You Are The Translated Foreign Word
"Not right, having a member of the
kuve, the servitor races, getting into a position where he might someday inherit the leadership."
Sometimes to add some cultural flavor to a destiny the name has to be foreign—she is nosferatu
; he is allaku
. The problem is that this means nothing to the audience (and sometimes nothing to people native
to the "exotic" culture), so a quick translation is provided afterwards.
"She is nosferatu
" becomes "she is nosferatu
, a vampire", and "he is allaku
" becomes "He is allaku
, a messenger. He walks the night road". This is effectively the person saying the same thing two or three times
which is fine if they're explaining to someone who doesn't know the word but kind of silly-looking if they aren't. Extra points if the character is saying it to themselves, making the spoken translation all the more gratuitous.
These people start out Not Using the Z Word
, but then use it anyway.
A possible breakdown of Translator Microbes
, which may be deliberately caused to handle "untranslatable" words. See also Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp"
and This Is My Name on Foreign
Keep in mind that as far as translation theory goes, this isn't really saying the same thing twice, it's more like saying: "Here are some cultural concepts you are familiar with that are similar to what I just said." Similar to how most synonyms have similar meanings but still have different connotations, a word spoken in its native language has a lot
of cultural baggage and connotation beyond its simple denotation. Some translators (if they're feeling snarky) if asked what a word means in another language, will respond with that word in that same language. For example: "What does 'bocadillo' mean?" "It means 'bocadillo'.
" Usually, though they'll simply state "it depends on the context."
This is because, while a word may be translated simply, in this case as "sandwich", it doesn't necessarily mean "sandwich" in the way you are used to. Continuing the example, in Spain, while "bocadillo" does mean "sandwich", it's referring to a sandwich more similar to, but not necessarily the exact same thing as, what an American would call a "sub", "hoagie", "grinder", "hero", or whatever your local variation of the word is. In the end, 'bocadillo' can easily mean "snack", and apply in a wide variety of contexts, except there are some areas where "snack" is used to represent something more specific or entirely different from " a small portion of food eaten between meals" and there are some areas where "bocadillo" is also used to represent something completely different from even FOOD, such as a thin canvas or a simplified version of certain phrases made by an actor or a speech bubble in comics, or even where it is used to mean food, but more like a sweet than anything with bread or meat in it. note
See also the Department of Redundancy Department
and Translate the Loanwords Too
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- Extremely common in Suske en Wiske (Spike And Suzy).
- Victor, a Spanish-speaking character from Runaways, points out the redundancy in the name of the team's current secret hideout— "The La Brea Tar Pits" (see Real Life below).
- Spoofed in the MAD parody "Mark Trade":
"Shall we spy on the habitat of Wa-sko-wee-ta, the moose? Shall we invade the habitat of Ka-wa-we-ska, the otter, or shall we visit the habitat of Ko-ka-ko-la, the drink?"
- Done only once in ElfQuest, with Tyleet's introduction. In all other instances, we only see either the Elvish word or the translation. Tyleet, said to mean "healer's gift", was the first real key the readers got to the Elven language (Tyl = gift, Leet = heal-, from which could then be concluded: Leetah = Healing Light, Tyldak = Gift Of Wings-"dak" is similar to the Latin "dactyl" meaning "toe", as in pterodactyl, ("wing finger"), a creature which he heavily resembles). A minor example later on in the series is when Rayek refers to himself as the "Child Of The Rocks". It's a literal translation of his own name (Ray = child, Ek = rock). Ekuar, the name of his mentor, who is a rock shaper, presumably means something akin to... rock shaper.
- Usagi Yojimbo, does this all the time. Usagi is written in English however, and the purpose is mainly Stan Sakai attempting to teach his audience the relevant Japanese words. The translation of the word is usually provided in a footnote, at least the first time.
- A Hispanic ghost in Batwoman declares "I am todos los muertos! All of the dead!"
- Red Fire, Red Planet does this sometimes with Klingon words or phrases. In addition to the page quote there's a bit where Brokosh repeats the word "loDnal" said by Ba'woV, then immediately translates it as "husband".
- In The Dear Sweetie Belle Continuity, Crescendo does this with ancient unicorn (i.e. Latin), albeit with other ponies who wouldn't initially know the translation.
