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Lost in Translation

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For the film of the same name, see Lost in Translation (2003). For the webcomic, see Lost in Translation (2017).

"Traduttore, traditore." note 
Italian adage

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. Long runner series can also create the problem of conflicting translations when those are made by different translators over time or at different countries that share the same language. Characters and made-up concepts may be translated under different names, or even kept in their original form by some and translated by others.

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.

See Dub-Induced Plot Hole for when a translation not only causes something to not make sense, but also ruins the plot in the process; see Dub Personality Change for when characterization is changed.

Incidental Multilingual Wordplay covers the inverse where something translates between two languages and cultures in an extremely convenient and direct way — sometimes oddly so, like both English and Japanese using "head" as the primary counting word for livestock, such that "100 head (of) cattle" would translate with any cranium-related puns intact.

Some Dub Name Changes may cause this, and some Blind Idiot Translations can, as well.

Examples with their own pages:


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    Asian Animation 
  • For the Animated Adaptation of the Chinese novel Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation: Mo Dao Zu Shi, the official English subtitles by Tencent sometimes simplify or ignore certain cultural terms due to the difficulty of explaining them to international audiences.
    • The subtitles usually avoid translating or keeping Chinese honorifics and name terminology, such as omitting the "A-" honorific, simplifying martial sect titles to other terms (such as shishu or "martial uncle" to just "uncle"), and replacing most sibling titles with the character's name. This loses some nuance of certain relationships between characters, such as Wei Wuxian's admiration for his martial sect friend and sister figure Jiang Yanli (whom he calls Shijie which translates to "older martial sister", and is more respectful than what the official subtitles "Yanli" imply).
    • In his backstory the wanted criminal Xue Yang secretly "befriended" his blind enemy Xiao Xingchen, who once captured him and had previously demanded for his execution. To avoid being identified by his voice, he spoke the Sichuan dialect around the latter and successfully convinced him that he was someone else. The subtitles don't make any indication of this, leaving oblivious international viewers wondering why an intelligent cultivator such as Xiao Xingchen would not recognise his voice.
    • A tavern waiter once mistakenly refers to Wei Wuxian as "Wei Wuqian", leaving the latter unamused. While it just looks like to international audiences that he's annoyed at his name being mispronounced, the joke that got lost in translation and goes unexplained by the subtitles is that "wuqian" means "no money", and it's a Running Gag that Wei Wuxian is poor.
  • In Happy Heroes, the green-colored, narcissistic Superman is named something along the lines of Flowering Heart Superman, which is a reference to him being hopelessly in love... with himself, and may be a pun on how he also has Magnetism Manipulation powers (since magnets attract each other). The Lookus English dub opts for the name "Smart S.", which doesn't fit this personality at all.
  • Mechamato: In "A Sore Winner", Champbot shows that he can compete in a relay race alone by detaching his  arms and pelvis from his torso to act as 4 runners. In the Malay audio, upon doing so, he says "Tengok kaki lah [...]!" which is a Malaysian figure of speech to say one is capable. It directly translates to "look at my feet" which is a pun referring to his detached legs. In the English audio, this gag is absent as Champbot says "You haven't seen nothing yet!" instead.
  • Simple Samosa: In "Doctor D", Samosa, Jalebi, and Vada sing Dhokla a song where they spell "dost" (Hindi for "friend") using the first letters of various words that fit him. The original English dub of the episode changes the lyrics of the song so they spell "friends" in English instead, but the "dost" that appears on-screen during this scene is left in, creating an inconsistency between the audio and the visuals. The second English dub, as well as all the non-English dubs, don't have this inconsistency.

  • 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.
  • 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".

