Translation is difficult. Failing to carry details from one language to another is all too easy. A term in one language may have no equivalent in another, or the associations might differ wildly. Rendering idioms literally often makes no sense whatsoever. Subtleties get dropped and grammatical correctness slides when things get complex.
Puns, figurative speech, connotations and cultural references: they all create problems.
The risk for this is especially high when translating from one's native language into a second language, which is why most professionals translate into their own language.
Faced with this problem, translators have come up with various tactics. In extremes, some do a Gag Dub, or a Woolseyism. Some even hang a Lampshade on the untranslatable term. A skilled translator might need to be almost as creative as the original writer in creating a satisfying parallel text. And when the translator is really excellent, we don't notice their work at all.
When the original language of a film is mentioned in the film itself (for example, “Do you speak English?” in an American Hollywood film), translators, depending on country, might replace it with the phrase “our language”. Countries with the opposite conventions include at least Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands, where nothing outside little children's and "family" films gets dubbed.
When done with this in fansubs, some often place a little note explaining the context of the pun or cultural reference. Other translations put a note explaining it. This often happens if the translator decides to Translate the Loanwords Too.
For the film of the same name, see Lost in Translation.
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Anime and Manga
In episode 3 of Lucky Star, Konata, after listening to an explanation about fraternal twins being from different eggs, makes a joke to the effect of "Speaking of eggs and sausages, I'm getting hungry!" The joke comes from the fact that the Japanese word for fraternal twins (souseiji) sounds almost identical to the Japanese pronunciation of the English word "sausage" (so-se-ji). Translators apparently couldn't find a way to Woolsey in a better joke. (Fortunately the joke is explained in the "Liner Notes" pamphlet included with the DVD.)
Baam's meaningful name (it means Night) and it's homonymity to chestnut in Korean can't be properly translated, so several puns and metaphors need translator notes to explain them.
In episode 17 of Maid-Sama!: "Your enemies aren't your only opponents!"
In Gundam Wing, one factor that made some fans decide Relena was an idiot was her seemingly random declaration that Heero was "the prince of the stars"; the translators didn't realize that this is the Japanese title for The Little Prince, which makes Relena's statement make a lot more sense (as Heero came to Earth from space on a "shooting star").
Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo parodies this during "Bobobo theater", when the ridiculously long string of Japanese characters are read as simple words like "Youth", with Beauty complaining about it.
A fire-fighting cyborg that was a shoutout to Tokkyuu Shirei Solbrain used a monkey brain, which was afraid of fire. "Sol" in Japanese would be written "soru", while monkey is "saru".
A somewhat wacky bit of odd translation happened in a different arc of FKC. In a wrestling match, Futaba is forced to fight a genetically engineered giant flytrap. In the first chapter, the flytrap was called Dancer II. In the second, they reverted to a direct transliteration of its name, Odori II, rather than translating it as Dancer. Thus revealing the pun.
In a French fan sub of Rozen Maiden, it became very obvious the sub was based off an english sub when Kanaria said she was going to play a requiem "pour la sorciere perdue" (for the witch that was lost), which is a mistranslation of what she said in the English sub: That which was lost.
Yugioh GX, the character Chazz had a nickname and catchphrase inspired by some rather complex wordplay - his nickname was "Manjoume Sanda" in the Japanese version, Sanda meaning "thunder" and being a pun on "Manjoume-san da", meaning "It's Manjoume-san," ergo Manjoume is demanding people refer to him with a respectful honorific. His catchphrase incorporates this into a chant involving the Japanese words for the numbers ten, one hundred, one thousand, and ten thousand. All of this was left out when 4Kids dubbed the show, and Chazz's catchphrase is a much less catchy and meaningful "Chazz it up."
The closed captioning for the English dub of Spirited Away labels Yubaba's baby's rat-form's "chu" (Japanese onomatopoeia for a mouse's squeak) noises as "[sneezes]".
The original run of Urusei Yatsura DVDs in the US included pamphlets full of explanations on the puns involved in the episodes on the disc they were included with, rather than translators attempting to localize the translations.
Creator/Animeigo's dub of the series also used the title Those Obnoxious Aliens to translate the pun of the Japanese title. "Those Obnoxious Visitors" would've made a better localized title, considering the double meaning of the word "Visitor".
Speaking of AnimEigo, in Green vs. Red, a Mythology Gag involves one Lupin-impersonator spray-painting "Rupan" on a wall, and another asking, "Isn't that wrong?" This is a reference to the Market-Based Title "Rupan" that AnimEigo used on its English-language Lupin III releases. This is an example of an invertedLost in Translation, given that relatively few Japanese viewers would catch the reference.
In Cardcaptor Sakura, upon first being referred to by the name, Kero-chan complains that it sounds like a frog's name. Makes perfect sense in Japanese, where "Kero" is the onomatopoeia for a frog noise, and a common cutesy way to refer to an animal is to append "-chan" to the sound it makes. In English, it's a non sequitur without further explanation.
One reason the Akazukin Chacha anime and manga never made it to the US is that they're absolutely stuffed with Visual Puns that are completely untranslatable and need to be explained in English.
This slightly glaring example from the Love Hina manga. The Christmas themed banners on the bottom right panel say "Satan" instead of "Santa".
In one episode of Sailor Moon, there is a shot of several boxes; one of them reads "天地無用" (tenchi muyo). Some fansubs interpret this as a shoutout to Tenchi Muyo!; the ADV "uncut subs" translate it as "no need for heaven and earth". "天地無用" is actually extremely common to see on boxes, and in that context means "This Side Up".
Sailor Moon in general can be very tricky to translate due to the amount of puns and cultural references used. Certain jokes (such as Minako's warped proverbs) also stop making sense when translated literally.
There's also the small matter of the main character's name. Usagi means 'rabbit', and in Japan, the Man in the Moon is a rabbit, so her name has a bit of moon-based wordplay. Unfortunately, that joke doesn't translate, and no Western parents would name their child Bunny. The English dub team threw the whole thing out and renamed her Serena, which is a normal name that evokes the moon. Chibi-Usa became Rini, a cutesy diminuitive form of Serena.
A great deal of the humor in the American Funimation dub of Shin-chan comes from lampshading this trope.
The name of Vegetto (ベジット, Bejitto), Goku and Vegeta's combined form in Dragon Ball, comes from a portmanteau of Vegeta's name (ベジータ, Bejiita) with Goku's Saiyan birth name of Kakarotto (カカロット). However, the name "Kakarotto" is romanized as "Kakarrot" in the Funimation dub of the anime, while "Vegetto" for some reason became "Vegito", rendering his name meaningless. The Viz translation of the manga avoided this problem by renaming "Vegetto" into "Vegerot".
In a more mild example, there's a point in the original Dragon Ball where Chi-Chi is trying to talk to Goku about their engagement (kon'yaku). Goku misunderstands, assuming she wants to talk about food (konnyaku). This joke doesn't really translate into English, so the English version had Chi-Chi wanting to talk about their impending marriage, and Goku assuming that "marriage" was some kind of exotic food. Luckily for the translators, this fitsthecharacter to a T. In fact, this joke is actually a well observed trope.
There's also that all of Dr. Gero's creations were called "androids", even though 17 and 18 were cyborgs and Cell was organic. This is because the Japanese word used, Jinzōningen, has a more broad definition as any sort of Artificial Human.
In general, a lot of characters in the series have (usually food-based) puns in their names that aren't translated.
All of Bulma's family have underwear-related names. The dub keeps Trunks and Dr. Brief. Bulma is translated from Buruma ("Bloomers") and Bulla from Bura ("Bra").
The Ginyu Force has dairy-related names.
Jeice = Jīsu ("Cheese") - translated in the manga as "Jheese"
Burter = Bāta (Scrambled version of "Butter") - translated in the manga as "Butta"
Recoome = Rikūmu (From Kurīmu - "Cream") - translated in the manga as "Reacoome"
Guldo = Gurudo (From Yōguruto - "Yogurt") - translated in the manga as "Gurd"
Ginyu = Ginyū (From Gyunyu - "Milk")
The Nameks have snail-related names. "Nail" and "Cargo" translated well, but there's also Dende (from Denden-mushi - "Snail") and Moori (from Kattatsumuuri - also "Snail").
Chi-Chi = Udder/milk
Krillin = Kuririn = kuri ("chestnut") + shōrin ("Shaolin"). The chestnut reference is retained with his daughter (Marron).
Launch = Ranchi ("Lunch")
I Will Definitely Protect You is an unusual example. The original phrase zettai ni mamoru is almost always translated as I Will Definitely Protect You. The awkwardness of the phrase sounds like someone couldn't be bothered to translate it appropriately for the context, since the depth of its meaning is very contextual. However, if the translation took into account the context, it would entirely lose the humor of its use, which is almost always based on a misunderstanding of the context in which it's used. Then to get even more meta, it's probably also entirely unintentional that the original context is missed and probably really is just lazy translation.
An episode of Samurai Champloo has the protagonists caught in the middle of a conflict between two yakuza families, and Jin and Mugen each ends up as a bodyguard of separate family. What's lost in translation is that the word used for bodyguard is yojimbo, and that film is what the episode is giving a Shout-Out too.
