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Thursday, March 22, 2007 12:39 am

Garbled translations

Chances are, you’ll pass on the “crap in the grass”

Untitled Document The only D grade I got in college was in my French class.  I should have received an F, but the professor probably feared that if he failed me I might take his class again.      So I’m in no position to criticize anyone who’s trying to grapple with foreign-language translations. Therefore I say “blessings on you” to the Chinese government for trying to tidy up the many mistranslations that occur when Chinese meets English.      Their impetus is next year’s Summer Olympics, when half-a-million foreigners will arrive in their land, many of them English-speaking. Some of China’s public signs and menus already have English translations, but they’re a bit mangled. For example, they won’t get many visitors to “Racist Park” unless they find a better term to describe this theme park, which extols China’s minority cultures.
Also, few will want to have a plate of “Crap in the Grass” — until the menu is reworded to read, “Carp in the Grass.” Likewise, many will pause before  ordering “Pockmarked Grandma Chen’s Tofu.” Might be tasty, but let’s rethink the wording.      Then there’s a sign at a popular tourist site that offers contorted instructions: “Coming and going in turn and don’t stretch out your head to watch please.” Another sign warns of a wet floor: “The Slippery Are Very Crafty.” Actually, if that message were placed on the floors of the U.S. Capitol building, we Americans would understand it perfectly and be on guard against lurking lobbyists.
     Not only are the Chinese going all out to get its English right on signs and menus, they are also attempting to teach 300 English phrases to 48,000 taxi  drivers. Can you imagine trying to teach Chinese to American taxi drivers?
Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist, and author.
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