    Comic Books 
  • The Indonesian version of Asterix 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 regional stereotypes and 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 iconic Opening Narration in France is phrased in a theatrical, slightly quirky way that sounds a lot better in French than in English - something like "It is 50 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. All Gaul is occupied by the Romans. All? No...". The English version streamlines the phrasing into the blander "The year is 50 B.C. Gaul is entirely occupied by the Romans. Well, not entirely..." This causes problems far further down the line where callbacks to the odd "all. all?" phrasing gets used for humour - most notably, a messenger being told to go to Caesar and tell him "'All Gaul is occupied by the Romans.' He will say, 'all?'. You will reply, 'all'. He will know what you mean." There was really no way to adapt this exchange for the English phrasing, so it just comes off as Evil Gloating rather than a joke.
    • In another album, the Gauls are inexplicably shot at with arrows in the city of Tyre. In French, this is a pun on "Tyre" being pronounced the same as tire, meaning "shoot", as in shooting arrows. Since the pun doesn't appear in the English edition, the translators added a new pun on the experience being "tiresome", but it explains nothing about the joke behind them being shot at in the first place. The whole sequence therefore feels like a Big-Lipped Alligator Moment, if not an unmentioned Brick Joke to an earlier album in which Asterix and Obelix went to Tyre and were later shot at with arrows.
    • In the French edition of Asterix in Britain, the Briton chieftain's name is Zebigbos, which is "the big boss" in a French accent. While this can be understood fairly well by most English speakers, the translators changed it to Mykingdomforanos, which is a pun on "my kingdom for a horse" in their local accent, but is confusing to anyone outside of certain regions of England. And then, there's the Running Gag of Britons consistently applying English syntax rules to French (always putting adjectives before nouns, adding "isn't it" or "I say" at the end of sentences, etc), which is of course completely absent from the English translation.
  • The Flash's Chinese name is 閃電俠 (literally lightning-hero) - which misleads many into thinking he has lightning-based powers, despite the common usage of lightning as a metaphor for speed.
  • Green Lantern becomes 綠燈俠 (literally green light hero) - which indicates an association with literal traffic lights. A different translation makes it somewhat possible to confuse with RoboCop.
  • Foreign installments of the Disney Ducks Comic Universe are almost never translated faithfully from the original (actually, pretty often, the "translator" is just given the synopsis of the story and the art with the dialogue already edited out of the speaking bubbles). Although the translators can sometimes come up with funny and inventive replacement dialogues, it renders the readers unable to appreciate the story as it was originally conceived.
    • Ultraheroes at one point has a footnote explaining that two characters had met for the first time in a story titled "The Confederation of Outside-da-Law" (Literal translation of "Fora-da-Lei", Brazilian slang for Outlaws). The problem here is that the story the footnote is referring to originated from Brazil, and it was translated into French and Italian, but never into English. Thanks to Ultraheroes, however, it got an English title despite never getting an official English translation .
  • Iznogoud:
    • As with most René Goscinny-scripted comics, the dialogue in Iznogoud relies heavily on puns and wordplay which don't translate well into other languages, forcing the translators to either come up with puns that do make sense in their language or change the dialogue so that the density of jokes is the same but they don't happen in the same place. For example, the title story in the album Des astres pour Iznogoud translates as "Stars for Iznogoud", but is a homophone of "Désastres pour Iznogoud", meaning "Disasters for Iznogoud". The title was rendered in English as "Iznogoud Rockets to Stardom".note 
    • One of the wax statues Iznogoud brings to life in "The Wax Museum" is real life Bluebeard Henri Landru; he is uninterested in bumping off the Caliph since he specialises in killing women, so he brings a waxwork of Lucrezia Borgia to life instead, and they go off together, each plotting the other's demise. In the English translation of the Animated Adaptation, the waxwork is identified instead as Jack the Ripper (with the number of his victims changed from 11 to 5 accordingly), since Landru is not as well-known in the English-speaking world, but the waxwork still looks like Landru, and since Jack the Ripper's identity - and appearance - are a mystery, we have no idea if it looks like him.
    • Finland being possibly one of three countries that changed Iznogoud's name (the other ones are Poland — where he was named as Wezyr Nic-po-nim, but this translation was used only in Polish dub of the comic's Animated Adaptation — and Italy, where he was named Gran Bailam, again only in the cartoon), 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").