Debatable whether or not this was intended, but in Case Closed / Detective Conan, there is an episode in which Ran Mouri / Rachel Moore was called to model for a fashion designer, partly to serve as an alibi and to set up a murder. Upon finding out that Ran / Rachel's father was a detective, the fashion designer recoiled. Apparently, she didn't realize that Ran Mouri was related to Kogoro Mouri, a detective who was gaining local fame. To westerners, this would seem a little odd, given that not everyone would know many people with the surname, "Mouri", but the English localization had changed their surname to the more recognizable, "Moore". With all common surnames, it wouldn't be unlikely to assume a Rachel Moore / Ran Mouri is unrelated to a semi-famous one.
Some of the cases in general are lost in translation. Some cases can only be solved by realizing something about a common Japanese game, and the Japanese language is often used as codes. Many of the codes have the Japanese pronunciation written, followed up by "which means", but some of the references to games that help solve a case are nearly impossible.
Specifically, one case is proven by a lighter being placed in a specific position on a mat that matches a piece in Shogi, a Japanese game.
Another case is solved by the suspect saying he was at a Pachinko parlor late at night, which is disproven when Conan brings up that there's a law stating that Pachinko parlors can't stay open that late. How is someone from another country automatically supposed to know that?
Another, several-parter case involving a serial murderer had the fact that all the victims played Mahjong together a lot be important. Translating this case resulted in lines such as "Going to the doctor" and similar, which make no sense to anyone - in the Japanese version, it would make sense since the Japanese original sentences were apparently misheard things you say while playing Mahjong. Exactly how anyone who doesn't have the original text in front of him and knows a lot about Mahjong is just beyond them.
Aoyama Gosho actually knew this trope would happen a lot when he heard that Detective Conan would be translated into different languages. He apparently told them "Good Luck", knowing how many clues he made that were connected to Japanese sayings, mythology or culture that people without Japanese knowledge would find incredibly difficult to figure out.
You can't blame them for not trying to localize this joke, but at one point, Kuwabara says "A mulberry is a tree, and Kuwabara is a man!" The pun that would be virtually untranslatable is that the word "kuwabara" means "mulberry tree." In the English translation, it just comes across as a bizarre non sequitur on Kuwabara's part. (Which actually fits his character pretty well.) The line in the original Japanese was "Just as a cherry blossom is a flower among flowers, Kuwabara is a man among men." They changed it in the dub specifically for the BilingualStealth Pun.
One other example of a common way to dodge around this trope/localize it comes when Itsuki recalls how he got Sensui to spare his life when the latter was a Spirit Detective. Sensui asks Itsuki if he had any last regrets, he regretted that he couldn't see Jun Togawa on a show the next day. Obviously, the chances of anyone outside of Japan knowing who this person is would be rather slim, so he merely said he had a TV show he wanted to watch. The Shonen Jump translation left mention of Jun Togawa in, with a side note explaining who that person was. The Japanese version of the animeleft out Jun Togawa as well.
The stock phrase This Is Unforgivable suffers from this. The Japanese word yurusanai doesn't just mean "to not forgive"; it also means "to not allow". In quite a few cases, "I won't stand for this" works better than "This is unforgivable" (similarly, "I won't stand for anyone doing X" almost always sounds better than "I won't forgive anyone who does X"). Many, many subbers don't realize this, leading to lots of awkward translations.
The One Piece character Edward Newgate's nickname, Shirohige, is usually translated as "Whitebeard", which gets across the reference to the real pirate often called Blackbeard, but seems like a non sequitir in that "Whitebeard" does not have a beard, but a mustache. As it turns out the word "hige" just means any sort of facial hair.
There was a scene in the second "Urusei Yatsura" movie in which Ataru is getting a wish granted. In English his words are translated as "Wa-water. No! Water. It's just water." As the room fills with water, which makes no sense. In Japanese, however "Mimizu" is earthworms and "Mizu" is water, which helps explain his sudden panic.
One Piece uses a similar joke when eight year old Nico Robin first meets Jaguar D. Saul. The Viz translation just had Robin repeat "Wa-water?" in confusion.
Castle in the Sky had "Laputa" removed from it not because it was meaningless in other languages, but because "Laputa" looks like "La Puta", which, to people familiar with the Spanish Language, means "The Whore." Considering it's a pretty family friendly movie...you can tell leaving it intact probably wouldn't have been a good idea, so the localization team thankfully changed it. ("Laputa" was taken from Gulliver's Travels, it's unknown if other interpretations dealing with the subject had this problem too)
Gulliver's Travels was originally a satire, so the hidden meaning may have been intentional, which would mean the actual loss in translation was in the writing of Castle in the Sky itself.
The Sengoku Basara franchise suffers from this to an extent, mostly due to the characters' different speech patterns carrying implications that are difficult to reproduce in English. But the anime has one specific instance: in the first episode Date "One-Eyed Dragon" Masamune says "There's more to the One-Eyed Dragon than just show." In Japanese this carries an untranslatable pun on Masamune's surname, "Date", and the word "date" which means "showy" (and which was historically coined for Masamune). You see?
The English translation of "Fullmetal Alchemist" created a very-delayed-reaction translation problem by not literally translating Hagane no Renkinjutsuhi as "Alchemist of Steel" when the epigram at the very start of the manga ("A lesson without pain is meaningless, for you cannot gain something without sacrificing something else in return") was finally completed at the end of the series nine years later ("but once you have overcome it and made it your own...you will gain an irreplaceable fullmetal heart"), as "heart of steel" would make more sense.
The English dub of Brotherhood rectified this by saying "...a heart made fullmetal" instead.
In 20th Century Boys, the euphemism that the Friendship cult uses for killing people is the Japanese verb that means to break up a friendship. Since there's no single verb for that in English (at least until "unfriend" came along), they simply use "banish" instead.
One is concerning Yotsuba explaining what her dad's job is. In the ADV translation, Yotsuba thinks he's a 'trainspotter' when she's suppose to say 'translator'. The joke is that the word 'honyakuka' means translator and that Yotsuba said 'konnyakuya', a store that sells a type of gelatin-like cake made from a yam-like plant or the proprietor thereof. In a later chapter, Fuuka sounds like she was making a non-sequiter about Yotsuba's dad's konnyaku business being a trade secret when the reality is it's a callback to Yotsuba's earlier misunderstanding.
Another is when Jumbo refers to Torako as a 'she' when he was looking at her photos of the hot air balloon event. This is problematic because the running gag is that Jumbo has never met Torako before and assumes that she might be Asagi's boyfriend. This can be explained by the fact that the Japanese language does not have words to indicate another person's gender (as in,no words like 'he' or 'she').
A Filler episode of Full Metal Panic! has Sosuke, Kaname, and their school friends go to some war games at the local military base, thanks to their classmate Shinji Kazama's father being a pencil-pusher there. The head of the Opposing Sports Team is a parody/Homage to Gundam's Char Aznable, something which the ADV team either missed or didn't bother translating. In particular, at one point he starts giving one of Char's famous quotes ("Nobody likes to admit to the mistakes caused by their youth and inexperience"), but both the sub and dub render his line as something entirely different.
Sucking up the baby Lobzillas in Kirby 3D makes Kirby turn into Kabuki Kirby. (rather than Ice Kirby, as his powers would suggest) This seems like a non-sequitur in the English, especially when Tiff claims that Kabuki Kirby is a magical ninja. It makes more sense in Japanese. Kabuki Kirby is actually a kabuki actor, and Lobzilla's Japanese name is Ebizou, which means "Shrimp Elephant" — an apt description of the creature — but also sounds like a notable Kabuki stage name.
It can happen with visual puns as well. Wobbuffet, Jesse's Wobbuffet and its constantly interrupting everything, in particular, was inspired by a Japanese comedian. Non-Japanese Pokémon fans were completely lost on it.
It would have been semi-intelligible (though losing its full meaning) if Wobbuffet kept a name that sounded like a situationally-appropriate conversational phrase, like in the Japanese. (Said phrase was part of said comedian's well-known Catch Phrase.)
In one episode, May tries to have her Torchic use Hinoko (Ember) but accidentally says Kinoko (Mushroom) instead due to the similar sounds. This joke wouldn't make any sense in English, so the dub has her say Amber instead of Ember. Despite this, the thought bubble of a mushroom still appears when Max corrects her.
Haruhi Suzumiya's Disappearance movie has a scene where Kyon is standing next to Yuki. He says her name because it's starting to snow, and "yuki" means "snow." As it is, the line would be meaningless in English; so the dub somewhat awkwardly converts it to "Yuki...means 'snow,' doesn't it?", and the sub has an equally awkward annotation to point out the double meaning.
The manga Mangirl. The title is supposed to be a portmanteau of "manga" and "girl" because it's about girls making a manga magazine. Unfortunately, an English-speaker tends to see the first word as "man" instead of "manga" and assume that the story is about something very different.
