remember good ol' Aesop? Remember the Sour Grapes? Well, at some point some unnamed Swedish translator of Aesop decided (since grapes don't grow here, at least not normally) replace "grapes" with "rowan-berries" (the orange berries of a rowan tree) The problem? Rowan berries are *really tart*. Thus ruining the entire point of the Aesop...
- Pretty much all the translations of the Fighting Fantasy books have this to an extent due to the need to work out which paragraph to turn to next based on information already received.
- Many books require the player to solve a riddle, then convert the answer into a number using a code based on each letter's position in the alphabet. For example, egg is 5+7+7=19; in French, oeuf is 15+5+21+6=47. This wouldn't be so bad, but the translators generally didn't bother to re-order the references so that the codes pointed to the correct ones.
- Others disguised information in acrostics. Translators usually just translated the poem directly, causing the initial letters of each sentence to become meaningless. Both these practises made many books Unwinnable.
- One particularly heinous Dutch translation of Terry Pratchett's Johnny and The Dead, which includes snatches from well-known pop songs in a passage featuring a radio, actually translates a line from Bohemian Rhapsody. Word for word.
- The Swedish translations of Discworld, while usually good, do fail a few times. An example is in Pyramids, where, in the original, the mummies originally translated the inscription "And Khuft said unto the First: ..." as "Handcuffed to the bed, the aunt thirsted". The Swedish version translates the misunderstood inscription word for word, without keeping the similarity in sound.
- Translations from Swedish can be equally problematic. Some of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö's Martin Beck detective stories feature a country policeman whose surname, when we first meet him, is translated as "Awright", complete with the inevitable puns. However, for some reason (possibly a different translator), when he reappears in one of the later books of the series, his name has become "Content"—but without any more puns.
- The Swedish translator of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone left the name of the Erised Mirror, and its inscription, untranslated, apparently believing they were in some sort of fantasy language, while in fact they are simply sdrawkcab. When the mirror was mentioned again in the seventh book, it was renamed the Mörd-spegeln (the Maerd-mirror), which is almost worse, considering the fact that "mörd" brings one's thoughts to "mörda", which means "to murder". Quite different from the intended meaning.
- Separated by a Common Language version: In the second book, Ron tries to repair his broken wand using "Spellotape", a pun on "Sellotape". Sellotape is a brand of cellophane tape common in Britain to the point of becoming a Brand Name Takeover. In America, this type of tape is called Scotch Tape (another Brand Name Takeover), so the joke is lost on American readers.
- In the Italian translations of the Harry Potter books, Professor Dumbledore is known as Albus Silente. The translators took the first part of Dumbledore's name - `dumb' in the sense of `unable to speak' - and made a literal translation.
- The German translation was particularly bad at translating some puns. When Ron is corrected on the fact that one of Jupiter's moons is "Covered in ice, not mice", this was translated as "Covered in ice, not maize", since this rhymes in German. But the translator then forgot that pun when later on, Harry is taking the test and "at least he remembered the moon wasn't covered in mice" (using the word "mice" instead of "maize"). Another example: Malfoy at the end of book 4 teases: (paraphrase) "Now that Voldemort is back, Muggle-friends like your family will be first to die. Well, second. Cedric was the f..." before he is interrupted. The last word, starting in F, was obviously meant to be "first", but the German translator assumed it to mean a swear word, translating it as something like "And, secondly, Cedric was the f**..." (even though there was no "firstly")
- The German translation of Jurassic Park: The Lost World, besides cutting a few sentences, manages to confuse "left" and "right".
- In Agatha Christie's novel Remembered Death (also called Sparkling Cyanide) the victim's name is "Rosemary", and Christie plays around with how the herb rosemary symbolizes remembrance. However, in the Spanish translation we have a problem. The Spanish word for that herb is not used as a feminine name, and the herb in Hispanic culture does not symbolize remembrance. In A Murder is Announced a character remarks that she doesn't like dachshunds, not because they're German (the novel was set right after WWII), but that she just never cared for them; the problem is that the Spanish name for that breed is 'Can Ingles'--English Dog.
- The Italian title of Stephen King's The Stand is "L'Ombra dello Scorpione" ("The Shadow of the Scorpion"). There are NO SCORPIONS in the book (of any relevance to the plot, anyway). None at all. Anywhere. Seriously, WTF?!?