- The Gospels do this in Greek (their original language): all those times where the English (often) says "the Messiah, the Christ", the Greek is actually saying "the Messiah, the Anointed"—since most Greek-speakers would not know what the Hebrew word meant.
- Bram Stoker's Dracula had a heap of examples. One extract has four of them. In this case though, he's not saying the same thing twice himself, just reporting something he heard and providing a translation, presumably for his own future reference.
"I must say they were not cheering to me, for amongst them were "Ordog" — Satan, "Pokol" — hell, "stregoica" — witch, "vrolok" and "vlkoslak" — both mean the same thing, one being Slovak and the other Servian for something that is either werewolf or vampire. (Mem., I must ask the Count about these superstitions.)"
- Dune's kwizatz haderach. A good example of meaning nothing to members of the original culture, as Hebrew speakers would only understand "k'fitzat haderech" (which actually does mean "shortening of the way", i.e.: a shortcut). It was probably deliberately corrupted from the original Hebrew to give the impression of the passage of time.
- kwisatz haderach deserves special mention - not only does it literally translate as 'shortening of the way', which is mentioned as its meaning in Fremen, it is also the name of the miraculous feat of being in several places at once, which is what it means to the Bene Gesserit.
- In J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth (The Lord of the Rings, etc), due to the presence of various languages, has this sometimes, as not everyone present knows all the various names or terms. Sometimes people get referred to with the translation of their names as an add-on, like Legolas Greenleaf or Círdan Shipwright.
- And then there's The Silmarillion. Turin's black sword, Gurthang, Iron of Death, is literally named for the Sindarin words meaning "iron" (ang) and "death" (gurth).
- The protagonist of The Sword of Truth series is frequently referred to as, "Fuer grissa ost drauka, the bringer of death."
- Kushiels Legacy: Phedre is lypiphera, the pain-bearer, among other things. The first trilogy really likes to play language games.
- Somewhat justified, as anguissette sounds so much more romantic than "masochist". And languisement is more poetic than "blowjob."
- Inheritance Cycle has plenty of dialogue that suggests this in its Language of Magic.
- In "The Krytos Trap", a book in the X-Wing Series, it is explained to Wedge while he is trying to bargain with Twi'leks that if they pronounce his name Wedgean'tilles it sounds a little like their term for "slayer of stars", but if they pronounce it Wedge'antilles it's something like "so foul it would make a rancor sick" - and if they pronounce his name the human way, Wedge Antilles, they're basically saying that he has no clan and no family, which is highly insulting. Basically when trying to deal, they change pronunciation to be more respectful.
- In The Thrawn Trilogy, Noghri commandos pursue and try to kidnap Leia Organa Solo. One of them, while restraining her, has his face pressed into the back of her neck - and suddenly lets go, having recognized her scent, saying Mal'ary'ush. Later she goes to talk to him, and he calls her Mal'ary'ush again, then immediately clarifies, saying that she is the daughter and heir of the Lord Darth Vader. Later it's clarified further to mean that she is heir to his authority and power. Supplemental material reveals that the word actually means "Heir of the Savior".
- Used in Finnikin of the Rock to make the most obvious Prophecy Twist in history. The entire prophecy is translated from the ancient tongue with the exception of a single word. Everyone assumes that in this context it means "King", even though they make it painfully clear it can also mean "Warrior". Guess which one the prophet meant.
- Khaled Hosseini uses this a lot in his novels, especially The Kite Runner. The main character can't make it through a sentence without defining the Farsi word he was using, even if it's obvious.
- Tamora Pierce does this sometimes with her made-up words. "Lady Sandry is saati — a true friend." "She thinks you're a yerui — a hungry ghost-devil." Et cetera.
- On the other hand, this isn't in narration or journals - the characters are literally translating for other people who don't know the language. (Or mostly, anyway - the former example is on the borderline.)
- Memoirs of a Geisha is filled with these - obi, okiya, kimono, mizuage, ekubo and countless, countless others.