Episode 8 of Puella Magi Madoka Magica ends with Kyubey revealing that magical girls become witches. The exact line in the English dub is, "On this planet, you call females who have yet to become adults 'girls'. It makes sense then, since you'll eventually become witches, you should be called 'magical girls'". This makes little sense in English. Girl is 少女 (shōjo) and magical girl is 魔法少女 (mahō shōjo). 魔 (ma) actually means "devil". This is also the first character of the word 魔女 (majo), meaning witch.
In A Certain Magical Index, Accelerator's name is written down using the kanji for "One-Way Street" (一方通行). Accelerator makes a pun in one of his fights off of this, saying "The situation from here on is a one-way street!" The soundtrack also names his theme song as "One-Way Street". This is lost on English viewers, though fortunately it still comes off as a fairly badass line regardless.
An episode/chapter of Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei has most of the girls visit Nozomu at his ancestral home, but Nami doesn't make it on time, because she's "normal." Nami's name's literal meaning is 'normal/ordinary', but more than that, 'normal' is the Japanese equivalent of a 'local' train. That is, a train that stops at every small individual station on the route, rather than skipping directly to larger hubs for commuters like the 'express' trains do.
Digimon Fusion made OmegaShoutmon into OmniShoutmon, making the greek symbol for "omega" appearing on the Xros Loader a bit pointless.
The Mona Lisa lacks the double meaning of its Italian name "La Gioconda." "Gioconda" translates to "cheery," in reference to the famous Mona Lisa Smile, and doubles as a pun on the surname of the sitter, Lisa del Giocondo.
Relatedly, the title of Marcel Duchamp's readymade L.H.O.O.Q.◊ is a pun. Reading the letters in French "Elle a chaud au cul" sounds like either "She has a hot ass" ("hot" like "high temperature", not like "sexy") or "there is fire down below". "Elle a chaud au cul" is also a slang phrase which means "she is really horny".
An in-universe example from Savage: Savage, under a pseudonym, is leading a crack team of terrorists disguised as Volgans to severely damage the Large Hadron Collider. One of his team, whose Russian is rather spotty, is approached by a Volgan guard who compliments him on his very nice watch, and asks if he can get any more. Our guy manages to interpret this as a sexual advance, panics, and opens shoots the guard. And that's only the start of the problems.
The Indonesian version of Astérix kept the original French names of the Gaulish villagers instead of translating it, rendering the Punny Names inherent in the series lost.
There's stuff that gets lost in many versions too, like how some characters are caricatures of French-specific celebrities, and various French regional stereotypes - for instance, Asterix in Corsica is well recognised as a thorny one to translate since the whole section plays on Corsican stereotypes, and outside of France, no-one knows anything about Corsica except for that Napoleon was born there. The English version is therefore forced to replace more cryptic regional references with jokes about Napoleon that were not in the original.
Then there's Asterix and the Banquet, where a lot of the jokes are wordplay based on how various French regional accents pronounce certain things...
The pun in the title of Asterix Le combat des chefs (literally - the fight of chiefs) is utterly lost in English, where it's called Asterix and the Big Fight. This story is the Boxing Episode, and 'combat des chefs' is the French phrase referring to an important, spectacular upcoming match between two boxers - the story itself has the conceit that there is a Gaulish custom under which two literal Chiefs must fight each other. The English version just explains that the custom is called "The Big Fight", but the joke that makes it make sense is lost, so it just comes across as a random anachronism for the sake of absurdity.
There's a weird gag in one story where Asterix and Obelix get their chariot serviced by a funny-looking little Gaulish warrior drawn in a different art style - the mascot of a French petrol station chain. English editions (though not the digitally-coloured reprint) had him redrawn as the Michelin Man, which preserves the basic gag, but not the context - it makes sense for a Gaulish warrior to have a job in Gaul, but a small, fat homunculus made of rubber tyres? To make it more annoying the English dialogue is altered to have Obelix make a catty comment about his weight ('his spare tire!'), which is retained in editions which shift the art back. Most other translations kept the original art, and changed the characters' dialogue into remarks about how odd the man looked, turning it into surreal humour.
The Italian translation for the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie was titled "La Maledizione Della Prima Luna" ("The Curse of the First Moon"), which is completely unrelated to the plot. Particularly ominous because the Black Pearl is not just some random cursed piece of jewelry, but an actual cursed ship.
Some Finnish subtitles for Star Wars translated a Stormtrooper's line "Maybe it's another drill" as "Ehkä se on pora". Technically, it's a pretty correct translation - except that "pora" is the Finnish word for the hole-making tool. This (Finnish) site showcases some other translation bloopers from the film.
Older or cheaply subtitled Bollywood movies often forgot subtitling the songs. As these often introduce, develop and resolve plot points or whole subplots, viewers not fluent in Hindi are left wondering just why there is suddenly a happily ever after.
Appropriately enough, this trope is played with several times in the film Lost in Translation. The director of a TV ad says a minute's worth of Japanese to Bob, which the translator renders in English as two sentences. The scene is especially hilarious if you find out what the director really says; the translation is technically correct, but a lot of emotional and cultural context is lost.
also a "meta" example: The movie was released in Israel with the title "Lost in Tokyo". So the meaning of the title Lost In Translation was, well, lost in translation.
Intentionally used in the movie Whisper of the Heart with Shizuku's various attempts to translate the song Country Roads into Japanese, a task she finds especially difficult since she's a city girl without any notion of what life in her own countryside is like. (She translates "Mountain Mama" to "My mother the mountain" at one point) Eventually she decides to ditch the country homecoming theme entirely and write something new that speaks from her own heart.
In the movie The Great Raid, the "translated" Filipino lines makes sense in the context of the scene. Several, however, were clearly erroneous. One of the more poignant examples was a Filipino driver asking for payment being subtitled as him saying that there was only limited room for refugees in the vehicle.
In the Norwegian subtitles for Independence Day "Oh my god, there's nothing left" is translated as "Oh my god, there's nothing to the left"
Used in-universe in Charlie Wilson's War, when Gust tries to explain the animosity between Tajiks and Pashtuns by telling a derogatory Pashtu joke. Nobody laughs.
Gust Avrokatos: "Well, they say when a Tajik wants to make love to a woman, his first choice is always a Pashtun man. [beat] It's funnier in the original Pashtu."
In the Italian version of Back to the Future, for some reason unknown to mankind the Flux Capacitor got mistranslated as "flusso canalizzatore", which roughly means "channeling flux" and has almost nothing to do with the original name; however, in the third movie, Doc's letter talks about the broken "condensatore di flusso", which is an exact translation of "flux capacitor"; the Italian audience was never able to understand what this "condensatore di flusso" was and why would it be of any importance.
The (European) Spanish version names it "condensador de fluzo" in every moment despite fluzo meaning absolutely nothing in Spanish. Many people that saw the movies as children feel a bit disappointed when they realize the mythical, quasi-magical "condensador de fluzo" was just a "condensador de flujo" or flux capacitor.
The Flux Capacitor seems to be a Problem in many a translation. In the German version it was called "Fluxkompensator" (Flux Compensator), where the right translation would've been all of two letters different: "Fluxkondensator"
Translators for "official" dubs and subs don't translate by ear, but from a script. So what if the script sent for international dubs somehow had a typo every time, and some translators chose to keep it without realizing it wasn't on the actual dialogue? (That, or either the German or Spanish version was based on the other.)
In the first film, Marty comments that he knows the plot line of an old Jackie Gleason film. When asked how, as it's a new show, he explains he saw it on a re-run. When dubbed in Italian - as Italy in the 80s had not taken up the practice of re-running old shows - he instead said that he had seen it on a videocasette.
Used for laughs in the Russian movie The Diamond Arm (Brilliantovaya ruka). The (supposedly) Turkish speech of Istanbul residents is dubbed until they start to get...emotional. Then the interpreter explains that "Cue untranslatable play on words based on traditional idiomatic expressions."
Another Norwegian example; in the dub of The Lion King "meerkat" is translated to "marekatt", the Norwegian word for Guenon. So Timon was essentially called a monkey until the release of the third movie...
Italy has an odd habit of translating English titles into... English in some cases; the Gwyneth Paltrow movie Hush had its title translated into... Obsession.
Sometimes seen in France too. It's a mid-way between Gratuitous English (because everyone knows English is cool) and a title that people actually understand (via using English words that originated in... French).
Yet another Norwegian example; the translated title of the second Transformers movie, Revenge of the Fallen, was inexplicably translated into Transformers: The Defeated Strike Back (with Defeated being plural, rather than the singular Fallen).
Ditto the Swedish version; Transformers: De Besegrades Hämnd (Transformers: Revenge Of The Defeated)
The Danish version decided that "The Fallen" was plural, thus sorta assuming that these "fallen" were a group, instead of the name of the film's Big Bad
The Finnish title, Transformers: Kaatuneiden Kosto, is also implying that there are multiple "fallen".
And, what's surprising, in Polish version too - they got the word "Fallen" right, but plural instead of singular: ''Transformers: Zemsta Upad³ych" (should be "Zemsta Upad³ego").