- Many translations of the Qu'ran begin with a lengthy apology from the translator, for both theological (it's supposed to be a direct transcript of a book in heaven) and practical (it's heavily stylized and archaic poetry.) reasons. Without fail, the translators will encourage the interested reader to attempt the book in the original.
- Don Quixote: A joke in the Spanish version is that even when everyone understands the term island, only truly sophisticated people understand the term insula. So, Sancho doesn’t really understand what an insula really is, but he desperately wants to rule one, so he would be tricked later in a Massive Multiplayer Scam to rule a little town that is not an island. In some English translations (for example, the Gutenberg project this joke is Lost in Translation at Chapter II of the Second part:
"May evil insulas islands choke thee, thou detestable Sancho," said the niece; "What are insulas islands? Is it something to eat, glutton and gormandiser that thou art?"
Live Action TV
- The Spanish subtitles for the R1 DVD release of Wonderfalls suffered from this here and there because English-language TV is able to be a tad crasser than is really acceptable in Spanish. Unfortunately, this meant they could not quite capture the same rude, crude, outright crass flavor of the English idiom "my ass" (a somewhat obscene variant of the idiom "my foot" - or for those not fluent, basically: "That's an obvious lie, so shut up" - that uses a ruder synonym for one's bottom), as used by a bitchy, self-absorbed tourist in the pilot episode. The closest they could find translates as "to the devil with you". Incredibly, undeniably rude, particularly in Spanish if you use it in conversation with a stranger? Yes, but downright classy in comparison, and thus lacking in a very subtle bit of characterization (it is, however, incredibly hard to find a better phrase that would have been acceptable language in Spanish anyway).
- They also killed a joke in the second episode, by translating Jaye's dad's deliberately, ridiculously silly, nonsensical, innocuous choice of words "Those sons of biscuits!" (an oath he didn't need to mince, since his daughter is in her 20s, mind) as... "those lazy loafers!". This probably happened because the phrase it was a pun on in the original English - "Those sons of bitches" - is a lot more offensive in Spanish than it actually is in English, but alas, the oddly childlike minced oath that was so funny and cute and strange and characterizing in the original is lost in the process.
- Cuatro, a TV station from Spain has decided to translate Primeval as Invasión Jurásica (Jurassic Invasion). This would be a great title if not for the fact that there isn't a single Jurassic critter in the whole damn series.
- Possibly carrying the tradition of
- Possibly carrying the tradition of
- In Latin America, Kid Sitcoms and cartoon dubs state that the language everybody is supposed to be talking is Spanish in instead of English. As a result children couldn't understand why in the Lizzie McGuire Movie characters were saying "Sorry I can understand you I speak Spanish" when an Italian character was saying something that sounds so alike in Italian and Spanish that a 5 years old could understand it.
- Two Disney series during that time, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody and Power Rangers Dino Thunder, had literal ones in their episodes, "Lost In Translation" and "Lost And Found in Translation", respectively. Both are Played for Laughs.
- The french dub for the show 'Allo 'Allo! suffered heavily under this, especially since most puns involved French townspeople (who, since it was a British show, spoke English obviously) not being able to understand British pilots/police officers
- Doctor Who features an in-universe subversion. A message from the Sycorax asks for a demand to be done "or they will die". UNIT spends a while wondering why the translator output wasn't "or you will die", then it turns out "they" refers to all humans with A-positive blood being brainwashed into being about to fall to their death.
- The Supernatural episode title "Jus in Bello" translates (from Latin) as "justice in war". But from dialogue, it's clear that the intended meaning had more to do with "the rules/laws of war", which would be "lex bellorum".
- One of the more amusing incidents in Magic: The Gathering translation involves the card Yawgmoth's Agenda (i.e. the evil plans of the villain Yawgmoth). Due to misunderstanding or mix-up, it's said the Japanese version of this card was translated into a phrase equivalent to "Yawgmoth's Day Planner."
- Translating plays is perhaps more susceptible to this than translating novels or other works; getting the words, grammar and tone correct is one thing, but having all that in a translation that sounds natural when spoken by actors is a whole other challenge. Translators, as a result, have to sacrifice either accuracy to the original language in favour of a script better suited to performance, or performability in favour of a more accurate translation.
- For example, due to a text stuffed with ancient greek puns and cultural allusions, Aristophanes' theatrical work is an awful task to translate.
- As dramatists, the Frenchmen Racine and Corneille are considered fully the equals of Shakespeare and the Greek tragedians. Unfortunately, their dramatic effects and rhetorical tactics are almost wholly reliant on the specific conventions and history of the French language and culture—translation into any other language simply fails to convey the vast majority of their genius, because you can't "translate" the kind of 17th-century assumptions and specifically French literary conventions that the tragedies derive their power from playing against.
