Monday, August 29, 2005

Screwy subtitles

In an earlier post, I wrote about the ever-present challenge that interpreters and translators face in needing to know the idioms and colloquialisms of both their source and target languages. I should also have included the necessity of being familiar with a wide range of cultural, commercial, and historical names and fixtures. Simply put: you can't translate what you don't understand.

I have such little time for watching television and movies that I feel compelled to multitask whenever I do it. Usually this involves doing household chores while I watch, as well as turning on foreign-language subtitles in hopes of picking up a new phrase or vocabulary word. Unfortunately, I've found that those who do subtitles for TV shows on DVD are fairly unqualified. Though the later seasons of "Sex and the City" had Spanish subtitles, they were so inaccurate that I decided not to waste the screen space or mental energy and turned them off. Now I'm addicted to "The West Wing," but it's not much better. Here are some examples:
  • In response to interrogation by a coworker, someone says, "Who are you, State Farm?" Referring, of course, to the insurance company, but it's translated as "Who are you, the state police?" A reasonable guess, but wrong.
  • A woman shows up at the building where she will begin work the next week: "I came here to get psyched." Translated as: "I had a psychological examination."
  • "Did you get a spot on Hollywood Squares?" becomes "...Hollywood Stars." Obviously the translator has never heard of the TV show.

I'm guessing this is the work of people who haven't lived long in the U.S., which surprises me because there certainly is no shortage of Spanish-English bilinguals who have. But I did learn a particularly charming expression amongst all these errors, which is "mi media naranja". Literally "my half orange," it's just a sweet (no pun intended) way of saying "my better half." In terms of learning, I guess it's a wash.

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