- Parodied in The Phoenix Guards. One of Paarfi's asides is about the name of a ford. The area was first occupied by the Serioli, who called it "Ben," meaning "ford." Then Easterners moved in and called it "Ben glo," meaning "Ben Ford." Then Dragaerans moved in and renamed it according to the language of House Dragon: "Benglo Ara," or "Benglo Ford." Then the dominant language shifted, and it became "Benglora Ford." And when that got to be associated with the town rather than the ford, the actual ford turned into "Bengloraford Ford." (Fordfordfordford Ford, in other words) Eventually the townspeople got sick of it and renamed the town "Ping."
- Bodega Dreams, about a man living in the Puerto Rican area of Harlem, averts this to make the book seem realistic. However, most words in Spanish are either well known(hola, como esta) or have very obvious definitions based on context clues.
- While Star Trek: The Next Generation touched on what 'Imzadi' meant ("beloved" in Betazoid), Peter David's Expanded Universe novel really went into detail.
- At one point in The Cleric Quintet, the villain's imp familiar curses in its native Abyssal tongue then immediately follows it with a spoken translation for the readers. At the time, he is perfectly alone.
- Happens quite a bit in The Jungle Book, e. g. "Chil the kite", "Mowgli the frog", "Tabaqui, the dish-licker", "Darzee, the tailor-bird", and "Chuchundra, the musk-rat". Mowgli was made up by Kipling, the others are words from Indian languages.
Live Action TV
- Grimm runs on this with quite a few of the names for the wesen species. Most names are composed of Gratuitous German words that do describe rather aptly what the wesen is about, for example Bauerschwein (Farmer Pig), Fuchsbau (Fox's Lair), Hundjaeger (Doghunter) or Abartige Aasfresser (repulsive carrioneater -Hyenas of course) to name but a few.
- Smallville: Girl of the Week Kyla Willowbrook calls Clark the "Naman", and then tells him it means Messiah.
- A blatant example in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Sins of the Father", Worf asks Picard to be his cha'DIch (a combat representative for a disgraced Klingon). Picard replies in Klingon "jIlajneS. ghIj qet jaghmeyjaj" ("I accept with honor. May your enemies run in fear") then adds in English "I accept."
- Star Trek in general does this a lot, especially in the later series. Ordinarily justifiable, with all the different races and societies mingling together... until you remember the Universal Translator, which apparently considers certain cultural concepts to be proper names or something. Enterprise has the translator technology in its most primitive form, though the show still has moments of this trope.
- This is very common with Klingons, who regularly are shown speaking in their own language despite the translators, and thus end up clarifying words that the translators should already have clarified for the listener. In reality, this is because Klingon is an actual created language, and the people behind the show want to use it, even if the translators should render it pointless.
- Justified in a Deep Space Nine episode where Worf has to translate a Klingon word because there's no equivalent expression.
Worf: It was a moment of tova'dok.
Sisko: Of what?
Worf: There is no Human word for it. It is a moment of... clarity, between two warriors on a field of battle. Much is said without the need for words.
- Almost every other sentence in The Tudors. A character will say something in Latin to another, who will immediately translate it into English. Why are you translating, he knows what it means!
- In the Stargate SG-1 episode "The Nox", Apophis has Teal'c at Boom Stick point, having just killed the rest of SG-1. (They're resurrected later.) Teal'c stands defiant.
- Usually averted in Farscape as audiences are generally on their own to translate words the Translator Microbes can't handle. Not too hard as most of these are curses, strings of curses, proper names, or terms for someone acting utterly insane. Either translator microbes have a PG-13 setting, or cultural terms don't translate well.
- Shows up in the Stephen Sondheim musical Pacific Overtures, in "Chrysanthemum Tea":
Wind of the gods
- "Kamikaze" just means "wind of the gods" or "divine wind". In this case, the translation is not so much to inform the American audience of what the word means as to remind them that it doesn't just refer to suicidal fighter pilots...
- Exalted has Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun. Which means... well, you know.
- "Sol Invictus," however, is entirely a fan nickname based on the real-world mythological figure - it's nowhere used in the actual game. In-game, the entity in question is referred to variously as "The Unconquered Sun" and "Ignis Divine" (though not simultaneously).