    Fan Works 
  • All Assorted Animorphs AUs: "What if Marco was Deaf?" has an In-Universe example. Marco signs something to Ax that Jake translates as "knowing what is right and what is wrong to do." The narration then mentions that Marco thinks this is "close enough"; according to the author in a comment, what Marco meant was that he struggles to decide if he should do the right thing or the smart thing.
  • The Touhou M-1 Grand Prix is a Bokeand Tsukkomi Routine with many puns that lose comedic effect when accompanied by a Wall of Text trying to explain them.
  • In-Universe example in the Trollhunters story Becoming the Mask (Trollhunters): the title of Trollhunter, in the original trollish tongue, is said to translate more accurately as "the troll who is the hunter" rather than "the one who hunts trolls". (The Trollhunter often does hunt trolls, being something of a law enforcer among trollkind, but is also responsible for hunting down monsters that attack trolls.)
  • Another In-Universe example in the Naruto and Young Justice Shinobi Justice, where after Zatara grants Team 7 a translation spell to help them speak and understand English, it turns Naruto's Dattebayo! into Believe It!, which the Team finds unbearable.
  • The Smallville fic "Shatterpoint" reveals that this is basically the reason Clark assumed that Jor-El intended him to conquer Earth when he first translated the message sent in his ship (as seen in "Rosetta". As Raya explains to Clark, Jor-El's translation program lacked cultural context, so the symbol meaning 'Rule' is a variation of the common term, with the specific symbol in the message intended to reflect the idea that Clark was to guide humanity rather than tyrannically conquer it.
  • The Bolt Chronicles: In “The Autobiography,” Bolt tries to memorialize his life story into a computer file using a speech program. It translates his attempts as barking sounds.
  • In I Want To Spoil You, a Puella Magi Madoka Magica doujin, Kyouko asks Mami to call her by her first name. Mami starts to say "Kyou..." but does a Last-Second Word Swap to say that they're having nice weather today, since "Kyou" is "Today" in Japanese. The pun doesn't translate well into English, so the translators had to put in a note to explain it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Word of Honor: Many of the cultural references, subtext and poetry are lost in the translation, as many English words failed to bring the true meaning. The YouTube subtitles add notes for some of the poetry quotes, but not for all of the other references. Several Chinese fans on Tumblr have explained and translated some of the references for overseas fans.
  • Game of Thrones: A lot of official translations fail to recognize the difference between a "wight" (a re-animated corpse) and a "White Walker" (the ice demons who create them). Admittedly, the same applies to many English-speaking viewers since it hasn't quite been explained yet.
  • 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.
  • Cuatro, a TV station from Spain has decided to translate Primeval as Invasión Jurásica (Jurassic Invasion), possibly carrying on the tradition of Jurassic Park. This would be a great title if not for the fact that there isn't a single Jurassic critter in the whole damn series.
  • 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
  • A Running Gag in Doctor Who is people asking "Doctor Who?" whenever the main character introduces himself as the Doctor. In French, the series is still called "Doctor Who", but the question is translated literally as "Docteur Qui?", which not only loses the joke, but also sounds rather awkward in French (people would more likely ask "Doctor How?" or "Doctor of what?").
    • The Japanese subtitling for the episode The Doctor Dances translates Father Christmas literally as クリスマスのお父さん or "the father of Christmas".
  • 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-universe example: the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Darmok", the Tamarians, a race that the Enterprise encounters, speak entirely in allegories referencing their people's historical events. For example: when Picard and the Tamarian captain Dathon are transported to a nearby planet, Dathon tosses a knife to Picard while brandishing one of his own, saying "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra". Picard initially thinks Dathon wants to fight him, when Dathon is actually proposing cooperation.
  • 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); it's supposed to be an Atrocious Alias and is treated as such In-Universe. Fansub group Æsir tried to preserve the meaning and avert this trope by renaming the character "Ornac," particularly because in the run-up to Gaim's debut some Western fans had already latched onto Gridon as an awesome name. It didn't quite work, because there were still some fans who complained about the name change and wanted Æsir to stick with Gridon because it sounds cooler.
  • Root into Europe: A lot of comedy occurs because Mr. and Mr. Root only speak English and thus are unable to understand what the foreigners they meet mean or say. For instance, in Brussels, they meet someone from Antwerp who doesn't understand what they are saying. Afterwards Mr. Root assumes he is "probably a Walloon". note 
  • Stargate SG-1: The French dub seriously mangled the infamous "Jaffa joke" in episode "Seth", by confusing a "Horus Guard" with a "Horse Guard". The joke itself is an in-universe example, as it's apparently hilarious to Jaffa but meaningless to Earth humans lacking the cultural context.
  • The dubbing of The Big Bang Theory for Latin America has drawn heavy criticism for many reasons, but among others; simply disregarding the source material and making up jokes, using too many Mexican local expressions (generally voice actors in dubbing tend to avoid that and use standard Spanish) and changing the meaning of some jokes apparently thinking that the Latino viewer is not going to get it. For example, when the guys bought a replica of the machine used in The Time Machine, the Spanish dubbing changed the jokes to make references to Back to the Future. Like no one in Latin America knows what The Time Machine is.
  • The English dubbing for the Spanish series El internado: Las Cumbres sometimes bowdlerizes the language. For example the scene where a teacher chews out three students caught making out under a stage. The original Spanish had him call the one girl "marimacho" (a pejorative term for a masculine girl). The British dub tones down the homophobia in his speech by just calling her "so unladylike".
  • The rather well done French dub of Charmed (1998) has one surprising quirk: it does not have a translation for, of all things, "the Charmed Ones". The protagonists are referred to as "the Halliwell sisters" instead, and the lines using the term to refer to their powers or status were rewritten.
  • The French dub of Buffy the Vampire Slayer changes Xander's name to Alex (as it's a more common short for Alexander). As a result, in the episode "Tabula Rasa", an amnesiac Dawn calling to Xander with the name "Alex" loses its significance.
  • Paris Police 1900: Marguerite's derogatory nickname, "Pompes Funebres", is translated in the English subtitles as "Deadly Lips" (she accidentally gave the French President a fatal heart attack with her mouth). The actual French meaning is an untranslatable pun between "pompes funebres", the French word for an undertakers/morticians, and "pompe", which literally means "pump" but is also a slang expression for fellatio.
  • El Chavo del ocho: The Brazilian dub for the series, although widely praised, also had some translation errors. A recurring joke on several episodes involves the word "cola", which means both "glue" and "butt", leading to confusions and misunderstandings in scenes involving glue. Since in Portuguese the word "cola" only has the first meaning, the translators had to completely change the meaning of the scenes removing the original joke, such a scene where Don Ramón asks Chavo to "mover la cola" (moving the glue) and Chavo moving his butt, but in the dubbed version, Don Ramón simply asks him to "help move it". In the other scenes involving the mix-up of the word's meaning, the word "cola" is translated to "grude", which can mean glue as well as being a slang for food, but the double meaning with "butt" is completely absent.

