Overnegation … or not?

La surnégation, ça fait tourner la tête.

From Alternet (emphasis mine):

When the U.S. State Department released its annual report on human rights on Wednesday, countries like Iran, Pakistan and Zimbabwe scored very poorly, as they have for many years past.

But trumpeting these countries’ shoddy rights’ records was apparently no disincentive to prevent the United States from joining up with them earlier this year to ban two pioneering gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights groups from participating in human rights discussions at the United Nations.

I vote “yes”, but this kind of heaped-on negations always makes me want to take a slip of paper and start multiplying (-1)’s.

Do you want some Wood flower picks sea cucumber hoof with your Cowboy leg?

Il est incertain qu’on puisse encore appeler cela une traduction. Lien déconseillé aux asthmatiques capables de lire l’anglais.

What about Gold silver lotus root silk fries shrimp fucks? Carbon burns black bowel? Maybe Benumbed hot Huang fries belly silk? Or a Good to eat mountain?

It’s like Patrick Hall said: the worst-translated restaurant menu ever. (The link comes with a health warning — it can bring on an asthma attack if you are asthmatic.)

P.S.: One of the commenters provides valuable insight in how things can get that wrong:

Oh, this is so not made up. I’ve travelled to China for 20 years and this is TYPICAL, though I must admit it’s a classic example. If you read Chinese (as the previous commenter clearly doesn’t), you can see exactly how each of the errors was made. They’re all perfectly logical, even if the result is unintentionally hilarious.

Take #1313, “Benumbed hot vegetables fries fuck silk.” It should read “Hot and spicy garlic greens stir-fried with shredded dried tofu.” However, the mangled version above is not as mangled as it seems: it’s a literal word-by-word translation, with some cases where the translator chose the wrong one of two meanings of a word:

First two characters: “ma la” meaning hot and spicy, but literally “numbingly spicy” — it means a kind of Sichuan spice that mixes chilies with Sichuan peppercorn or prickly ash. The latter tends to numb the mouth. “Benumbed hot” is a decent, if ungrammatical, literal translation.

Next two: “jiu cai,” the top greens of a fragrant-flowering garlic. There’s no good English translation, so “vegetables” is just fine.

Next one: “chao,” meaning stir-fried, quite reasonably rendered as “fries” (should be “fried,” but that’s a distinction English makes and Chinese doesn’t).

Finally: “gan si” meaning shredded dried tofu, but literally translated as “dry silk.” The problem here is that the word “gan” means both “to dry” and “to do,” and the latter meaning has come to mean “to fuck.” Unfortunately, the recent proliferation of Colloquial English dictionaries in China means people choose the vulgar translation way too often, on the grounds that it’s colloquial. Last summer I was in a spiffy modern supermarket in Taiyuan whose dried-foods aisle was helpfully labeled “Assorted Fuck.” The word “si” meaning “silk floss” is used in cooking to refer to anything that’s been julienned — very thin pommes frites are sold as “potato silk,” for instance. The fact that it’s tofu is just understood (sheets of dried tofu shredded into julienne) — if it were dried anything else it would say so.

French brand name gender

Une note sur le genre grammatical des noms de marque. Qui n’explique pas pourquoi le Nutella est masculin.

Here’s a scan of the top of a yoghurt I ate this morning:

Le Nature yoghurt brand

The noun nature, like nearly all feminine nouns that came directly from Latin, has feminine gender: la nature. But we aren’t talking about nature as such here, but about a product name (of the supermarket chain Casino’s house brand). In this case, gender assignment works differently: the brand or product name’s gender is the same as the gender of the noun that denotes the generic product category:

  • generic noun: voiture (car) — feminine; thus: la Jaguar, la Twingo, la Taurus (even though jaguar, the name of the animal, is masculine and the other two car makes have masculine-looking endings)
  • generic noun: montre (watch) — feminine; thus: la Swatch, la Rolex
  • generic noun: fromage (cheese) — masculine; thus: le brie (even though la Brie, the region where brie is made, is feminine)

Yaourt being masculine, we get le Nature. Though I imagine this might confuse some elementary school children, especially given the typesetting, which is reminiscent of the handwriting taught to young pupils.