The Russian version also assumed "the Fallen" applied to multiple fallen characters and named the movie Месть падших instead of the singular (and capitalized) "Падшего". The character Fallen was simply transliterated as "Фолен", losing all meaning.
The Mexican Spanish got the name Transformers: La venganza de los caídos; which as you may guess is plural, so yeah pretty much everyone thought it was about the Decepticons and not that other guy.
Fallen is both singular and plural and can sometimes mean defeated. Having seen this movie from start to finish, it's understandabke how translators would miss the identity of 'the fallen' as "In June 2010, Michael Bay officially apologized for the film and promised to make the third one better."
The Swedish subtitles for the Bond movie "A View to a Kill" contains a real gem. As the bad guys are flying in their blimp over San Francisco (with the obligatory view of the Golden Gate bridge) they comment: "What a view." "To a kill." In the Swedish subtitles it goes: "What a view." "Yeah, Tokyo."
Italian titles of foreign movies sometimes get either way too literal (the Italian title of Vertigo is La Donna Che Visse Due Volte, The Woman Who Lived Twice) or misleading; The Evil Dead is called La Casa (The House), the Prom Night movies (the original and the remake) are called Non Entrate In Quella Casa (Don't Go Into That House, knockoff of the terrible Italian title for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), Non Aprite Quella Porta, Don't Open That Door), despite there not being any dangerous house in the movie, and Che La Fine Abbia Inizio (Let The End Begin). And these are just a few examples! But the most annoying is the trend started with the italian title of Runaway Bride, Se Scappi Ti Sposo (If You Run Away I'll Marry You) which brought many variations of If You ___I/I'll ____ You slapped on as titles, including the egregious case of titling Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindSe Mi Lasci Ti Cancello (If You Leave Me I'll Erase You).
In Mexico, the movie Outlander, for some incomprehensible reason has been titled La Tierra Media y El Tesoro del Dragon Solitario (Middle Earth and the Treasure of the Lonely Dragon), there seems to have been to translation attempt going on at all for the title, which could have easily been translated as Extranjero.
In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in Malaysia, the part where Quirrell bursts in and announces "THERE'S A TROLL IN THE DUNGEON!" has "troll" translated in the Malay subtitles as "orang kerdil" - "tiny person".
Return of the Living Dead falls victim to this, as the funniest line in the movie ("You mean the movie lied!?", spoken in shock by Frank after finding out that Removing the Head or Destroying the Brain doesn't kill the zombies) is translated in the Italian dub as "Continua a muoversi!"note "It's continuing to move!" Frank's mouth moved enough in that one line for a literal translationnote "Poi il film ha mentito!?" to fit almost perfectly.
Pan's Labyrinth runs into this in an early scene. When the Captain welcomes Ofelia and her pregnant mother to his villa, he greets them with "bienvenidos." This instantly tells the Spanish-speaking audience who he's really greeting, since normally when greeting a group of women one would say "bienvenidas." Unfortunately, since both words mean "welcome," the implications couldn't be communicated through the subtitles. The director was aware of this, and the Captain checks Carmen's pregnant belly before greeting them.
In Frozen, one of the lines in "Love is an Open Door" is "We finish each other's - sandwiches!" However, the wordplay of "sentences" vs. "sandwiches" isn't really translatable into other languages - for instance, in the French translation, the line ends up being something like "How a stranger finishes - all your sentences?" and completely ignores the "sandwiches" bit. Unfortunately, this creates a problem in that now there's nothing in the song foreshadowing that Hans is the Big Bad.
In The Ten Commandments, when Bithia adopts Moses, she says, "Because I drew you from the water, you shall be called 'Moses.'" This makes no sense in English. In Hebrew, she calls him Moshe (the Hebrew equivalent of Moses), because she mishituhu (which translates to, "I drew him out") from the water.
Even those still known can pose a problem. Most clergy and studious laymen are familiar with three of the four Greek words for love: 'eros,' meaning a romantic attraction; 'philia', more of a friendly type of caring or loyalty; and 'agape,' which in ancient Greek was the kind of unconditional, absolute love that would cause you to sacrifice your life for a person. All three are translated 'love' in all versions of the English Bible. While it's not always detrimental, it really subtracts from the passage where Jesus asks Peter 3 times if he loves him. The first two, he uses philia, the third time, agape.
Also, Jonah. When studying the original Hebrew, Jonah's prayer of repentance in the big fish is actually a list of quotes from Psalms. When each complete Psalm is taken in context, Jonah's repentance seems less than genuine, making his later behavior consistent.
In the passage where Jesus is talking about Peter and says he is the rock on which he will build his church; 'petra' in Greek means rock and it was also close to Peter's name in Greek. So 'Rock, on this rock I will build my church.' That Jesus, quite the joker.
Peter's actual name was Simon, Jesus called him the Rock (in Greek petros), hence "Simon called Peter".
It wasn't lost in translation in modern Greek or romance languages though, where the word for rock and the name Peter are still the same (or almost the same, since they belong to different grammatical genders).
A lot of translations have occasional footnotes that read "the meaning of the Hebrew for this phrase is uncertain".
A common problem in poetry, since so much of a poem's meaning can depend on rhyme, rhythm, and the connotation of words, none of which are anything close to constant across languages, even similar ones. Many translations of poems are valid, but it's a hard job for translators to balance the need for clarity with preserving the author's original intentions with the poem.
In one of Stanislaw Lem's books, one robot has a battle cry "awruk!". Some translators put it literally, some not. In fact, this is a Polish word spelled backwards, thus can be represented in English as "oh!"
In this particular case, a more faithful translation would be something along the lines of "kcuf!".
In fact, Michael Kandel translated it as "tickuf!"
Remember good ol' Aesop? Remember the Sour Grapes? Well, at some point some unnamed Swedish translator of Aesop decided (since grapes don't grow here, at least not normally) replace "grapes" with "rowan-berries" (the orange berries of a rowan tree) The problem? Rowan berries are really tart. Thus ruining the entire point of the Aesop...
All the translations of the Fighting Fantasy books have this to an extent due to the need to work out which paragraph to turn to next based on information already received.
Many books require the player to solve a riddle, then convert the answer into a number using a code based on each letter's position in the alphabet. For example, egg is 5+7+7=19; in French, oeuf is 15+5+21+6=47. This wouldn't be so bad, but the translators generally didn't bother to re-order the references so that the codes pointed to the correct ones.
Others disguised information in acrostics. Translators usually just translated the poem directly, causing the initial letters of each sentence to become meaningless. Both these practises made many books unwinnable.
The Swedish translations of Discworld, while usually good, do fail a few times. An example is in Pyramids, where, in the original, the mummies originally translated the inscription "And Khuft said unto the First: ..." as "Handcuffed to the bed, the aunt thirsted". The Swedish version translates the misunderstood inscription word for word, without keeping the similarity in sound.
Translations from Swedish can be equally problematic. Some of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö's Martin Beck detective stories feature a country policeman whose surname, when the readers first meet him, is translated as "Awright", complete with the inevitable puns. However, for some reason (possibly a different translator), when he reappears in one of the later books of the series, his name has become "Content" — but without any more puns.
The Swedish translator of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone left the name of the Erised Mirror, and its inscription, untranslated, apparently believing they were in some sort of fantasy language, while in fact they are simply sdrawkcab. When the mirror was mentioned again in the seventh book, it was renamed the Mörd-spegeln (the Maerd-mirror), which is almost worse, considering the fact that "mörd" brings one's thoughts to "mörda", which means "to murder". Quite different from the intended meaning.
Separated by a Common Language version: In the second book, Ron tries to repair his broken wand using "Spellotape", a pun on "Sellotape". Sellotape is a brand of cellophane tape common in Britain to the point of becoming a Brand Name Takeover. In America, this type of tape is called Scotch Tape (another Brand Name Takeover), so the joke is lost on American readers.
In the Italian translations of the Harry Potter books, Professor Dumbledore is known as Albus Silente. The translators took the first part of Dumbledore's name—'dumb' in the sense of 'unable to speak'—and made a literal translation. This is misguided given that "dumbledore" is an archaic/obsolete English word meaning "bumblebee."
The German translation was particularly bad at translating some puns. When Ron is corrected on the fact that one of Jupiter's moons is "Covered in ice, not mice", this was translated as "Covered in ice, not maize", since this rhymes in German. But the translator then forgot that pun when later on, Harry is taking the test and "at least he remembered the moon wasn't covered in mice" (using the word "mice" instead of "maize"). Another example: Malfoy at the end of book 4 teases: (paraphrase) "Now that Voldemort is back, Muggle-friends like your family will be first to die. Well, second. Cedric was the f..." before he is interrupted. The last word, starting in F, was obviously meant to be "first", but the German translator assumed it to mean a swear word, translating it as something like "And, secondly, Cedric was the f**..." (even though there was no "firstly")
The German translation of The Lost World 1995, besides cutting a few sentences, manages to confuse left and right.