  • The intended translation of Japanese singer Gotō Mariko's third solo album's title, こわれた箱にりなっくす (romaji: Kowa reta hako ni Rinakkusu), is Linux in a Broken Box. Sensible enough. One linguistic anomaly of the title is that the final five characters, which represent "Linux", are written in hiragana. Normally (though not exclusively), loanwords from other languages are written in Japanese using katakana characters, which are otherwise mostly used in Japanese writing for the sake of emphasis. (The katakana for "Linux", or more specifically "Rinakkusu", would be "リナックス"). A probable reason Gotō used hiragana is that there's an untranslatable double meaning in the title, explained by the title of the second track, "Re:なくす" (romaji: "Re:nakusu", pronounced identically to "Rinakkusu"; note the identical final three characters to the album title). The meaning of the song title is "Re-Lost".note 
  • Zucchero: One of the things Zucchero noticed, both from his own songs and those by other musicians, is that translating a song for a foreign market can make them difficult to stand out since something (be it the message, the irony or the feel) ends up being astray in the process. He himself suffered from this when translating his own songs into English for the US and UK markets.

    Myths & Religion 
  • Many idioms and phrases in The Bible and other ancient religious texts are lost to us, making this one of The Oldest Ones in the Book.
    • To give you a measure, the interpreters say outright that the day the Septuagint was made has been as bad for the Jews as the day they made the golden calf.
    • 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 most 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 times, Jesus asks Peter if he loves him with 'agape' and Peter responds that Jesus knows he loves him with 'philia'. On the third time, Jesus asks if Peter loves him with 'philia', for which occasion John relates that Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time 'Do you love me with philia.' Some of the Bible translations preserve this distinction by translating 'agape' with "truly love" and 'philia' with simple "love" (this distinction was made in 1984 NIV translation, which was removed in the 2011 update, when both instances were translated simply as "love"; there are commentaries that argue that there is no meaningful difference between 'agape' and 'philia' in this passage.).
    • 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.
    • One example can be seen near the very beginning, when Adam names his wife Eve "because she was the mother of all the living." In Hebrew, Eve's name is "Chavah" and the Hebrew word for "life" is "chayah," but this is lost in English and other languages.
    • 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".
    • To someone who doesn't read Hebrew, the types of work Orthodox Jews avoid on Shabbat seem kind of arbitrary. Why would cooking be considered work but walking to synagogue isn't? The reason for this is that the English word "work" isn't a perfect translation for what the Torah forbids on Shabbat. What's forbidden on Shabbat is melacha, which is an unusual word (and not the usual Hebrew word for "work") meaning something like "creative work". So it makes sense why cooking would be melacha (since you're changing the food) but walking wouldn't be (since it's not really creative or changing anything).
    • Similarly, "kill" isn't the best translation for the Hebrew word (tirzach) in "thou shalt not kill". "Murder" is a little better, but it still isn't a perfect translation. This is why God orders so much killing despite the Ten Commandments seeming to forbid it; the killing commanded by God isn't retzach (which is never used for things like war or state executions).
    • Mary, Mother of Jesus is called "Mother of God" in Catholicism and some more Catholic-leaning offshoots of Lutheranism and Anglicanism. Although the term is derived from "Theotokos" (which means something like "God-Begetter") it seems blasphemous or idolatrous to low-church Evangelical Protestants, as it implies Mary is older than God. The Eastern Churches use "Theotokos" and occasionally translate it as "God Bearer" to avoid confusing or discouraging Evangelical converts.
      • To be fair, Catholics actually mean the term literally. Since Mary is the biological mother of Jesus, and Catholics believe Jesus is God, this means Mary is someone God views as his mother. It does not mean that Mary is God's creator or superior. Added to that, Catholics believe that Jesus still honors Mary as his mother in Heaven.
    • While Christian tradition holds that Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus, some scholars have pointed out that the word used in Isaiah 7:14 (which supposedly predicts the birth of Jesus and was later referenced in the Gospel of Matthew) is "almah", which more accurately translates to "young woman" and does not necessarily imply virginity. However, the Greek translation of Isaiah 7:14 uses the word "parthenos" here, which does imply virginity. This remains a subject of considerable debate among scholars.
    • The references to "unicorns." The correct animal is either the rhinoceros or the wild ox. This error is in the King James translation of the Bible, which some denominations believe is the only "true" Bible.
    • Another example occurs in the apocryphal story of Susanna. Here, Daniel cross-examines two elders who falsely accuse Susanna (a godly Jewish woman) of committing adultery. However, they give conflicting accounts— one says that her and her lover were found under a mastic tree, while the other says they were found under an oak tree. Most scholars see this alone as evidence that the story is of Greek, rather than Hebrew, origin, as "mastic" (schinon) sounds like the Greek word "to cut" (schisei) and "oak" (prinion) sounds like the Greek word "prisai" (to saw in half). Hebrew lacks this wordplay, and it is also difficult to approximate in English (one translation uses "yew" and "hew," and "clove" and "cleave" to mimic the effect). It is considered inspired Scripture only in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches (which use the Greek Septuagint), and has never been recognized by Judaism or Protestantism.
    • There are English rhyming versions of popular psalms, although they are used strictly for worship and not for reading. Many churches have conceded that they "force" stilted rhymes, and detract from the original meaning of the psalm.
    • In the Book of Numbers, there's a Fidelity Test for a woman who's accused of cheating on her husband, in cases where he can't prove it. He is to bring her to the Temple, make an offering of coarse flour, and remove some or all of her clothing while the priests mix together water with dirt from the floor of the Temple. note  If the woman has been faithful, then the water will have no ill effect on her. (And according to some Midrashic interpretations, she'll have a healthy baby boy in the coming year.) But if she has been cheating, then according to the text, her "belly will swell and her thighs will waste away." The exact meaning of this phrase has been lost to history. It may mean that the "bitter water" would cause her to become permanently sterile, or have a miscarriage, or develop an obstetric fistula, prolapse of the reproductive organs, or some other medical condition or embarrassing disfigurement, or simply die an Undignified Death right there. (And it may or may not also affect her lover(s) in some way(s) as well.)
