The importance of good translation is most evident when you see it illuminated on a 50-foot billboard. Oh yes, these monstrosities of translations gone bad do exist. All it takes is a short stroll down the blur of activity on the streets of downtown Tokyo to see that what some would perceive as a top notch translation, is in fact a verbal misstep.
It could be as simple as a shifting a few good vowels around, to a full-scale annihilation of the native language. The most common errors often boil down to a simple misinterpretation. The thing is, knowing how to speak two languages is not the same thing as knowing how to translate them. Translation is a special skill that professionals work hard to develop.
A prefect and long standing example of when translations go wrong is still evident in Japan to this day.
Valentine’s Day has become an international celebration of hearts and flowers. And back in the 1950s Japan decided it was time to jump on the bandwagon.
But when chocolate companies began encouraging the people of Japan to start celebrating cupid’s big day, a mistranslation gave people the impression it was customary for men to be the sole recipients of sinful goodies. And so, on February 14, the women of Japan shower their men with chocolate hearts. But it doesn’t stop here.
In keeping with the tradition of “giri” or obligation, Japanese women are expected to give candy to all of male co-workers. The term for these chocolates is called “giri-choco,” but there is another, slightly more bitter variety, aptly named “cho-giri-choco” which literally translates to ultra-obligatory chocolate. These are the variation women give to the men in their lives that they don’t particularly like, resulting in all kinds of passive-aggressive chocolate-giving obligations.
So as you can see, understanding the finer points of one language to another can make all the difference to which direction sweet treats are headed in.