- Every Tau character in Warhammer 40,000 has given name(s) in this pattern, although only the most prominent are translated, such as their heroic leaders O'Shovah and O'Shaserra, who are vastly better known as Commander Farsight and Commander Shadowsun respectively. It is explained that in most cases, these names are given to each Fire Warrior cadet as he or she passes through training, based on their deeds, and that they can change if the owner does something especially prominent (for instance, Farsight began his career with the moniker Shoh or "inner light").
- BIONICLE had the redundancy sub-type. Toa Matau liked to call his fellows "Toa-heroes". The word "Toa" means hero. The movies were guilty of this, too — upon arriving at their destination, Takua spouts "Kini Nui, the Great Temple." Which is exactly the same thing, first in native Matoran, then English. Seeing as Translation Convention was applied to begin with, this means he really must have the name twice. Never mind that he and his partner knew very well what that place was anyway.
- It has recently become a trend for American children's educational television shows (the most blatant example being Maya And Miguel) to try to teach Spanish this way. "Hola! Hello!" Other examples include Dora the Explorer and Go, Diego, Go!.
- Disney is rather fond of this, with examples including "Hakuna Matata" and "Ohana", though they stop saying what it means after a certain point.
- Samurai Jack has the "The Evil, Aku" as his enemy. Aku literally means "Evil".
- There is a knowledge spirit in Avatar The Last Air Bender who introduces himself as Wan Shi Tong, "he who knows ten thousand things".
- The young star of The Life and Times of Juniper Lee is the Te Zuan Xe, "the chosen one" who must maintain the balance between the real world and the world of magic.
- Done by Zeetha, Lost Princess of Skifander, in Girl Genius. "She is Zumil. My pupil." And Zumil has special connotations besides just "pupil".
Zeetha: "The bond between us will be stronger than that of friends, of family, of lovers. As of now, we are 'Kolee-dok-Zumil'."
Agatha: "What does that mean?"
Zeetha: "Ah- Kind of hard to translate. Sort of like 'Teacher and Student'. Sort of like 'Cause and Effect'. Mostly, like 'Grindstone and Knife'."
Agatha: "Not Good."
- Parodied in an xkcd strip, where the author proposes a fiction rule of thumb to avoid books with too many words made up by the author.
- Done by Dr. Sciuridae in El Goonish Shive as he explains how uryuom eggs can be used to create chimeras.
- The Other Wiki has an extensive list of place names that follow this pattern.
- Hillhillhill Hill (now generally considered an apocryphal example).
- "La Brea" means "The Tar" in Spanish, hence "The La Brea Tar Pits" means "The The Tar Tar Pits."
- Any British/Irish river with Avon in the name — avon is the Celtic word for "River".
- For that matter, rivers in general: in ancient times, most people had only ever seen the one river they lived next to, and so called it their local dialect word for "river". Later, more exploratory people took these local words and used them as names; thus, many cases of "the [something] River" actually mean "the River river." For example the ubiquity of rivers including the letters "dn" in central to eastern Europe (Danube, Don, Duna, Dnepr, Dnestr, ...) is no accident.
- Hence the Brits only refer to the Avon as... The Avon (rather than the river Avon, or the Avon River) so this doesn't happen. Also can be seen with the River Calder running through Calderdale, and not the river Calderdale. Or the River Cam through Cambridge, the Mersey, Tyne and Tee through Merseyside, Tyneside and Teeside, respectively.
- Finnish Enojoki, Kymijoki and Väinäjoki which all basically mean "river-river". Eno is a large river, kymi is a large, vigorously and rapidly flowing river and väinä is a large and slowly flowing river.
- As noted in Mystery Science Theater 3000, Manos: Hands of Fate means "Hands: Hands of Fate." Of course, other than that, it was a flawless movie.
- Au jus means "with sauce" in French. Thus, any menu claiming that something is served "with au jus" means it is served with with sauce.
- Or worse, "with au jus sauce"
- Other culinary examples: rice pilaf (pilaf is Armenian for "rice"), chai tea (chai is Hindi/Punjabi/Russian/a ton of languages for "tea"), cheese quesadilla (quesadilla is Spanish for "cheese tortilla"), salsa sauce (salsa is Spanish/Italian for "sauce" — but the word was originally Latin for "salty").