- The symbolism of Xion's name in Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days was unfortunately lost in translation. In Japan, Shion is also the name of a plant that is commonly associated with memories.
- The PlayStation 2 game Ape Escape 3 features an unlockable parody of Metal Gear Solid, named Mesal Gear Solid. In Japanese, this is a pun- Metal Gear is transliterated as Metaru Gia, so Mesal becomes Mesaru- Saru being the Japanese word for monkey (the series is called Saru Getchu! there). In English, it's just confusing gibberish.
- This was actually the result of a collaboration between Sony and Konami which also resulted in the "Snake vs. Monkey" minigame in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. For what it's worth, a parody of the actual Metal Gear appeared in its final stage, also called "Mesal Gear" (complete with a monkey wearing Big Boss' trademark eyepatch).
- Especially bad because there's a fairly obvious better translation than Mesal Gear. Monkey Gear Solid!
- Or Metal Gear Simian.
- Or Metal Gorilla Solid. Or anything other than "Mesal Gear Solid."
- Pokémon Gold and Silver, the Gym Leader Clair was called "Ibuki" in the Japanese release, which can mean "breath." So when she gives the player the TM that teaches Dragon Breath, she mutters "no, it has nothing to do with my breath." The line was kept in the English release, but without the pun on Clair's name it seemed a rather random thing to say. The writers really dropped the ball when they remade the game, as Clair now gives out a different TM that has nothing to do with breath of any kind (Dragon Pulse), but she still cracks the joke which is now random in both languages.
- One of the dungeons in the first The Legend of Zelda game was in the shape of a swastika. Of course, the symbol had been used in Buddhism and Hinduism, as a symbol of enlightenment and purification, for well over 2400 years before Nazism. Said symbol has often been removed from western releases; a Pokémon card was banned from the US market for the same reason.
- A special case occurs in the German version of the Bloodmoon expansion to Morrowind - in one dialogue, the translator forgot to add the text link leading to a quest start, which resulted in a (small, but quite helpful) subquest being completely lost.
- In the Polish translation of Morrowind it was pretty hard to rest in some taverns due to similar reasons... not to mention that the option, when available, was listed last in handy dialogue sidebar, due to Morrowind's ordering system not recognizing letters of the Polish alphabet.
- Recurring character Axel/Akutare of the Disgaea series always refers to himself with the words "ore-sama" in the Japanese audio, "ore" being an equivalent of "I", and "sama" being a honorific one would use when referring to someone viewed as a superior, which stresses just how highly he thinks of himself, on top of his already often conceited dialogue.
- In Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten, this is actually something of some importance, as beginning to use "ore-sama" in their speech is the first obvious sign that someone is being affected by the A-Virus of chapter 6.
- The French-language manual for Earthworm Jim on the Mega Drive translated "butt" (as in Evil Queen Overly Long Name Slug-for-a) as postérieur, which whilst technically accurate doesn't quite capture the idiom.
- In The Secret of Monkey Island, you need a navigator's head being held by cannibals, who are unwilling to trade it to you because they are unable to find another one. You succeed by trading it for a leaflet titled "How to get ahead in navigation". The spanish translation of the game had the leaflet translated literally ("Como avanzar en la navegación"), losing the double meaning, and making this part a big Guide Dang It.
- In Mega Man Battle Network 6, there's a sequence where a classmate goes on about calling the 11 year old protagonist "Mr. Hikari" instead of "Lan." The end result is that Tab comes off as a little crazy with a unique and incomprehensible way of expressing himself and you spend the rest of the game waiting for a repeat performance.
- Waluigi's name (ワルイージ, Waruiiji in Japanese) comes from an anagram of the word ijiwarui (いじわるい), which means mean-spirited. Unfortunately the joke is lost on many English players.
- Apparently this troper didn't catch the much earlier pun in Wario either, since it's a very close match to warui, meaning bad.