    • In the Book of Esther, teenage girls are kidnapped from all over the Persian Empire and taken to the palace, receive free treatments with cosmetics and essential oils for one year, and are presented to King Xerxes (who will then select one of them to be his new primary queen to replace Vashti, who he had killed for treason because she refused to come to his banquet in the nude). The girls are referred to as virgins (which, given that they're teenagers, and most of them come from patriarchal honor-shame cultures assimilated into a larger one, they probably are). In particular, a large part of Esther's appeal is said to be her purity and chastity. Why that sets her apart from all the other girls who were kidnapped for this purpose is... unclear. There is some disagreement as to whether the word translated virgins means literal virgins or simply "teenage girls."
    • Some passages in the Old Testament refer to an animal known as shafan. This is actually the Hebrew term for the rock hyrax, an animal that only lives in the Middle East and Africa. Since European translators had no knowledge of this creature, they tended to equate it into something similar that lived in their country, i.e. rabbits, hares, or badgers.
    • The story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman has Jesus call a gentile woman a dog. This may sound rude and mean, especially seeing as "dog" is used as an insult elsewhere in the New Testament. However, the insult-word meaning "dog" is kúōn, which Jesus din't actually use - instead he called the woman kunárion, meaning "little dog". In short, Jesus was subverting an insult, not using it (but that won't show in most translations).
  • The proverb Luck favours the bold, which is in original Latin audaces Fortuna iuvat. The stem word is audax, which means "bold" in the sense of "insolent", "impudent", "uppity", "rude" and "outrageous", giving English language the word "audacious". The proverb is intended to mean "know when it is time to break the rules and not get caught", not "be brave and you will succeed". Its intended meaning would be a Hard Truth Aesop today: You are more likely to win by cheating and behaving impudently (and not getting caught) than by being nice and following the rules.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • During Tetsuya Naito's initial run as a face in New Japan Pro-Wrestling, he went by the Gratuitous English nickname "Stardust Genius" (スターダスト ジーニアス, or "Sutādasuto Jīniasu"). But after he famously reinvented himself following his heel run in Mexico as a member of Los Ingobernables, he fittingly began using a new nickname to match his new antiheroic persona: Seigyo funōna karisuma (制御不能なカリスマ), literally meaning "Uncontrollable Charisma" or "Unstoppable Charisma". But since there's basically no way to translate this nickname into English without it sounding completely ridiculous, English broadcasts of his matches generally don't bother.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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."
  • This happens a lot in Yu-Gi-Oh!, not least because the localizers who work on the English version (and consequentially, the other Western versions) take an awful lot of liberties with translation.
    • Sometimes, it's just a she being incorrectly referred to as a he. But in many cases, due to the name-based mechanic of the game, this has caused a lot of problems and resulted in name changes or awkward and clunky additional work-around text (for example, look at this abomination compared to the original version; the problem could be even worse in other languages). In all fairness, Japanese names have used both Japanese and English words, which makes distinctive translations borderline impossible (for example, both the words majutsushi (Japanese) and majishan (English) translate to "magician") if you don't want to be creative and coin fake words of your own. In other cases, faithful representations of complex punny Japanese names are impossible, so they have to be ignored.
    • In some rare instances, such as the archetypes "Noble Knight" and "Ritual Beast", due to grammatical incompatibility, the Romance languages of Yu-Gi-Oh! (French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish) don't just translate names directly from English. In some other rare instances, English is the only one that sucks, such as the case of "Goblin Calligrapher" whose German and Romance names are translated from Japanese instead.
    • The French name of "Dharc the Dark Charmer" incorrectly refers to him as female, while all other non-English/Japanese/Korean names correctly refer to him as male.
    • This hit the entire Frog archetype, whose Japanese names are basically nothing but absurd double puns that almost never translate. Usually, one reading of the name reflects the artwork, while the other reflects the effect. For instance, "Ki Gaeru", whose name reads as "oni frog", but sounds like "kigaeru", or "changing clothes." The card art is a horned frog (i.e. an oni frog) whose effect basically allows you to trade out a Frog on the field for one in your hand. The English translation went for "Swap Frog", which gets across the effect but not why the frog has devil horns and tattoos. Needless to say, it leads to a pretty random-looking archetype, since they basically have to give something fitting the effect, or something fitting the artwork. Why does Ronintoadin revive itself? Why does Dupe Frog have a graduation cap? One of the exceptions is Flip Flop Frog, as its name was a pun on "flipping frog" and "to turn inside out", meaning its artwork and effect both reflected it flipping around like crazy.
    • Kagemusha of the Blue Flame was a very early and very forgettable monster, whose flavor text suggested he was the body double for a guy named "the Ruler of the Blue Flame." A considerably later set introduced Shien, a warlord shogun who has a body double that looks conspicuously like Kagemusha. As it turned out, "Blue Flame" wasn't referring to an actual blue flame, but rather, it was Shien's name—"shien" is made up of the characters for "blue flame." The guy's name was always meant to be "Kagemusha of Shien," which makes the later connection less incongruous.
    • Some of the "Gem Dragons", a small series of normal monsters, were given different names that removed the Theme Naming. "Sapphire Dragon" and "Emerald Dragon" became "Luster Dragon #1" and "#2", while "Diamond Dragon" was given the rather roundabout un-translation of "Hyozanryu" ("Iceberg Dragon").
    • The Armed Dragons Thunder are reworked versions of the Armed Dragon series of cards, and they're filled with in-jokes about the corny catchphrase and nickname of the man who used the originals in the anime. That is to say, they're jokes about Manjoume "Manjoume Thunder" Jun, not Chazz "The Chazz" Princeton, who had a completely reworked catchphrase because the originals involved puns that just don't work in English. As a result, dub watchers are left mostly clueless about why the Armed Dragons are suddenly electricity-themed, or why their strongest monster gains different effects if its attack value hits increasing multiples of 10.