(I should add that there is a double sense in there: used attributively, nature means something like unflavoured or unadulterated. So un yaourt nature means an unflavoured yoghurt, which actually should be free of added sugar as well. This doesn’t only apply to yoghurt. Une crêpe nature is a pancake without topping, une brioche nature isn’t covered in sugar or chocolate bits, des pommes de terre nature are simply potatoes, raw or cooked, without anything else, like sour cream or cottage cheese.)

The system isn’t perfect: I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything but le/un Snickers, le/un Kitkat, le/un Twix, despite the generic term, barre chocolatée, having feminine gender.

And none of this explains why Nutella is masculine.

Some time ago, Kevin Marks told me about a strange little OS X application that comes with Apple Macs. It is called “Speak After Me”, and takes a bit of text, records the user speaking the text, cuts it up (the speech, not the user) into phonemes — at least that’s what the program calls […]

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Cinderella, vair or verre?

Les pantouffles de Cendrillon, sont-elles fait de verre (comme l’écrit Perrault) ou de vair, la fourrure de l’écureuil petit-gris, comme l’ont affirmé Balzac et Littré ? Wikipédia est assez exhaustive sur ce sujet…

On Language Log, Mark Liberman tackles the thorny question whether Cinderella’s slippers were made of glass (verre in Perrault’s French version, which Disney based their version on and thus re-popularised the fairy tale in the English-speaking world) or the fur of the grey squirrel (vair). The two terms are homophonous in French. Eggcorn or […]

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Le projet de loi sur le « trou analogique » imposerait une loi secrète

A contribution to the first edition of the Carnival of Blog Translation. Anglophones can read the original post, which is translated here: Analog Hole Bill Would Impose a Secret Law, on Ed Felten’s post Freedom to Tinker. The choice has been influenced by the DMCA-like bill currently under discussion in France.

  • 2006-02-28
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Ce billet est une contribution à la première édition du « Carnaval de la traduction » initié par Liz Henry. J’ai choisi de transposer dans un français j’espère à peu près compréhensible un billet du professeur Ed Felten de l’université de Princeton aux États-Unis. Son blog, Freedom to Tinker (cela donne « La liberté de […]

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On fuck and Marmite

Un agent de police anglais a dressé un PV de £80 (120€ à peu près) contre un jeune homme qui venait d’employer le mot fuck dans une conversation avec ses potes. Le porte-parole de la police compare l’attitude du public envers ce mot à l’amour ou la haine que les gens éprouvent pour le Marmite — une pâte à tartiner salée à base de levure de bière. Ce nom commercial est, bien entendu, un emprunt au français.

Via Bystander, a blogging English magistrate judge: A youth from Kent has been issued a £80 (about 117.139019€, if you ask Google) on-the-spot fine for using “the F-word”, as they put it. Here’s the BBC news report: Kurt Walker, 18, from Deal, Kent, said he would go to court rather than pay the fine […]

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From here to eternity

Comme me l’a fait remarquer mon ami Michel, certains photographes amateurs confondent eternity et infinity.

  • 2006-02-22
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My friend Michel Valdrighi has been browsing photography web sites. And, as he pointed out to me the other day, he’s found quite a few people who who set their lens focus (or extend their depth of field) to … eternity: Likewise, you will find that a greater depth-of-field (bigger f-stop number) will make everything from […]

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Who are you callin’ ungrammatical? — a good article by Jan Freeman in the Boston Globe. The topic is, you guessed it, whom. American Accent Undergoing Great Vowel Shift — an interview with the linguist William Labov by Robert Siegel on (US) National Public Radio. Via Mark Liberman at Language Log; he also reports on the […]

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The Belgian Google’s spelling problems

google.be thinks that incorrecta is a French word and that incorrectes is incorrect, when it isn’t.

And a tip to get Google to stop extending the search to inflected forms (plurals, past tenses etc.) of the words you enter: put them between quotation marks.

Via mes requêtes Google : On voit que google.be essaie de « corriger » incorrectes en incorrecta alors qu’incorrectes est bien correct. C’est d’ailleurs surprenant vu qu’il accepte phrase, langue et francaise. En dépit du fait que l’utilisateur ait choisi l’interface en anglais, le moteur de recherche doit donc bien penser qu’il s’agit de termes […]

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