- The first Updated Rerelease of Street Fighter II is officially titled Street Fighter II Dash: Champion Edition in Japan. Champion Edition was actually the game's subtitle, much like how The World Warrior was the subtitle to the original Street Fighter II and The New Challengers was to Super Street Fighter II. However, the word "Dash" is not spelled on the game's title but represented by an apostrophe-like symbol (′) known as a "prime" or a "dash", which is often used as a notation to denote the derivative of a mathematical function (i.e: f′ or f dash). Hence the title Street Fighter II Dash, as in a derivative of the original Street Fighter II. Instead of retitling the game Street Fighter II Prime for its American release, Capcom USA simply ignored the prime mark on the title screen and marketed the game as Street Fighter II: Champion Edition on the marquee. The same was true to the subsequent game in the series, Street Fighter II Dash Turbo: Hyper Fighting, which was shortened to simply Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting (although the American marquee carries the awkward title of Street Fighter II: Turbo Champion Edition: Hyper Fighting).
- The character who calls himself "Error" in Zelda II the Adventure of Link is often thought to be named that way as a result of Blind Idiot Translation. Not only was that his actual name in the Japanese version, his friend's name "Bagu" is actually supposed to be "Bug" ("Bagu" being a transliteration of the word "Bug" from English to Japanese kana and back to romaji). Naturally "Error" and "Bug" are common terms for computer glitches, but the joke was lost on many western players.
- In the first two Metal Gear Solid games, Revolver Ocelot is known among his Russian comrades as "Shalashaska", which he claims to be a Russian slang word for "prison". The name "Shalashaska" is actually a mistranslation of the actual word "Sharashka" from Russian (Sharashka) to Japanese (シャラシャーシカ, Sharashaashika) and then from Japanese to English (Shalashaska).
- It should be noted that "Sharashka" is actually a slang word for a very specific type of prison - secret research and development labs where incarcerated scientists and engineers worked on scientific and technological projects for the state. They were in effect Gulag labour camps with intellectual labour instead of physical labour. All of them were closed after Stalin's death.
- In Metal Gear Solid 3, Volgin uses the phrase "Kuwabara, Kuwabara" several times. It's a Japanese expression equivalent to the English "knock on wood" that is believed to ward off lightning. At the end of the game, he refuses to say the phrase, instead mocking the storm, and is promptly struck by lightning.
- "La Li Lu Le Lo" are "missing" vowel sounds in Japanese; the point of the name is that it's not technically possible to write or say it in Hiragana (because there's no distinction between "L" and "R" and the string is usually "Ra Ri Ru Re Ro"), so the Patriots censor their name to something that can't be written down or spoken (or at least not anymore since E.E. claims that the Patriots' power is such that they could remove entire parts of the (Japanese) language without anyone noticing, meaning this could have been deliberately engineered). This is never really gone into in the dub (since English doesn't do that), so it just seems to be meaningless babble.
- A literal case in Dragon Quest II, where the character is accidentally directed to the wrong town in a translation error.
- Apparently, the translators in Tales of Destiny can't even count alphabets. A four-letter password in a dungeon was hinted to the player in the form of four numbers, yet in the localization two of them were one less than the correct number, resulting the hints being useless. Ultimately the player is left to consult a guide or randomly guess. The password is FATE, by the way.
- Myself Yourself—In Japanese, this would be Jibun Jibun, which is why its title in Japanese is Maiserufu Yuaserufu.
- In Xenosaga Episode One, after KOS-MOS ignores on of Shion's orders, Shion remarks that she doesn't recall programming her that way. This is actually a spin on a Japanese idiomatic phrase (Originally: I don't recall raising a daughter like that!) often uttered by mothers to stubborn daughters. This serves as an interesting piece of evidence towards the fact that Shion views KOS-MOS not as a weapon, but as her child. This is sadly lost in the English dub track, where it comes off as just another example of KOS-MOS' mysterious nature.
- Happened with several Meaningful Names in Wild ARMs 1 and its remake. For instance, "Zakk Vam Brace" was translated as "Jack Van Burace," completely losing all meaning of the scene where Garrett Stampede receives the title of "Vambrace," indicating that he can protect his Love Interest who has the title of "Sword Arm". Also happened with the "Fenril" Knights, "Alhazad," and "Zeikfried."
- Made worse in the remake where they translated his title as Gauntlet, showing that the translators totally missed the point of Jack's name the second time around.
