Chili Pete strikes again.

Our trip to France gave me a good opportunity to strengthen my French a little. I enjoy learning new words, slang words, like “la thune” (money) and “les potes” (friends). I’d already known those two particular words, but it was cool to hear them in the flow of other peoples’ casual conversations.

Speaking of French slang, right before we left for our trip, Callaghan had a dubious moment of discovery about his online (Facebook) identity. He was talking to one of his French clients on the phone and hung up with a strange look on his face. His expression fell somewhere between chagrin and despondence.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“I just realized something,” he said. “I was talking to Patrick at the bug shop, and this other guy Marc was there, and Patrick told him that if he’s looking for me, he can just look on Facebook for ‘Chili Pete’ – ” He paused.

“And?”

“He said ‘Chili Pete’,” he repeated, exaggerating the “Pete” part.

But he pronounced it the way it would be pronounced in French: “Pet.” Because “pète” is, in fact, a French slang word, and Patrick is French, so when he sees “pete,” of course he’s going to say it the French way. “Pet.” Even without the accent. Which means –

“Chili farts,” Callaghan grumbled. “‘Chili Pete’ means Chili farts in French!”

That would be “farts” as in the verb. Poor Callaghan… he looked like his world crumbled with the realization that his Facebook username is “Chili farts” in French, yet he laughed with me when I busted up laughing, so obviously he wasn’t too upset about it. And that was good, since I was the reason his name got changed to “Chili Pete” in the first place. (It’s a long story that some of you may remember… it started because of an inside joke about a mistake in an ophthalmologist’s notes.)

Just out of curiosity, I went to Babylon.com and plugged in “pete,” sans accent. I wanted to see if it would pick up the slang, and it did:

thatasianlookingchick.com-CaptureChiliPete4

Incidentally, “pete” was also a slang term I’d heard before, but I didn’t know it was spelled like Pete. Now I know!

Callaghan's Facebook banner.

Callaghan’s Facebook banner.

ALSO, while we’re looking at Chili Pete’s Facebook banner, I should just add that he loves taking pics of the word “bite” whenever he sees it, because it’s French slang for “dick.” Usually, the word “bite” appears on food packaging and advertisements in grocery stores, which creates rich hunting grounds for linguistic dick jokes.

On that note, now that I’ve somehow managed to touch on both dick and fart jokes in French, it’s time for me to turn my attention to work. Happy Friday, all! =)

On the Craft of Translation (or, Fun with Subtitles)

Up until recently, Callaghan knew what he was getting himself into when we’d sit down to watch a French movie with English subtitles. He knew it would be a matter of moments before I’d hit “pause” and turn to him, exasperated.

“He said blah-blah-blah, but the subtitles said that he said blabbity blah-blah,” I’d complain. “Why?”

Callaghan saw what I meant, and he didn’t know why, either.

 

Me and my three-ton French-English dictionary.

Me and my three-ton French-English dictionary.

 

It used to irritate me a lot when subtitles didn’t reflect the spoken word. It didn’t matter that most of the time, I understood what was being voiced, because that wasn’t the point. The point was hearing and understanding the spoken French while reading the written English and THAT’S TOTALLY NOT AT ALL WHAT THEY SAID.

I mean, okay, there’s a wide range. There are literal, word-for-word subtitles. There are ballpark translation subtitles, where the meaning is basically the same, but the words are different. And then there are subtitles that have nothing to do with what was being said in French, and we’re both just, like, Huh? What were they smoking when they wrote these subtitles? We’re talking completely out of left field subtitles.

But my attitude toward the matter of subtitles changed the other day when an interesting task crossed my desk at work. I was asked to help our German artist/professor write the English subtitles for the short film he’d made.  Suddenly, I was on the other end of the issue. I had to write the subtitles.

Herr Z. and I went through the dialog line by line, starting and stopping so he could tell me what had been said in German. He’d paraphrase what the guy said, then he’d ask, “How would you get that across in English?” Or, “How would you express this in English?”

And there it was… my duh moment.

NEWSFLASH TO SELF: “How would you get that across in English?” and “How would you express this in English?” are NOT the same questions as, “What is the literal translation of this sentence in English?”

Turns out that throughout the German footage, I offered very few instances of literal translation. At almost every turn, I wrote the subtitles based on how American English speakers would most typically say it. I got the meaning across accurately, but often not literally. Distinguishing between “accurate” and “literal” was the key… that, and the realization that translating is as much a creative process as it is a linguistic one.

There are a dozen or so literary prizes out there for translations; it would go to follow that, as in anything, some translators who write subtitles are more talented and skilled in their craft than others. A good translator can deftly exercise creative muscle to capture the meaning of words using other words in order to give the other-language-speaking viewer the essence of what’s being said.

