Please! Enough of the cute translations. Let's get back to conveying the real meaning | South China Morning Post
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  • Jan 28, 2015
  • Updated: 10:05am

Please! Enough of the cute translations. Let's get back to conveying the real meaning

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 May, 2010, 12:00am

People are always complaining about the city's declining English standards. But the lack of any standard when it comes to translations is even more worrying. For example, we have it on good authority - in fact from the highest authority - at the Food and Health Bureau that its staff use the most ridiculous English term for the legal requirement that any unsold live poultry must be killed at the end of each day in wet markets. In the English translation it's called, and I quote: 'Day day kill'.

It is being used in internal department e-mails and communications in this silly English form. Ok, it's kind of cute. It is a direct word-for-word translation of the policy in Chinese.

I blame this style of literal translation on legendary Taiwanese film director Ang Lee. Don't get me wrong, I am a big fan of Lee's movies. But the absurd English titles of some of his greatest films really started this trend for a style of literal translations that forget grammar, forget meaning and forget poetry. It's the idiot's way of translating, amusing a few years back when everyone started taking after Lee, but now it's getting tiresome. Hence you have 'Day day kill'.

It all started with Pushing Hands, which refers to a style of kung fu training. Eat Man Drink Woman is an idiom that really means people's livelihood by conveying a sense that people (men and women) need food and entertainment to be normal and happy. Men and women are always assumed to be plural, even though Chinese characters do not take a plural form. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon means seemingly ordinary people with hidden powers and abilities; it has nothing to do with animals.

By Lee's translation style, Google Translate on the Web is genius.

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