In Agatha Christie's novel "Remembered Death" (also called "Sparkling Cyanide") the victim's name is "Rosemary", and Christie plays around with how the herb rosemary symbolizes remembrance. However, in the Spanish translation we have a problem. The Spanish word for that herb is not used as a feminine name, and the herb in Hispanic culture does not symbolize remembrance. In "A Murder is Announced" a character remarks that she doesn't like dachshunds, not because they're German (the novel was set right after WWII), but that she just never cared for them; the problem is that the Spanish name for that breed is 'Can Ingles'—English Dog.
The Italian title of Stephen King's The Stand is "L'Ombra dello Scorpione" ("The Shadow of the Scorpion"). There are NO SCORPIONS in the book (of any relevance to the plot, anyway). None at all. Anywhere. Seriously, WTF?!?
Many translations of the Qu'ran begin with a lengthy apology from the translator, for both theological (it's supposed to be a direct transcript of a book in heaven) and practical (it's heavily stylized and archaic poetry) reasons. Without fail, the translators will encourage the interested reader to attempt the book in the original.
Sweden have chosen to grapple this dilema by saying 'Fuck It!' We have 2 Korans now!: Koranen [The Qu'ran) = A pocket book that is an word for word translation from arabic to swedish to the Koran. This is the one that non-muslim swedes reads in order to learn about Islam. Koranen i Svensk Tolkning [The Qu'Ran in swedish interpretation] The official Swedish translation of the Qu'ran, as the official statment is: The Complete Koranen in swedish interpetetion, shown with ampple of annotations and the arabic original; That is to say that each page has the original arabic in the left collum and the swedish translation in the right. It is printed as an oversized brick.
Don Quixote: A joke in the Spanish version is that even when everyone understands the term island, only truly sophisticated people understand the term ''insula''. So, Sancho doesn’t really understand what an insula really is, but he desperately wants to rule one, so he would be tricked later in a Massive Multiplayer Scam to rule a little town that is not an island. In some English translations (for example, the Gutenberg project this joke is Lost in Translation at Chapter II of the Second part:
"May evil [[insulas]] islands choke thee, thou detestable Sancho," said the niece; "What are [[insulas]] islands? Is it something to eat, glutton and gormandiser that thou art?"
Some information says that the Spanish translation of A Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami lacks an entire chapter. That perhaps explains a little more about the Cinnamon and Nutmeg characters -or perhaps not.
Russian transcripts of foreign names sometimes substitute H with G (for instance, Harry Potter is known there as Gary Potter. This leads to an interesting case with Robin Hood, who becomes Robin Good - leading Russians with some knowledge of English to completely misinterpret the meaning of his name. It still kinda fits, though.
The French translation of Robin Hood is similar. Due to confusion between Hood and Wood, he became Robin des Bois (Robin of the Woods) in French, which is still wildly adequate. It's sometimes explained by the fact that the Celtic name of Robin Hood actually meant Robin of the woods.
The Dutch translator for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy apparently found it impossible to translate the sentence "The yellow ships were hanging in the sky just like bricks don't", as it ended up being nowhere to be found.
The title of Albert Camus's novel "L'Etranger" was given the title "The Outsider" in its English translation (the same word can also mean "stranger" or "foreigner"). Unfortunately, SE Hinton later came along and wrote The Outsiders, which became hugely popular in high school English classes, to the point that it overshadowed the earlier book for many native English speakers.
In Les Misérables, Jean Valjean was imprisoned in the Bagne of Toulon, a term which has long created problems for translators, since it literally means "galleys", conveying the misleading impression that Valjean was a Galley Slave (something which has carried over to some adaptations). In her 2013 translation of the novel, Christine Donougher opts to use the term "prison hulks" instead, which has the advantage of preventing this confusion and being historically accurate (the Bagne replaced an earlier system of galley slavery and for a significant period, prisoners continued to be "housed" in ships even though they did not serve as rowers).
Additionally, "Les Miserables" literally means "the miserable," but can also be taken to mean "the guilty." The double meaning, and the complexity it implies, is often lost on English readers, who (correctly) assume that the title's a cognate and stop looking.
Jane O'Connor's Sir Small and the Dragonfly is about a tiny knight who rides an ant on a quest to slay a dragonfly, which is drawn to resemble a dragon. In the French version, the word for dragonfly, libellule, indicates nothing about dragons, which completely eliminates the pun.
Live Action TV
The Spanish subtitles for the R1 DVD release of Wonderfalls suffered from this here and there because English-language TV is able to be a tad crasser than is really acceptable in Spanish. Unfortunately, this meant they could not quite capture the same rude, crude, outright crass flavor of the English idiom "my ass" (a somewhat obscene variant of the idiom "my foot" - or for those not fluent: "That's an obvious lie, so shut up" - that uses a ruder synonym for one's bottom), as used by a bitchy, self-absorbed tourist in the pilot episode. The closest they could find translates as "to the devil with you". Incredibly, undeniably rude, particularly in Spanish if you use it in conversation with a stranger? Yes, but downright classy in comparison, and thus lacking in a very subtle bit of characterization (it is, however, incredibly hard to find a better phrase that would have been acceptable language in Spanish anyway).
They also killed a joke in the second episode, by translating Jaye's dad's deliberately, ridiculously silly, nonsensical, innocuous choice of words "Those sons of biscuits!" (an oath he didn't need to mince, since his daughter is in her 20s) as... "those lazy loafers!". This probably happened because the phrase it was a pun on in the original English - "Those sons of bitches" - is a lot more offensive in Spanish than it actually is in English, but alas, the oddly childlike minced oath that was so funny and cute and strange and characterizing in the original is lost in the process.
In Latin America, Kid Sitcoms and cartoon dubs state that the language everybody is supposed to be talking is Spanish in instead of English. As a result children couldn't understand why in the Lizzie McGuire Movie characters were saying "Sorry I can understand you I speak Spanish" when an Italian character was saying something that sounds so alike in Italian and Spanish that a 5 years old could understand it.
The french dub for the show 'Allo 'Allo! suffered heavily under this, especially since most puns involved french townspeople (who, since it was a British show, spoke English obviously) not being able to understand British pilots/police officers
Doctor Who features an in-universe subversion. A message from the Sycorax asks for a demand to be done "or they will die". UNIT spends a while wondering why the translator output wasn't "or you will die", then it turns out "they" refers to several people with A-positive blood being brainwashed into being about to fall to their death.
The Supernatural episode title "Jus in Bello" translates (from Latin) as "justice in war". But from dialogue, it's clear that the intended meaning had more to do with "the rules/laws of war", which would be "leges belli".
In Kamen Rider Gaim, one of the lesser Armored Riders is named Gridon, which is an anagram of "donguri", the Japanese word for acorn (upon which his armor is based) and is treated In-Universe as a Fail O'Suckyname. Fansub group Æsir tried to avert this trope by renaming the character "Ornac", particularly because some Western fans had already latched onto Gridon as an Awesome McCoolname. Ironically, the name change drew complaints from fans who thought Ornac sounded stupid and felt they should have stuck with the cooler-sounding Gridon.
One of the more amusing incidents in Magic: The Gathering translation involves the card Yawgmoth's Agenda (i.e. the evil plans of the villain Yawgmoth). Due to misunderstanding or mix-up, it's said the Japanese version of this card was translated into a phrase equivalent to "Yawgmoth's Day Planner."
Translating plays is perhaps more susceptible to this than translating novels or other works; getting the words, grammar and tone correct is one thing, but having all that in a translation that sounds natural when spoken by actors is a whole other challenge. Translators, as a result, have to sacrifice either accuracy to the original language in favour of a script better suited to performance, or performability in favour of a more accurate translation.
For example, due to a text stuffed with ancient greek puns and cultural allusions, Aristophanes' theatrical work is an awful task to translate.
As dramatists, the Frenchmen Racine and Corneille are considered fully the equals of Shakespeare and the Greek tragedians. Unfortunately, their dramatic effects and rhetorical tactics are almost wholly reliant on the specific conventions and history of the French language and culture—translation into any other language simply fails to convey the vast majority of their genius, because you can't "translate" the kind of 17th-century assumptions and specifically French literary conventions that the tragedies derive their power from playing against.
It gets even trickier for French-speakers themselves when some effects cannot make sense with the way French is spoken nowadays. For example the phonemes ai and oi only separated during the 18th century, they were identical and both written oi before that time. ie. the name François ("Francis") and the word français ("French") were exactly the same thing at that time. One of François Villon's poems shows it plainly : Je suis François dont il me poise / né de Paris emprès Pontoise ("I'm Francis / French of which I'm weary, born in Paris next to Pontoise". poise and Pontoise are also a rhyme, but they wouldn't be in modern French as poise would be pèse).
In opera you have the additional challenge of making the target language text fit the music; this is probably why opera is usually done in the original language; in operetta/singspiel/opera comique/opera buffa, where you have spoken dialogue between the songs, one often has the odd experience of hearing the dialogue in the audience's language and the songs in the original.
The Dutch have basically given up because of this trope. Things are either left untranslated, or they specifically ignore the actual language and translate for accurate emotional content as close to the original language as possible.