- Even more culinary examples: "panini sandwich." Panini is Italian for "sandwiches", plural. So when people say "panini sandwich" they're saying "sandwiches sandwich." It would at least be excusable if they said "panino sandwich," because panino is singular. Also occurs with people who ask for one biscotti.
- "Ravioli" is a Tuscan dialect word for "little turnips," so saying "raviolis" is akin to saying "little turnipses," which is only acceptable if you're Sméagol.
- The Polish language also pluralizes with an i. So you have one pierog, a pile of pierogi, and if you have pierogies, a speech impediment. If you go back to the proto-Slavic roots of the word it literally means something like "little party", festival, or fest. Numerous places in the English-speaking world have a Pierogi Fest, or a Fests Fest. God help you if you called it "Pierogies Fest" - that's a Festsies Fest.
- Japanese food has this as well: "shiitake mushrooms" = "shii mushroom mushrooms"; "nashi pears" = "pear pears"; "ramen noodles" = "ra noodles noodles" (though the last one is pushing it a little bit) etc.
- The city Cartagena was originally "Carthago Nova" or "New Carthage". But "Carthage" in turn means "New City" in Phoenician, so Cartagena is "New New City".
- Sherwood Forest means "Forest Forest Forest", as both "sher" (or "shire") and "wood" are synonyms for "forest".
- The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, which can be interpenetrated as "the the Angels Angels of Anaheim". Formerly known (more sensibly) as the Anaheim Angels.
- Before that, they were known as the California Angels, which raises the question of why they didn't just return to that, rather than naming two different cities in the team's name.
- Their lease with the city of Anaheim requires that the city name be in the team's name. Arturo Modeno however wanted to revert to the teams original name, the Los Angeles Angels for history and marketing reasons since LA is a larger market. The compromise and the successive lawsuit made a very... messy result.
- Loup-garou is French for "werewolf". Loup means "wolf"; garou is a phonetic adaptation of "werewolf", making it "werewolf wolf". To make things worse, whenever you see a "garou" popping out in a Fantasy Kitchen Sink, it will be treated as an entirely different creature to a werewolf. Technically "garou" is the Frankish equivalent of werewolf ("garulf"); you get that "w becomes g" thing a lot between English and Frankish: ward=guard, war=guerre, etc. In modern French, "-garou" is now used as a suffix equivalent to the English "were" prefix, e.g. "chat-garou" means "Were Cat".
- Also, the word "werewolf" come from the Anglo-Saxon words "were" (man) and "wolf". So whenever someone makes a joke about a wolf who turns into a human and calls it a "wereperson", they are calling it a "man-person."
- "Rehov Ha'Melekh George" in Tel Aviv, Israel is commonly nicknamed "King George" ("Ha'Melekh" means "The King"; "Rehov" is just "street").note When the proper name and the nickname are combined, the result is "Rehov Ha'Melekh King George", literally "The King King George street". As a further exaggeration, some people jokingly call it "Rehov Ha'Melekh King George Street", which can only be translated as "The King King George Street street".
- "Al Qaeda" is Arabic for "The Base," meaning you fairly often hear about a missile strike on the The Base base. A better translation would perhaps be "The Fundament". A fundament is distinct from a base, seeing how a base is usually physical and a fundament usually non-physical.
- Boulder, CO has the street "Table Mesa Drive" that leads up to the NCAR building. Of course, we all know this means "Table Table Drive".
- Any references to "City of ", where the name of the city itself includes the word "city" or "town" in one or more languages. Examples: Novgorod (roughly translated from Russian as "New City"), Pittsburgh (easily breaks down to Pitt's, for William Pitt, and burgh, a common name for a town in Scotland; on a side note, this means that it should be pronounced the same way as Edinburgh).
- This also applies to any city with the suffix -polis. Minneapolis, for example, means "city of water". So City of Minneapolis is obviously redundant.
- The Sahara Desert is essentially, "The The Great Desert Desert," since "sahara" is Arabic for "the great desert."
- It does happen with the Rio Grande when is translated in other languages: In Japanese, its name is リオ・グランデ川 (Rio Grande-gawa) or "Rio Grande river" (or even more exactly, Big River River)