- In many Japanese-developed fighting games and beat-'em-ups, it is not uncommon to have a character whose fighting style is listed as "martial arts". Examples includes Terry Bogard from the Fatal Fury series, Cody from Final Fight, Joe and Guile from the Street Fighter series, Ralf and Clark from The King of Fighters series, Axel Stone from the Streets of Rage series, and Sarah Bryant from the Virtua Fighter series, among others. This is because at one time the Japanese believed that the English term "martial arts" referred to a specific fighting style and not a general term for combative sports. When martial artist Benny Urquidez was asked what kind of fighting style he used, he stated that he was a "full-contact martial artist", which led the Japanese public to believe that "martial arts" was the name of his fighting style (in reality, Urquidez's main fighting style is full-contact karate). In the martial arts manga Shikakui Jungle (Squared Jungle), the term "martial arts" is defined as a "fighting style used by the American military" and many video game designers based their definition of "martial arts" on the manga's description. However, to anyone outside Japan, the term "martial arts" is meaningless as far as specific styles are concerned. How can a character have "martial arts" as his "martial arts"?
- Related: Marshall Law from Tekken has his fighting style listed as "martial arts". The intent was for it to be "Marshall Arts".
- In the Monster Rancher game and anime, a particularly evil Dragon is named 'Muu', which means darkness or emptiness. In English, he's named 'Moo'. Yes, after the sound a cow makes.
- In Wild ARMs 3 the wandering mercenary/treasure-hunter characters are known as "migratory-birds" (watari-dori) in the original Japanese. The translator realized that in English this sounds a little silly, rather than poetic, so he changed the title to "drifters". However, most of the dialog was translated fairly directly, leading to some rather out of place metaphors. (The "drifters" are constantly referring to "flapping their wings" and "flying to a new place".) In one egregious example near the beginning of the game, Virginia is warned by her uncle that "Unlike land, the open sky has no roads for you to follow," in response to her deciding to become a drifter.
- In Civilization 4 units speak their acknowledgements in the language corresponding to their nation. This is nice, and considerate of other cultures, not all of which are English. Would have been nicer if, say, the translators took into consideration that in Dutch the idiom "we're on it" becomes nothing more than a confirmation of positioning.
- Oh! That's must be why in Russian the unit says something meaning either "We are on the spot", or "We have arrived at the location already".
- The main villain of Final Fantasy X is called "Sin" in the English dub. In Japanese, it's called "Shin" - which means God, and carries even scarier overtones.
- In the Super Mario Bros. games Princess Peach's name in Japan is Pichi-Hime (ピチ姫) which is a pun on the word Pichi Pichi (ピチピチ) meaning lively, spunky, energetic.
- In BlazBlue, Hakumen's Badass Creed includes "Ware wa Jin" (ie. "I am the steel") which turns out to be a Stealth Pun because he is later revealed to be the future version of Jin Kisaragi, who travelled back in time.
- The Japanese Pokemon name Togechick was translated overseas as "Togetic." This would appear to be a case of someone using a popular but less precise romanization system and then not bothering to pay attention to what they were doing; トゲチック can be written in romaji either as "togetikku" or "togechikku", with "togechikku" being phonetically correct and "togetikku" matching the syllable group the 'chi' kana actually belongs to.
- Cave Story had a password that the player is given towards the end of the game. In the original Japanese, this was the characters for the game's original title (Doukutsu Monogatari) written backwards. The translator has admitted to being half-asleep when working on this section of the game, as he didn't notice and the backwards kana came out as "Litagano Motscoud," though one has to admit it makes it harder to guess without it being told to you (which does happens in the game). Nicalis's official translation fixes this by using "Yrots Evac".
- In La-Mulana, the name of Duracuets is supposed to be an abbreviation of Dragon Quest II.
- The Fan Sub of Homestar Runner (as seen here) can't possibly begin to translate as many of the puns and wordplay as the characters can make in the original language. Woolseyism helps a lot: for example, "hot Jones" becomes "heißen Jacob", a German coffee brand.
- The English home page of this very Wiki describes itself as being "a buttload more informal" than Wikipedia, a turn of phrase which is nearly impossible to translate into other languages (and indeed seems not to have been) because of all the implications about the speaker and slight differences between different words used in English for bottom.
- Paul and Storm's "The Captain's Wife's Lament" spawned a popular Machinima video using World of Warcraft, which in turn spawned one fan sub in Spanish. Unfortunately, the central pun of the song doesn't work in Spanish, so if you go by the sub it just becomes... a song about pirates being in unlikely places.
- Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian are similar enough that speakers can generally understand each other if they talk slowly. But Danish numerals sound really strange to Norwegians and Swedes, as lampshaded in this Scandinavia and The World strip where the author translates Danish numbers literally.
- Asterix has some of the best translations for all languages it has been translated, complete with new puns for each language. However, in recent Brazillian dvds of its old cartoons, the translator decided not to use the French to Portuguese translation, but rather a French to English to Portuguese translation. All of the puns were lost, and so 70% of the cartoons was lost with it.