The Kingdom Hearts series and first game in particular suffers from some of this, perversely not due to bad or uncreative translation—indeed, it's actually really good—but due to Woolseyism. The translation team worked to preserve tone and meaning in a lot of dialogue, rather than literalism, and successfully turned "conversations with friends in Japanese" into "conversations with friends in English." Good! Except for the fact that the Japanese dialogue, unbeknownst to the localization team, contained Arc Words and very subtle bits and pieces from Chekhov's Armoury that wouldn't come to full fruition until later games in the series. As a result, some of the Foreshadowing was gone, and the Kingdom Hearts series' growing a massively intertwined and complex plot came much more unexpectedly to Anglophones. It's an excellent translation for a stand-alone game, but unfortunately—it wasn't a stand-alone game.
The symbolism of Xion's name in Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days was unfortunately lost in translation. In Japan, "shion" (the Japanese pronunciation of Xion) is also the name of a plant that is commonly associated with memories.
The Kingdom Hearts translation team is usually rather good at catching Arc Words, but in Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance they seemed to have missed Young Xehanort saying "We'll go together.", translating it as "Come with me." instead.
The PS2 game Ape Escape 3 features an unlockable parody of Metal Gear Solid, named Mesal Gear Solid. In Japanese, this is a pun- Metal Gear is transliterated as Metaru Gia, so Mesal becomes Mesaru- Saru being the Japanese word for monkey (the series is called Saru Getchu! there). In English, it's just confusing gibberish.
This was actually the result of a collaboration between Sony and Konami which also resulted in the "Snake vs. Monkey" minigame in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. For what it's worth, a parody of the actual Metal Gear appeared in its final stage, also called "Mesal Gear" (complete with a monkey wearing Big Boss' trademark eyepatch).
Especially bad because there's a fairly obvious better translation than Mesal Gear. Monkey Gear Solid!
Or Metal Gear Simian.
Or Metal Gorilla Solid. Or anything other than "Mesal Gear Solid."
Pokémon Gold and Silver, the Gym Leader Clair was called "Ibuki" in the Japanese release, which can mean "breath." So when she gives the player the TM that teaches Dragon Breath, she mutters in the Japanese version, "...That's not a pun or anything." The English release changes this to "No, it has nothing to do with my breath," making a different joke. In the remake, as Clair now gives out a different TM that has nothing to do with breath of any kind (Dragon Pulse), she no longer makes the joke in either version.
The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass contains an island called Dee Ess Island, which as the name suggests, looks exactly like a Nintendo DS. However, the Spanish and French names for the island translate to "Island of Ess(es)". This is because in Spanish and French, the word "de" means "of", and apparently, "Dee" was translated as "de". This means that the island's name's pun is lost on the Spanish and French. The name is correctly translated in the New World versions of Spanish and French, perhaps because Nintendo of America handles translations for all of North and Latin America. Italian belongs to the same language family as Spanish and French, but the name was translated properly in that language, making a clever pun ("Diesse" sounds both like "DS" and "di Esse", "of Ess" in Italian).
A special case occurs in the German version of the Bloodmoon expansion to Morrowind - in one dialogue, the translator forgot to add the text link leading to a quest start, which resulted in a (small, but quite helpful) subquest being completely lost.
In the Polish translation of Morrowind it was pretty hard to rest in some taverns due to similar reasons... the option, when available, was listed last in handy dialogue sidebar, due to Morrowind's ordering system not recognizing letters of the Polish alphabet.
Recurring character Axel/Akutare of the Disgaea series always refers to himself with the words "ore-sama" in the Japanese audio, "ore" being an equivalent of "I", and "sama" being a honorific one would use when referring to someone viewed as a superior, which stresses just how highly he thinks of himself, on top of his already often conceited dialogue.
In Disgaea 4, this is actually something of some importance, as beginning to use "ore-sama" in their speech is the first obvious sign that someone is being affected by the A-Virus of chapter 6.
The French-language manual for Earthworm Jim on the Mega Drive translated "butt" (as in Evil QueenOverly Long Name Slug-for-a) as postérieur, which whilst technically accurate doesn't quite capture the idiom.
In The Secret of Monkey Island, you need a navigator's head being held by cannibals, who are unwilling to trade it to you because they are unable to find another one. You succeed by trading it for a leaflet titled "How to get ahead in navigation". The spanish translation of the game had the leaflet translated literally ("Como avanzar en la navegación"), losing the double meaning, and making this part a big Guide Dang It.
The translator of the german version was smarter at this and titles the book "Klarer Kopf beim Navigieren", which means re-translated "get a clear head during navigation", which actually gives enough hints at the puzzle solution, as the cannibals will now say it's an instruction to get a "clear head", meaning they can make a better head.
In Mega Man Battle Network 6, there's a sequence where a classmate goes on about calling the 11 year old protagonist "Mr. Hikari" instead of "Lan." The end result is that Tab comes off as a little crazy with a unique and incomprehensible way of expressing himself and you spend the rest of the game waiting for a repeat performance.
Much earlier then that in Mega Man 3, once they learn a certain character's name is Doc Robot (or Doc Man), players are sure to be scratching their heads, wondering what this robot skeleton has to do with doctors. The name comes from a pun on the Japanese word for skull—dokuro—that for whatever reason, Capcom didn't see fit to change.
Waluigi's name (ワルイージ, Waruiiji in Japanese) comes from an anagram of the word ijiwarui (いじわるい), which means mean-spirited, and is a combination of Luigi and warui, meaning bad. Unfortunately the joke is lost on many English players.
The first Updated Re-release of Street Fighter II is officially titled Street Fighter II Dash: Champion Edition in Japan. Champion Edition was actually the game's subtitle, much like how The World Warrior was the subtitle to the original Street Fighter II and The New Challengers was to Super Street Fighter II. However, the word "Dash" is not spelled on the game's title but represented by an apostrophe-like symbol (′) known as a "prime" or a "dash", which is often used as a notation to denote the derivative of a mathematical function (i.e: f′ or f dash). Hence the title Street Fighter II Dash, as in a derivative of the original Street Fighter II. Instead of retitling the game Street Fighter II Prime for its American release, Capcom USA simply ignored the prime mark on the title screen and marketed the game as Street Fighter II: Champion Edition on the marquee. The same was true to the subsequent game in the series, Street Fighter II Dash Turbo: Hyper Fighting, which was shortened to simply Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting (although the American marquee carries the awkward title of Street Fighter II: Turbo Champion Edition: Hyper Fighting).
The character who calls himself "Error" in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is often thought to be named that way as a result of "Blind Idiot" Translation. Not only was that his actual name in the Japanese version, his friend's name "Bagu" is actually supposed to be "Bug" ("Bagu" being a transliteration of the word "Bug" from English to Japanese kana and back to romaji). Naturally "Error" and "Bug" are common terms for computer glitches, but the joke was lost on many western players.
In the first two Metal Gear Solid games, Revolver Ocelot is known among his Russian comrades as "Shalashaska", which he claims to be a Russian slang word for "prison". The name "Shalashaska" is actually a mistranslation of the actual word "Sharashka" from Russian (Sharashka) to Japanese (シャラシャーシカ, Sharashaashika) and then from Japanese to English (Shalashaska).
"Sharashka" is actually a slang word for a very specific type of prison - secret research and development labs where incarcerated scientists and engineers worked on scientific and technological projects for the state. They were in effect Gulag labour camps with intellectual labour instead of physical labour. All of them were closed after Stalin's death.
In Metal Gear Solid 3, Volgin uses the phrase "Kuwabara, Kuwabara" several times. It's a Japanese expression equivalent to the English "knock on wood" that is believed to ward off lightning. At the end of the game, he refuses to say the phrase, instead mocking the storm, and is promptly struck by lightning.
"La Li Lu Le Lo" are "missing" vowel sounds in Japanese; the point of the name is that it's not technically possible to write or say it in Hiragana (because there's no distinction between "L" and "R" and the string is usually "Ra Ri Ru Re Ro"), so the Patriots censor their name to something that can't be written down or spoken (or at least not anymore since E.E. claims that the Patriots' power is such that they could remove entire parts of the (Japanese) language without anyone noticing, meaning this could have been deliberately engineered). This is never really gone into in the dub (since English doesn't do that), so it just seems to be meaningless babble.
A literal case in Dragon Quest II, where the character is accidentally directed to the wrong town in a translation error.
Apparently, the translators in Tales of Destiny can't even count alphabets. A four-letter password in a dungeon was hinted to the player in the form of four numbers, yet in the localization two of them were one less than the correct number, resulting the hints being useless. Ultimately the player is left to consult a guide or randomly guess. The password is FATE, by the way.
In Tales of Vesperia, Flynn's first name is rendered in the Japanese version as フレン (furen), which is a play on the word 'friend'. Since this is a pun born out of the Japanese pronunciation of English words/names which do not sound alike in English, there is really no way of preserving it in localisation. The name sounds perfectly normal, but ceases to be meaningful in the English version.
In Xenosaga Episode One, after KOS-MOS ignores on of Shion's orders, Shion remarks that she doesn't recall programming her that way. This is actually a spin on a Japanese idiomatic phrase (Originally: I don't recall raising a daughter like that!) often uttered by mothers to stubborn daughters. This serves as an interesting piece of evidence towards the fact that Shion views KOS-MOS not as a weapon, but as her child. This is sadly lost in the English dub track, where it comes off as just another example of KOS-MOS' mysterious nature.
