TV Tropes Monday: Blind Idiot Translation

Tweet of the Day: Writing Excuses 6.15: Writing Other Cultures


Languages are not easy. Mastering one can take a lifetime (or more) what with all the rules of grammar, ever changing slang and jargon. So it is no surprise when you come across it can go horribly wrong.

Enter the Blind Idiot Translation.:

A Blind Idiot Translation is a translation from one language to another where the translation is overly literal, grammatically incorrect, very awkward, or clearly misses what the word or phrase was supposed to be.

Of course this can happen to anyone, especially writers who want to use a foreign language (to them) to enhance the realism of their work and avoid the Aliens Speaking English device. Except that the language is foreign to the writer. They don’t speak it, don’t know anyone who does and have the flimsiest <cough> Babel Fish <cough> connection to said language. Most writers avoid this problem by merely using a few loan words or cuss words but leaving the rest in their native tongue.

But this problem is not reserve to foreign languages. It can also appear when an author fails to do the proper research and gets jargon or slang wrong or uses a word that has different meanings to speaker of the same language but of different nationalities.

So threat lightly my friends….


2 comments on “TV Tropes Monday: Blind Idiot Translation

  1. I do that kind of translation with what’s technically my mother tongue, Singhalese, since I was brought up speaking English. Once I was supposed to call the extended family in for dinner, so I went out on to the porch and said in Singhalese, “Does anyone want to eat?”

    Everyone just stared at me. Turned out I had actually said, “Do you want to eat anyone?”


    • That is more common than you think. It can even happen among people who speak the same language, as one word which is perfectly safe in one country is a horrible slur in another.

      Glad to have you back Marian. I missed your insightful commentary. 🙂


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