  • 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, e.g. 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).
  • Shakespeare's plays themselves contain loads of archaic wordplay, which are lost on everyone who doesn't have in-depth knowledge of Elizabethan slang. See Get Thee to a Nunnery for more information.
  • 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.
  • In The King and I, the musical's book itself notes that no attempt will be made to reproduce the Thai language. Instead, the sounds of different musical instruments are used to indicate that someone is speaking in Thai.

    Visual Novels 
  • Danganronpa:
    • In the official English translation of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, 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 school student. It was changed because the phrase is overly long and sounds hopelessly awkward in English, but caused a problem here.
    • During the first trial, Leon gets confused when Aoi says that she spent the night in Sakura's room and asks her who Sakura is. While everyone is on a First-Name Basis in the English localization, the same does not apply to the original Japanese, in which Aoi refers to Sakura as "Sakura-chan". This is the reason why Leon doesn't know who she's talking about, as he is more used to hear her being refered to as "Ogami-san"
    • The first case also has an inversion: a certain clue translates too well. '11037' is a puzzle in Japanese, but English speakers are likely to immediately realize it's actually 'LEON' upside down and backwards, making the trial a case of Clue, Evidence, and a Smoking Gun.
    • In the Japanese version, Toko calls Byakuya "Byakuya-sama." Since "-sama" is an extremely formal honorific, often used by servants on their masters, the English version has her call him "Master." In context, however, "-sama" isn't being used as a term of extreme respect, but as an exaggerated term of affection, the literal translation doesn't quite fit. (It does however work later in the series: by Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls, Toko fancies herself to have a relationship with Byakuya of a... certain type that would involve her calling him "Master".)
    • In a more severe example, Chapter 4 of Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair involves the characters debating over what the Octagon is. Since there's no other words that can really describe "Octagon", the localization keeps the names, even though it now makes it look like everyone forgot what an Octagon isnote .
    • A big one at the end of Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, which effects one of the games most important bits of dialogue. Right before the final execution, Tsumugi declares that, having ultimately failed like Junko Enoshima did, she can ultimately take pride in herself as a cosplayer. While she says this, however, the furigana says "copy-cat criminal", heavily implying that that was her true talent all along, and that what she had done wasn't cosplay at all, but imitating real crimes. This trick however is completely nonreplicable in English, however, so the localization instead mashes the line into "Cosplaycat Criminal, a phrase which robs the intended Wham Line of most of its impact, and causes Shuichi's speculation in the epilogue that Junko Enoshima and everything else from the franchise being Real After All to make far less sense.
  • The major significance of Rena from Higurashi: When They Cry's Meaningful Rename from "Reina" to "Rena" is this. Rena actually changed the writing of the name from kanji to katakana (which was very rare in the early 1980s). Fans who don't know about the Japanese writing system miss this importance and simply believe that Rena just removed the "i" from her name, making it seem rather melodramatic.
  • Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors:
    • One of the biggest twists of the game is that the line given out by Zero, "An exit is hidden, but it can be found. Seek a door. Seek a door that carries a 9", wasn't "seek a door that carries a 9" at all. But rather "seek a door that carries a q. Therefore meaning that the door's digital root number was actually 8, with Q being 26 in base-22. Near the start of the game, the rules of the game are read out by Junpei from a piece of paper, who must have mistaken the q as a 9 when reading them out, which makes sense. But the moments in which characters think about Zero speaking the lines over the speaker doesn't make much sense with the twist in the English version. In Japanese, 9 is pronounced "Kyuu", making 9 and Q hard to distinguish audibly.