At the end of Xenoblade, Shulk asks Alvis what he is, and he responds by saying he's "The Monado". While this just seems to be him claiming that he's the Monado (the name of the sword you've been using) in the English version, in the Japanese version it's a play on words with "Monad", which makes his explanation (and the ending) make a lot more sense if you know your way around Gnosticism.
Happened with several Meaningful Names in Wild ARMs 1 and its remake. For instance, "Zakk Vam Brace" was translated as "Jack Van Burace," completely losing all meaning of the scene where Garrett Stampede receives the title of "Vambrace," indicating that he can protect his Love Interest who has the title of "Sword Arm". Also happened with the "Fenril" Knights, "Alhazad," and "Zeikfried."
Made worse in the remake where they translated his title as Gauntlet, showing that the translators missed the point of Jack's name the second time around.
In many Japanese-developed fighting games and beat-'em-ups, it is not uncommon to have a character whose fighting style is listed as "martial arts". Examples includes Terry Bogard from the Fatal Fury series, Cody from Final Fight, Joe and Guile from the Street Fighter series, Ralf and Clark from The King of Fighters series, Axel Stone from the Streets of Rage series, and Sarah Bryant from the Virtua Fighter series, among others. This is because at one time the Japanese believed that the English term "martial arts" referred to a specific fighting style and not a general term for combative sports. When martial artist Benny Urquidez was asked what kind of fighting style he used, he stated that he was a "full-contact martial artist", which led the Japanese public to believe that "martial arts" was the name of his fighting style (in reality, Urquidez's main fighting style is full-contact karate). In the martial arts manga Shikakui Jungle (Squared Jungle), the term "martial arts" is defined as a "fighting style used by the American military" and many video game designers based their definition of "martial arts" on the manga's description. However, to anyone outside Japan, the term "martial arts" is meaningless as far as specific styles are concerned. How can a character have "martial arts" as his "martial arts"?
Related: Marshall Law from Tekken has his fighting style listed as "martial arts". The intent was for it to be "Marshall Arts".
In the Monster Rancher game and anime, a particularly evil Dragon is named 'Muu', which means darkness or emptiness. In English, he's named 'Moo'. Yes, after the sound a cow makes.
The German translation instead went with Moe, calling forth weird associations with The Simpsons.
In Wild ARMs 3 the wandering mercenary/treasure-hunter characters are known as "migratory-birds" (watari-dori) in the original Japanese. The translator realized that in English this sounds a little silly, rather than poetic, so he changed the title to "drifters". However, most of the dialog was translated fairly directly, leading to some rather out of place metaphors. (The "drifters" are constantly referring to "flapping their wings" and "flying to a new place".) In one egregious example near the beginning of the game, Virginia is warned by her uncle that "Unlike land, the open sky has no roads for you to follow," in response to her deciding to become a drifter.
In Civilization 4 units speak their acknowledgements in the language corresponding to their nation. This is nice, and considerate of other cultures, not all of which are English. Would have been nicer if, say, the translators took into consideration that in Dutch the idiom "we're on it" becomes nothing more than a confirmation of positioning.
Oh! That's must be why in Russian the unit says something meaning either "We are on the spot", or "We have arrived at the location already".
In the Super Mario Bros. games Princess Peach's name in Japan is Pichi-Hime (ピーチ姫) which is a pun on the word Pichi Pichi (ピチピチ) meaning lively, spunky, energetic.
In BlazBlue, Hakumen's Badass Creed includes "Ware wa Jin" (ie. "I am the steel") which turns out to be a Stealth Pun because he is later revealed to be the future version of Jin Kisaragi, who travelled back in time.
The Japanese Pokemon name Togechick was translated overseas as "Togetic." This would appear to be a case of someone using a popular but less precise romanization system and then not bothering to pay attention to what they were doing; トゲチック can be written in romaji either as "togetikku" or "togechikku", with "togechikku" being phonetically correct and "togetikku" matching the syllable group the 'chi' kana actually belongs to.
The Japanese name of Krookodile, Waruvial (A combination of the Japanese word "warui" meaning bad, and gavial), properly described what animal the Pokemon was actually based on, as it has the long, narrow snout that's typical of a gavial.
The move Aerial Ace is called Tsubame Gaeshi in Japanese, which is the name of a sword technique, hence why virtually any Pokemon with claws or other parts to slash with can use the move, whether they're Flying type or not. The move being Flying type stems solely from the fact that the word "tsubame" means swallow, as in the bird.
Cave Story had a password that the player is given towards the end of the game. In the original Japanese, this was the characters for the game's original title (Doukutsu Monogatari) written backwards. The translator has admitted to being half-asleep when working on this section of the game, as he didn't notice and the backwards kana came out as "Litagano Motscoud," though one has to admit it makes it harder to guess without it being told to you (which does happens in the game). Nicalis's official translation fixes this by using "Yrots Evac".
The Japanese version of Rinoa's confession in Galbadia Garden plays out a differently from the English translation, and includes a line referencing that indicates that she no longer likes Seifer:
Rinoa [Japanese]: "If I did I couldn't talk about it like this"
Rinoa [English]: "If I didn't, I wouldn't be talking about it."
Although it's still possible to guess from Gilgamesh's comment about the Rift that he's the same Gilgamesh that appeared in Final Fantasy V, a single syllable confirming it was left out of the English translation:
Gilgamesh [Japanese]: "Huh? Was it you... Ba—?" [referring to Bartz]
When the game was first being developed, Chocobo's were being referred to in Kanji as "Horse-bird/馬鳥". This set off a small firestorm which led to a renaming, and accidentally being called "Chocopos" before finally being reverted back to the common チョコボ/Chocobo in both Japanese and English. It has since then been lampshaded in both the 2014 New Years "Heavens Turn" with a competition of popularity between some visitors from the world of Hydaelyn's Far East supporting horses, and calling the Eorzean region's popular Chocobo Mounts "Horse Birds"
Referenced again during 2.2's "Into the Maelstrom" story line, when Refugees from the Far East country of Doma arrive and upon seeing Chocobos for their first time, also call them Horse Birds
For the English, French, and German speaking players, the name of one boss in the game had to be changed twice due to this. As part of the Crystal Tower story line, the enemies are designed, and named as one big shout out to FFIII. However, at the end of the Labyrinth of the Ancients dungeon, players face a boss distinctly based off of FFII Is version of Titan. Problem is, there's already a Primal being, and Summon in the game of a different Titan. Japan can get around this, because in FFIII, they used ティターン which is based on the Greek pronunciation (Tea-tahn), and for all other games and the Primal and Summon version of Titan as タイタン (English pronunciation: Tie-tun). However for the other major languages, they can't as regardless of pronunciation, it would still be Titan. So the English Localization team came up with a solution, and got permission to use the name of a similar design FFIII enemy named Acheron for English, French, and Germany.
However, with 2.3, the name was forced to change again from Acheron to Phlegethon (Both named after rivers of the underworld in Greek mythology), when the dev team decided to add in a minor enemy in the Syrcus Tower portion of the quest of of Acheron based on FFIII's palette colors of the enemy of the same name.
The little-known platformer The Adventure Of Little Ralph received an English translation of its title by the game's publishers, even though it was never released outside of Japan. Since an English title translation had been conveniently provided for English speakers, the game is known as The Adventure of Little Ralph in America and other English-speaking nations. However, translating the game's Japanese title reveals that the title was supposed to contain a juxtaposition of Ralph's size and the size of his adventure (the literal translation is Little Ralph's Big Adventure.)
In The Night Of The Rabbit, DJ Ludwig the mole's radio ident in the original German is "Welle Sumpf 103 Punkt Funf … fünf!" — intentionally mispronouncing the word fünf ('five') to sort of rhyme with Sumpf ('swamp'). In English, this is changed to "Swamp Radio 103 Point Six…er…five", transforming the radio presenter from one who's fond of bad puns to one who can't remember the number of his own station.
Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge gets hit with this in probably the worst possible way — one of the puzzle solutions is based around a pun. Specifically, you use a monkey to tamper with a waterfall pump, a play on the term "monkey wrench". This is a very American term though; even if you are an English-speaker, if you live in another English-speaking part of the world such as the United Kingdom, chances are this is not a common term. Translators had a field day attempting to work this puzzle into other languages, with some not even bothering and thus making the puzzle near-impossible to figure out unless you get it by blind luck or use a guide. Ron Gilbert learned very quickly after this to try to avoid using wordplay as a solution to a puzzle again.
The translator of the german version was obviously wrecking his brains how to solve this dilemma. Finally, the solution was if looking at the stiff monkey, Guybrush would say "He's so stiff, you could uncrew a nut with him", which makes the puzzle solvable.