I knew this academically before I helped to write English subtitles for German film clips, but I didn’t connect personally with the craft of translation until that moment. Until that moment, I was too busy hitting “pause” after every line in my angst-filled bursts of self-righteous That’s not what he said! Why doesn’t the subtitle say what he actually said?

I was indignant because I was trying to learn, but in focusing so hard on trying to improve my French, I was allowing myself to get confused by any deviation from the literal. I was missing the forest for the trees, so to speak.

I was also overlooking the simple and obvious fact that translation is an art, and, like any other art form, it’s as much about expression as exactness, if not more so. There are a myriad of ways to say any given thing, so if the literal translation isn’t as impactful as the original… if the mood, tone, energy, or emphasis of the original version starts to fall away in the literal translation… artistic adjustments can be made without losing the essence or integrity of the expression.

Furthermore, when writers of subtitles make artistic decisions in their translations, they can do so because there’s more to communication than the actual word. You have the idea, itself, and then you have disposition, emotion, psychological state, body language, etc., altogether creating a rich, multi-dimensional expression, a nuanced expression. I imagine there’s more room for authenticity to slip in when a holistic approach is taken, anyway, especially when there’s depth and complexity in the original writing.

Another aspect to consider is the fact that sometimes, there is no equivalent for an expression in the other language, which creates a whole new challenge for the writer of subtitles. There are some idioms and ways of saying things that are simply unique to their original language, so the best you can do is approximate. Again, doing this well requires talent and skill.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, it could be that some people are just poor translators, or they really were smoking something when they were writing the subtitles. These are certainly possibilities, too!

(Callaghan just remarked that he’d like to see a film in Quebecois with French subtitles, which threatened to start a whole new conversation about how pure Quebecois is virtually incomprehensible to the French, though “people in Quebec know how to speak more French to the French so we can at least kind of understand them.”)

At any rate, thanks to Herr Z and his German footage, I was able to gain a new perspective on the craft of translation and the art of writing subtitles. I’m guessing that the next time we watch a French movie, the subtitles won’t irritate me nearly as much as they have in the past.

On that note, Happy Friday, All!

Warning: This Post Contains a Fruitchouli-Scented Explosive and Dragons. And Football Players.

First things first: THE HOUSTON TEXANS, NFL Football! I’m ashamed of myself… I failed to include them in my post about Texas teams. Apologies, Texans!

There’s this saying in American English (here’s a short lesson in American slang for you non-Americans): When something’s really spectacularly, unbelievably, out-of-this-world awesome, you can say, “It’s the bomb” – just like that, really stressing “the bomb” part. This comparison of something super delightful to a destructive explosive in order to emphasize the extreme wonderfulness of the super delightful thing comprises fairly common slang here in the States.

Putting it simply, to say that something is “the bomb” is to give it the very highest praise.

Therefore, I shouldn’t have been surprised when I came across a bottle of perfume in the shape of a hand grenade (a small bomb that’s made to be hand-thrown), even though the perfume’s designer isn’t American. The bottle caught my eye nonetheless, and yes, it does now reside on my bathroom counter, and yes again, the fragrance it contains is, in my opinion, the bomb. Callaghan loves it, and I’ve received several enthusiastic compliments on it from strangers both on the bus and on the street.

 

"Exotic" by Jimmy Choo

“Exotic” by Jimmy Choo

 

I’m not 100% positive that the designer intended for the bottle to resemble a hand grenade. That’s just the first thing that comes to my mind when I look at it. It’s like the ink blot test of perfume bottles.

It was a gift, and I adore it.

“Exotic” is actually an eau de toilette, not a perfume, for those who are interested in the technicalities of things. It smells like a bunch of berries and vanilla and flowers and stuff thrown on top of patchouli, which I normally don’t like. So it’s basically a fuchsia glass fruitchouli-scented hand grenade sculpture, and it’s wonderful.

(Don’t worry. I’m not aspiring to a career as a fragrance reviewer.)

On another note of uncanny resemblances, Callaghan’s been remarking for a while now on the likeness between Ronnie James and Night Fury the Dragon in the film How to Train Your Dragon, so he made a NOT UNLIKE picture to demonstrate it:

 

Ronnie James on the left, Night Fury in "How to Train Your Dragon" on the right. NOT UNLIKE.

Ronnie James on the left, Night Fury in “How to Train Your Dragon” on the right. NOT UNLIKE.

 

…and another one:

 

Ronnie James on the left, Night Fury from How to Train Your Dragon on the right. NOT UNLIKE.

Ronnie James on the left, Night Fury from How to Train Your Dragon on the right. NOT UNLIKE.

 

And that is why one of Ronnie James’s nicknames is “Precious Angel Baby Bunny DRAGON.”

Happy Friday!