    • When discussing whether or not Zero is on the ship with them, Ace mentions how when Zero addressed them, he referred to the ship they were all on as "this ship" and that he wouldn't refer to it as "this" ship unless he was on it himself. This seems like flimsy logic, although the logic holds more water in Japanese, where referring to something by "this", rather then "that", has a much stricter meaning, and directly indicates that the user is in some way involved. In English, referring to something as "this [object]" doesn't hold as much meaning.
    • In the Operating Room, Junpei will have a Covert Pervert moment when examining a purple liquid bottle. In the Japanese version, Love Interest Akane's codename is "Murasaki", which means "Purple", and Junpei examining the bottle of "Murasaki liquid" gets his mind in the gutter. But, since in the English version, Akane's codename is "June", and has nothing to do with color, the joke becomes incomprehensible.
  • Virtue's Last Reward:
    • One of the game's bad endings has Clover manipulating Sigma into picking betray by seducing him, with the former promising the latter that she'll "listen to anything he says" if he picks betray. Of course, when she then gains her 9 BP and ditches everyone, she says that she promised she'd only listen to what Sigma had to say, not that she'd actually do anything. This sort of makes Sigma seem like an extremely gullible idiot. In the Japanese version, the phrase she uses in her promise is one that's used casually as an affectionate/seductive expression to mean the speaker will do anything that's asked of them, but does literally mean "I'll listen to whatever you say".
    • Continuing from the big example in 999 above, near the end of the game, the last puzzle room is called "Q". Tenmyouji's response to this is to call whoever is in charge a smartass. As once again, the Q/9 thing doesn't really translate (especially since it's an uppercase Q instead of a lower case q), Tenmyouji's line doesn't really make much sense in English though in Japanese it's another hint that he's really Junpei from the first game.
  • Ace Attorney:
    • In-Universe, a certain witness from case 3 of Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney is somewhat prone to this due to being a foreigner. This naturally becomes a plot point when they cause a contradiction in their testimony by mistakenly referring to a vent as a window.
    • From Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies, the veterinarian, Herman Crab, is described within various out of game sources as having a large potty-mouth which likes to run itself a lot. In the Japanese version, he often refers to Sniper, the penguin chick, by "kono yarou", which is a phrase that usually gets translated to "you bastard". The phrase, just like other such words in Japan, isn't actually profanity however. The severity of how inappropriate it is to say it depends on how the phrase is said. In this sense, any form of such insult isn't really inappropriate. In the English version, to try and recreate this, they have Dr. Crab call Sniper a "son of a gun". Although this obviously makes the entire "he has a large potty mouth" part of his character, less apparent, considering he's obviously purposefully censoring himself. Although this actually created a pretty clever pun in itself, in the fact that Sniper, in a sense, is literally the son of a gun. Aka, Rifle the Penguin.
    • In Case 3 of Dual Destinies, Athena Cykes meets her Childhood Friend Juniper Woods for the first time in years, and notices that Juniper's a bit distant toward her, calling her "Athena" rather than "Thena." It seems a bit strange for her to react this way, considering that she calls Juniper "Ms. Woods" in court. In the original Japanese, Shinobu Morizumi(Juniper) usually addresses Kokone Kizuki(Athena) as the affectionate "Koko-chan," but switches to "Kizuki-san"(equivalent to "Ms. Cykes") in Chapter 3, addressing her formerly close friend with the same level of formality reserved for an acquaintance.
  • Spirit Hunter: NG:
    • In the Screaming Author case, Akira overhears a young girl complaining that she's starving. In the original Japanese, the word she used was in a dialect that Akira wasn't familiar with, thus he couldn't parse what she said. In the English version, he's never heard the word "famished" and mistakes it for a name, with Ban baffled that he could make such an error. It stands out as odd since otherwise, Akira doesn't have any problem with large words (and would possibly be familiar with "famished", given that he used to live in poverty and would skip meals often).
    • When meeting her for the first time, Ooe mistakes Momo Kuruse for Banana Kuruse. "Momo" is peach in Japanese, meaning that Ooe got her fruits mixed up, but this isn't clear in the English version.