In the official English translation of Danganronpa, toward the end, Toko suggests that the mastermind has to be a high schooler, because they've been identified as an Ultimate, specifically, the Ultimate Despair. This doesn't seem to make a great deal of sense, but the Japanese term they translated as "Ultimate" literally means "Super High School Level", and thus would normally only be applied to a high schooler. It was changed because the phrase is overly long and sounds hopelessly awkward in English, but caused a problem here.
The Fan Sub of Homestar Runner (as seen here) can't possibly begin to translate as many of the puns and wordplay as the characters can make in the original language. Woolseyism helps a lot: for example, "hot Jones" becomes "heißen Jacob", a German coffee brand.
Web Original and Web Comics
The English home page of this very Wiki describes itself as being "a buttload more informal" than Wikipedia, a turn of phrase which is nearly impossible to translate into other languages (and indeed seems not to have been) because of all the implications about the speaker and slight differences between different words used in English for bottom.
Paul and Storm's "The Captain's Wife's Lament" spawned a popular Machinima video using World of Warcraft, which in turn spawned one fan sub in Spanish. Unfortunately, the central pun of the song doesn't work in Spanish, so if you go by the sub it just becomes... a song about pirates being in unlikely places.
Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian are similar enough that speakers can generally understand each other if they talk slowly. But Danish numerals sound really strange to Norwegians and Swedes, as lampshaded in thisScandinavia and the World strip where the author translates Danish numbers literally.
Astérix has some of the best translations for all languages it has been translated, complete with new puns for each language. However, in recent Brazillian dvds of its old cartoons, the translator decided not to use the French to Portuguese translation, but rather a French to English to Portuguese translation. All of the puns were lost, and so 70% of the cartoons was lost with it.
An episode of the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon from the '80s included a quest involving a hare. In English, the confusion between the words hair and hare are played up as the adventurers think they are looking for hair. In the version aired in Mexico, this was explained with one of the characters saying, "Oh, you mean the hair on the rabbit!"
Any humor in the pun-filled episode of The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, "Pun Times with Punsie McHale", will be lost once translated and aired in a non-English speaking country. All that shall remain will be the horror...
The German dubs of The Simpsons and Futurama are infamous for their literal (some might say "plain bad") translation, including sometimes brand names or even band names, which led to a lot of stilted sounding lines of dialogue and rendered quite a few jokes incomprehensible. For example, in one episode a baseball cap is described as being "offensive". The German dub translates this with the identically sounding "offensiv", which however doesn't mean "insulting" in German, but rather "aggressive".note The correct translation of the word would be beleidigend. And Now You Know.
Also, Sideshow Bob's "Die Bart Die" tattoo. Since the German word for "die" sounds nothing like the German word for "the", this became a non-sequitur as Bob explained its "true" meaning.
The Italian dub of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. In particular the "Spiked punch" line from "Owl's Well That Ends Well", which was rendered as "Look, the punch is finished... or should we say Spikished?"
While most of the time Voice Acting in Latin Spanish dubbing is good, the translators themselves tend to do a lot of mistakes or forget to research previous works. Hence there was an episode in X-Men: Evolution when Juggernaut was translated as "Hacker" ( precisely before the real Hacker character appeared making it completely meaningless). A sudden change in the translation of Juggernaut from "Destroyer" to "Leviathan".
The Latin dub of Avatar: The Last Airbender also got "Twinkle toes" translated as two different things one for every season, and you can just imagine how much of Sokka's humour got lost in translation.
In the very first episode a point is made that bending is not magic. But in Russian there's no other way to call the stuff they do that would sound natural, so the benders are in fact called "mages", and that point is lost.
The Tex Avery catoon "Symphony in Slang" is about a man telling his life story with lots and lots of idiomatic expressions, all of it illustrated by Visual Puns (e.g. someone's "old flame" is depicted as an actual humanoid mass of fire, someone "draws a gun" on the hero... with a ballpoint pen, etc.) The cartoon was dubbed into Polish, and is still occasionally shown on the TV there. How did the translators manage to translate all this wordplay, you ask? Well, they didn't. All the idioms were translated literally; result—seven minutes of utter gibberish. Really, this is definitely the kind of a work which one shouldn't even attempt to translate.
There are a couple of Tex Avery and Looney Tunes cartoons where a character, witnessing someone else's bizarre or dimwitted behavior, holds up a card with an image of a screw and a baseball. It's a Visual Pun ("screwball"). This just becomes baffling when the cartoons get dubbed to other languages.
Every fourth wall joke built around the commercial break is lost in Italy, where the law forbids commercial breaks into 20-minute cartoons.
The famous Let's Get Dangerous line from Darkwing Duck becomes a bland "Hay que entrar en acción" (let's get into action) in Spain, ruining a lot of jokes about "danger".
Oddly played straight and averted in Finland with the series Iznogoud. Finland being possibly the only country that changed Iznogoud's name, plenty of jokes about his name (is no good) instantly become void, and the tone of the whole series is somewhat changed around his Finnish name - Ahmed Ahne (lit. "Ahmed Greedy").
In a relatively mild case, the joke behind Eeyore's Punny Name in A. A. Milne's original Winnie the Pooh books is a bit less obvious now that Disney's many, many animated adaptationshave long since overshadowed the originals. Why? When said with a British accent, as Milne's original British readers would have said it, it's much more obvious that his name is meant to resemble the sound of a braying donkey ("Ee-yaw" rather than "Ee-yore"). It's easy to forget that fact today, as Disney's adaptations were all produced and acted out by Americans, who pronounce the name with a hard "r" sound. Ironically, The Narrator is the only character in Disney's adaptations to pronounce Eeyore's name correctly on a consistent basis, being British and all.
In English, half eight means 08.30; in German 'halb acht' means 07.30. In the dub of Bang Boom Bang, the translators got some instances right but then other instances wrong.
This idiom, as well as "a quarter eight", varies in English dialects (say between Canadian, British, and American English) and with regional dialects as well. A good translator would be able to understand the idiom at both ends of translation, but local or regional variances may still cause confusion with an already ambiguous statement.
English as spoken in much of America uses "quarter past", "half past" and "quarter till" due to this confusion. Examples would include 3:15, 3:30, and 3:45 being "quarter past 3," "half past 3," and "quarter till 4," respectively.
South African English does the same, but with "quarter to" instead of "quarter till". However, occasionally you will hear some people mention something like "half three", which would mean 2:30, since it's halfway to 3.
It also exist in Germany where in the North it is common to say "quarter until eight" and "quarter after eight", but in the South most people will say "three quarter eight" and "quarter nine". Northerners moving south always need some time to get used to it, while the other way round it is quite obvious.
Written time can cause confusion as well - for instance, the examples above would all be considered to related to the morning for those parts of the world that use the 24-hour clock.
Would be nice if it where that easy. But for example in Germany both "Fourteen thirty" and "half-three" are used interchangeably all the time. Usually it's not a problem since there are very few situations in which both early morning and late evening would make sense. A university class starting at "half eight", a lfight going at "six", or a nature documentary being on TV at "eleven" would be ambigous, but it so rarely causes problems that people don't even think about it.
Related to written time is numerical dates: for example, 12-01-09 to most of the Western world would mean the 12th of January 2009, while in most Eastern countries, it would mean the 9th of January 2012; and in the USA and a few other countries, it would be the 1st of December 2009.
However, as XKCDnotes, 2009-01-12 is unambiguously January 12. To remember this, know the principle behind it: it lets you sort dates as though digits were letters of the alphabet, which is easier to program into a computer.
Sarcasm's not really big in much of East Asia—Japanese and Korean people often might as well be from Betelgeuse for all the ease they have spotting that kind of humor. Frequently when a Japanese person says something was "an American style joke"...they mean it was a lie.
Ever wonder why DVD players from different manufacturers do not always play discs as expected? The reason is because the DVD video specification was developed by an initially-Japanese consortium and published in a licensed manual printed in Japanese; early licensees of the DVD specification who were based outside of Japan had to translate from this manual to their native language when developing DVD players or commercial DVD-authoring software. Small parts of the manual that were incorrectly machine-translated unintentionally introduced minor incompatibilities among some of the early DVD players compared to those released later when an American English specification manual was made available.
Often, the word "disc" (in DVD context) is translated into "disk" in Swedish, even though the Swedish word for "disc" is "skiva." "Disk" usually means "dishes" (as in, what you use a dishwasher for.) Swedish did use "Diskett" (disc-ette) for "floppy disc", so it isn't as big a linguistic abomination as it may seem, though.
Some Cebuano (a Visayan language branch) jokes in the Philippines can confuse foreigners when translated since they seem to be lame jokes or simple puns yet can still get uproarious laughter from the native audience. This is because "Bisdak" note Bisayang dako, literally "Largely Visayan," meaning someone who is extremely native in character, personality, etc. humor has a lot to do with how the whole joke is pronounced, with minor inflections making or breaking the joke. This also makes up the humor of many of the Bisaya Gag Dubs is YouTube: it's not only the incongruity of characters in Western movies speaking Cebuano, it's about the exaggeratedly colloquial way it's pronounced.
Khrushchev's famous "Мы вас закопаем" ("We will bury you") quote was taken by many in the West to be a provocative nuclear threat, when a more accurate translation would be "We will outlive you".