- An episode of the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon from the '80s included a quest involving a hare. In English, the confusion between the words hair and hare are played up as the adventurers think they are looking for hair. In the version aired in Mexico, this was explained with one of the characters saying, "Oh, you mean the hair on the rabbit!"
- Any humor in the pun-filled episode of The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, "Pun Times with Punsie McHale", will be lost once translated and aired in a non-English speaking country. All that shall remain will be the Nightmare Fuel...
- The German dubs of The Simpsons and Futurama are infamous for their literal (some might say "plain bad") translation, including sometimes brand names or even band names, which led to a lot of stilted sounding lines of dialogue and rendered quite a few jokes incomprehensible. For example, in one episode a baseball cap is described as being "offensive". The German dub translates this with the identically sounding "offensiv", which however doesn't mean "insulting" in German, but rather "aggressive".
- Also, Sideshow Bob's "Die Bart Die" tattoo. Since the German word for "die" sounds nothing like the German word for "the", this became a non-sequitur as Bob explained its "true" meaning.
- The Italian dub of My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic. In particular the "Spiked punch" line from "Owl's Well That Ends Well", which was rendered as "Look, the punch is finished... or should we say Spikished?"
- In English, half eight means 08.30; in German 'half eight' means 07.30. In the dub of Bang Boom Bang, the translators got some instances right but then other instances wrong.
- This idiom, as well as "a quarter eight", varies in English dialects (say between Canadian, British, and American English) and with regional dialects as well. A good translator would be able to understand the idiom at both ends of translation, but local or regional variances may still cause confusion with an already ambiguous statement.
- English as spoken in much of America uses "quarter past", "half past" and "quarter till" due to this confusion. Examples would include 3:15, 3:30, and 3:45 being "quarter past 3," "half past 3," and "quarter till 4," respectively.
- South African English does the same, but with "quarter to" instead of "quarter till". However, occasionally you will hear some people mention something like "half three", which would mean 2:30, since it's halfway to 3.
- It also exist in Germany where in the North it is common to say "quarter until eight" and "quarter after eight", but in the South most people will say "three quarter eight" and "quarter nine". Northerners moving south always need some time to get used to it, while the other way round it is quite obvious.
- Generally speaking, the idiom with more things explicitly stated is easier to understand for people whose idiom has fewer words than the other way around—a part of why people whose native language marks more things than English does can have trouble with English.
- Written time can cause confusion as well - for instance, the examples above would all be considered to related to the morning for those parts of the world that use the 24-hour clock.
- Would be nice if it where that easy. But for example in Germany both "Fourteen thirty" and "half-three" are used interchangeably all the time. Usually it's not a problem since there are very few situations in which both early morning and late evening would make sense. A university class starting at "half eight", a flight going at "six", or a nature documentary being on TV at "eleven" would be ambigous, but it so rarely causes problems that people don't even think about it.
- Related to written time is numerical dates: for example, 12-01-09 to most of the Western world would mean the 12th of January 2009, while in most Eastern countries, it would mean the 9th of January 2012; and in the USA and a few other countries, it would be the 1st of December 2009.
- James Randi, when interviewed by a Japanese newspaper, jokingly mentioned that a person he once talked to performed a "Seen It All" Suicide. The newspaper took it literally.
- Sarcasm's not really big in much of East Asia — Japanese and Korean people often might as well be from Betelgeuse for all the ease they have spotting that kind of humor. Frequently when a Japanese person says something was "an American style joke", they mean it was a lie.
- Ever wonder why DVD players from different manufacturers do not always play discs as expected? The reason is because the DVD video specification was developed by an initially-Japanese consortium and published in a licensed manual printed in Japanese; early licensees of the DVD specification who were based outside of Japan had to translate from this manual to their native language when developing DVD players or commercial DVD-authoring software. Small parts of the manual that were incorrectly machine-translated unintentionally introduced minor incompatibilities among some of the early DVD players compared to those released later when an American-English specification manual was made available.
- They stole the giraffe's what now?
- Often, the word "disc" (in DVD context) is translated into "disk" in Swedish, even though the Swedish word for "disc" is "skiva." "Disk" means "dishes" (as in, what you use a dishwasher for.)
- "Translator, traitor."
- "It's continuing to move!"
- "Poi il film ha mentito!?"
- The correct translation of the word would be beleidigend. And Now You Know.