    Web Animation 
  • Etra chan saw it!: One story involves Hiiragi acting really snobby towards coworkers who use certain words in his hearing. The problem is that in the original Japanese version of the episode, his issue was specifically that he has a low opinion of people who use English loan words for anything that already has an equivalent word in Japanese. The English dub doesn't properly convey this very well, making his attitude make little sense to any English speakers watching the episode.
  • 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.
  • 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.

  • Port Sherry: Discussed in "The puzzle of foreign visual wordplay", where the Spanish-speaking artist doesn't understand the English visual gags of someone turning into a donkey, a lollipop, or a sign picturing a screw and a ball (since the word 'screwball' doesn't exist in Spanish).
  • 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 this Scandinavia and the World strip where the author translates Danish numbers literally.
  • Tower of God: Bam's meaningful name (it means Night) and its homonymity to chestnut in Korean can't be properly translated, so several puns and metaphors need translator notes to explain them.
  • Schlock Mercenary had an in-universe example, with translations of the name of the Oafan AI "T'kkkuts-Afa". "Afa" means "wind", but has multi-layered religious connotations, and "T'kkkuts" designates something that is either destroyed or destructive (and is physically painful for the fragile Living Gasbag Oafans to say). Several of the grunts dub the entity "Broken Wind" and make plenty of fart jokes, until someone points out that while "Broken Wind" might be literally accurate, so is "Angry God". An actual Oafan later suggests the translation "Breath Weapon", as "Afa" really isn't usually associated with what humans would identify as deities, and "Angry" severely undersells just how insane and destructive "T'kkkuts-Afa" actually is.

    Web Original 
  • CLW Entertainment: According to Collin, he used complete guesswork when translating "TV & Disc Do's And Don't's", a Doraemon short. As a result, the original moral of "watch TV in a well-lit room and don't sit too close or watch too much" was turned into simply "don't watch too much TV".
  • Pokémon Talk: Season 2 Episode 2: "¡Español!", as the video description says, referencing its Spanish-speaking guest:
    In the second episode of Pokemon Talk Season 2, Squirtle and Bulbasaur bring back a guest who wasn't able to appear in Season 1. However, some things end up getting lost in translation.
  • The Ningen: Pieces of information on the ningen cryptids are provided in both English and Japanese. However, the Japanese subtitles indicate the ningen are far more dangerous than the English subtitles do.

    This Very Wiki 
  • The English home page of TV Tropes used to describe 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.
  • The joke about Chekov's Gun being confused with Chekhov's Gun will tend to confuse any German troper, because Chekov is Chekov, but Chekhov is Tschechow. (Half a dozen other Pun problems were omitted for length reasons.)
  • The This Is Unforgivable! trope. As the page explains, the phrase sounds kind of archaic and Narmy, but in Japanese it is deadly serious. A translation that's less direct but more faithful to the original expression might be the English "You are dead to me." Or even "You deserve to die for this!"


Video Example(s):


Tom Scott - Goslings Joke

In the video "Why don't subtitles match dubbing?", Tom Scott explains how translators made their own clever translations on the goslings joke from English to other languages.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / Woolseyism

Media sources: