Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Ne translatez pas les languages

A friend posted this photo on facebook the other day:

A number of highly intelligent people then missed the point of the joke and began to comment on how bad the translations are. I think they're pretty good imitations of the languages in question, with one big error: the 'German' looks (unmistakably) more like Dutch in the second half of the sentence.

These are not intended to be translations, of course, or rather they're deliberately not accurate. They're just meant to amuse the English-speaking audience by including funny words to compound the humour of the warning in English ('avoid pouring on crotch area'). After all, we love nothing more than when a foreign language does something in a funny way (cf. Welsh popty-ping for 'microwave' or German Handy for 'mobile phone') so it's nice to imagine that these might be for real.

Let's begin with the French. The grammar is fine, as far as I know: you'd make an imperative in French with the negative and the 2nd person plural inflection, just as it's done there. The phrase dans l'area seems OK to me, too. The vocabulary used just isn't French, that's all. The verb for 'pour' should, I think (Google Translate helped) be verser so you'd have ne versez pas. I don't know if you'd also need a pronoun in there (don't pour it) or not. And, of course, no French person ever says ooh-la-la, but it's stereotypically French and referring to ones' crotch that way goes nicely with the French reputation for romance.

Next, the 'German'. This one caused a bit more controversy in the comment thread, because it very obviously isn't German. My German is less good than my French, but I'm pretty certain the word order here is wrong as well as the vocabulary and morphology. I think you would say literally 'drop you not...' rather than 'not drop...', which is what we appear to have here: nein is German for 'no'. Then the verb is obviously just English again, with droppen instead of pourez. I think they've simply selected words that have a combination of letters that resemble the language in question (so French has a word pour, for instance, but it doesn't look very Germanic).

Next, though, I think we've got a nice case of representing an accent in words that look like (or indeed exist in) the language. So ze haut kaffe does not mean 'the hot coffee' in German (haut apparently means 'skin', for instance, and the German for 'coffee' is in fact kaffee, which they could have used instead), but it looks German-ish and sounds like someone saying the hot coffee in (some kind of representation of) a German accent. It reminds me of this a bit. Notice also that the 'German' has an overt object with article, while the French has nothing at all ('don't drop _ on the crotch area' vs 'don't drop the hot coffee on the crotch area').

Then it most definitely switches to Dutch-looking words, if we hadn't already. Dutch word order is a little bit more familiar to English speakers as well, I think, although I know even less Dutch than I do German. Anyway, here we've got a dead giveaway for Dutch: that word oont. It just has a Dutch-like feel to it, though I don't know why (double 'o'? final 't'?). And then finally the lovely phrase, ze knakkers. Again, this is definitely Germanic and in fact Google Translate does give 'knackers' as the translation of this as a German word (it gives 'frankfurter cherry' if you tell it knakkers is Dutch!).

Good work, coffee-cup-humour-producing-person!


  1. 'Frankfurter cherry' sounds like a phrase that needs its own explanation...

  2. The French most certainly do say "oh-la-la" (meaning "oh my giddy aunt"), and often have trouble bringing the phrase to a close (oh-lalalalalalala-LAA!).

    1. Do they really? I was always told it was nothing but a stereotype. That's made my day.

  3. Here is the whole story from Moi...the owner of Granville's Coffee in Quesnel, British Columbia, Canada. Many years ago before stuff went viral on the internet my brother and I out of the blue came up with the Avoid Pouring on Crotch Area. We laughed and since we have a lot of crazy stuff going on in our coffee shop it had to go on the Java Jacket. Then at the printers the designer suggested a French version since Canada has two official languages and again out of the blue from my high-school French came the "Franglish"...then of course since I speak absolutely no German except maybe Nein the German version jumped into my head. It was just a local joke that has gone around the world quite a few times from postings from visitors. There you go...that's the whole story.

  4. I sure love this blog. words are so much fun