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Translate the Loanwords, Too

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A subtrope of "Blind Idiot" Translation and a relative of Recursive Translation. This is when a work in one language uses a word from another language, but when the work is translated into the language which it borrowed that word from, the translators are thrown off and try to translate it (even though it's already in their language) instead of leaving it as is. There are a few possible outcomes;

  • In the case of loanwords, they might remain untranslated, even if they're used differently in the work's original language.
  • The phrase might be reworded either because the translator fails to realize that it's a word from their language or is determined to translate every part of the script whether necessary or not.
  • If the word is a loanword or has roots in another language entirely (for example, French phrases like "coup de grace" or Greek and Latin suffixes like "phobia" are both used in English often enough to be treated as a part of the language), then it's translated from that (for example, phobia becomes "fears" and "coup de grace" becomes "blow of mercy"). This makes even less sense than the above, as it requires that the translator realise they're dealing with a word that's supposed to be foreign.
  • In some countries such as Spain, Finland or France, the local rules of the language specify that loanwords should be used as little as possible; for example, "hardware drivers" in Spain are called controladores de dispositivo (which is native), whereas in Latin America they're called drivers de hardware.
  • Finally (and possibly more benevolently), the translator might translate words in the original script which are in the language being translated into the language of the original script to Keep It Foreign, or just apply a Translation Correction if the script's original implementation of the translator's language was badly done.

However, bear in mind that loanwords sometimes evolve into "false friends," acquiring a different meaning in the new language. While 'confetti' is borrowed from Italian, we haven't taken very good care of it: it means "sugared almonds" in its mother tongue.note  Conversely, a German might think that they don't need to tell an English speaker what 'handy' means... except that it's a noun meaning "mobile phone" in German.

When someone demands something be translated from a language they speak anyway, it's Completely Unnecessary Translator; if they simply took something in the original language that would be too rude for native speakers, it's Tactful Translation; if the "same" language actually does need translating, it's Separated by a Common Language. "El Niño" Is Spanish for "The Niño" is the inverse; when a phrase from the first language is left untranslated because it's a loanword in the second.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Some fansubs of the Soul Eater anime translate "Arachnophobia" (the name of the antagonists' organisation) from the Japanese script into "Fear of spiders" or "Fear of Arachne".
  • A small one shows up in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. In one scene Kyon says a few words in Japanese, then in English. In the dub and some subs he does the opposite.
  • Parodied in Excel♡Saga: At one point there's an English text scroll, so there are Japanese subtitles. The English version then provides a hilariously inaccurate translation of those subtitles.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!:
    • There is a fansub which humorously translates duro/draw (as in draw a card) as "pick"—this owes to it having been a Recursive Translation.
    • The Italian translation of the manga is filled with such things. Many English loanwords or names are translated as they were Japanese words, so a monster that was called "Leviathan"note  is now known as "Ribaiasan", and Bandit Keith is called "Bandit Kierce".
  • In Sailor Moon:
    • In general, foreign translations of Sailor Moon often translate the Calling Your Attacks incantations, even though in the original Japanese version they were in English (except for Sailor Mars' Akuryō Taisan) — and thus meant to be in a different language.
    • Some attack names mix Japanese loanwords from European languages with English words, which can get confusing quickly. Conflict often arises between those who want a literal translation of all non-Japanese dialogue and those who prefer to smooth things out to sound better in English. As a result, the same attack can easily have about three or four different names depending on who you ask. Take Sailor Mercury's シャボンスプレー, for example. Shabon Spray? Sabão Spray? Soap Bubble Spray ("soap" being the English translation of the loanword "shabon"note )? Who the hell knows?
    • An infamous case in the original Tokyopop translation of the Sailor Moon manga in Act 39 of the Dream arc, which wasn't about a single word, but an entire English poem by William Butler Yeats. Portions of his "The Second Coming" were translated back into English without recognizing that it was originally an English poem, despite it being credited in the text itself. (This was fixed in later releases.)
    • In the German dub of Sailor Moon (at least as seen on TV), the "make up" part of the Sailors' transformation invocation was overly literally translated to "mach(t) auf!", despite already being a perfectly fine loanword in German. It managed to not come across as entirely ridiculous on account of the translated phase in turn basically meaning "open!" or "unlock!" — which actually works pretty well in context, too.
    • Even The '90s English dub renamed them (despite as mentioned being for the most part in English already), and often gave the same attack multiple names in back to back episodes, often with nothing to do what what the attack looked like... It also dropped the Make-Up! from the transformation phrases.note 
  • The translators who worked on MegaMan NT Warrior somehow managed to mistranslate half the Gratuitous English. Not only was it in English to begin with, but the first two Mega Man Battle Network games had already been released in English without any of the same errors. Yet somehow, many instances of "punch" became "thump", and many a "bomb" became a "boomer".
  • Digimon Adventure:
    • Diablomon served as the villain of the movie Our War Game. When the film was dubbed as part of Digimon: The Movie, he became "Diaboromon", a possible pronunciation to a Japanese tongue. This doubled as avoiding mentioning the Devil.
    • While not mentioned in the movie itself, supplementary material for The Golden Digimentals translates Cherubimon as "Kerpymon", possibly another way of dodging around religious references. In later appearances, Cherubimon is used as the name of the same Digimon, to keep in line with Seraphimon and Ophanimon.
    • "Arukeni" is the Japanese pronunciation of "Arachne," making calling her "Arukenimon" instead of "Arachnemon" another case of changing the name by not changing it. It does, however, serve to keep the secret of the fact that she turns into a Giant Spider. The card game has many such situations where the names are romanized and then left alone, making English words into non-words. The show usually corrects this.
  • Dragon Ball:
    • Akira Toriyama stated that Vegeta and other aliens' attacks were all mostly in English or english-like to evoke a sense of alien-ness to a Japanese audience. Conventional wisdom would say the same would be true in other non-English-speaking countries, but this hasn't stopped certain localizations from translating his attacks into their language. In some cases, this leads to the attempted symbolism being outright inverted, with Goku and the other earth fighters using foreign untranslated japanese names for their attacks while literal aliens are the only ones speaking in your language.
    • Similar to Diablomon/Diaboromon above, Bra from Dragon Ball GT became Bulla, likewise a technically possible pronunciation in Japanese, to avoid mentioning feminine undergarments.
  • Cardfight!! Vanguard features a deck archetype known as Blau, whose names feature a lot of Gratuitous German. One of the first units introduced is Stern Blaukluger, where the "Stern" is clearly meant to be the German word for "Star", yet the Italian dub of the anime translated as if it was English, turning it into "Blaukluger Severo". Meanwhile, the card translation got the language right and translated it as "Blaukluger Stella".

  • Adventures of Captain Vrungel used "obviously bowdlerized dub" gag (see above), including "cretino!" dubbed as "untranslatable wordplay".

    Films — Live-Action 

  • Jorge Luis Borges initially named one of the volumes of his collected works with the English The Maker, which he then translated into Spanish as El hacedor. The first English translators were unaware of Borge's intentions, and were unsure how to translate "hacedor" (which can mean either "maker" or "doer"), so they just sidestepped it and named the book Dreamtigers (after one of the stories from the book).
  • In 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Professor Aronnax recalls an expedition to the Nebraska badlands, which he gives in the original French as les mauvaises terres du Nebraska. Some English translators have failed to recognise the term, resulting in translations like "the disagreeable territory of Nebraska".
  • In the short story "The Chief Designer" by Andy Duncan, Russian spacecraft names usually left in Russian when being discussed in English (Vostok, Mir) are translated into English as well ("The East", "The Peace").
  • In a Russian translation of The Road to Oz from the Land of Oz cycle, the character name Polychrome was translated into Russian, into something like "Manycoloria".
  • In-universe example: In Otherland, a German-speaking character is in a virtual reality simulation with an automatic and near-instantaneous language translator. When she attempts to use the word "doppelganger", the software insists on rendering it in English as "double-goer", despite "doppelganger" being a loanword.
  • A background character in one of E. M. Delafield's Provincial Lady novels is overheard asking how to say "charabanc" in French. Her friend replies that it is "autobus".
  • Near the end of The Guns of the South, a manifesto for the AWB recovered from the raid on their offices in Richmond, after they've turned on the Confederacy contains an anachronistic reference to Adolf Hitler and Mein Kampf. The problem is that the book is written entirely in Afrikaans, and Afrikaans didn't exist in 1868 (It did, by the way.), so the translator the Confederates bring in is left to translate it from his knowledge of German and Dutch, as well as his own guesswork. Since Mein Kampf didn't exist yet either, the translator translates it as My Struggle when reading the reference back to Lee.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who: In-universe example in "The Fires of Pompeii" - a running gag is that while the TARDIS allows the Romans to hear English as Latin, they interpret The Doctor's and Donna's Latin phrases and loanwords as "Celtic" (although it's never made clear if Donna's "veni, vidi, vici" was translated into period Celtic or into modern English and/or gibberish that the merchant simply assumed was Celtic).
  • Another in-universe example, in Only Fools and Horses: Delboy knows the French for "duck", but can't figure out how to translate the "a l'orange" bit of his favourite meal.
  • This quote from X-Play reviewing the game Gladiator:
    Morgan: "That's right: He's translating Latin — to himself!"

  • Spoofed in the liner notes for P.D.Q. Bach's composition "Capriccio 'La Pucelle de New Orleans'", which at one point "translates" the lyrics, "Hinky dinky do you speak."

    Tabletop Games 
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!:
    • In the original Japanese, there is an archetype called 'Ritua', a corruption of the English 'Ritual', because the set focuses on Ritual Summoning. In English, it is called 'Gishki', a corruption of the Japanese word for ritual, 'Gishiki'. Needless to say, the fanbase was actually rather impressed.
    • Another one was the Karakuri, a series of machines who all have a given model number. The English version had the idea of keeping the model number, but to emphasize the Japanese-ness of the series, they added a second identifier consisting of the Karakuri's model number as pronounced in Japanese - so "Karakuri Soldier 236" became "Karakuri Soldier mdl 236 'Nisamu'" - 'ni-sa-mu', of course, meaning '2-3-6.'
    • There are some straighter examples, as well - probably the most famous is Sangan. Its English name is Japanese for "three eye", given that Sangan has three eyes... but its Japanese name was simply "Kuritta"... or "Critter." "Cyclops" became "Hitotsu-Me Giant" ("hitotsu-me" being Japanese for "one-eyed"),note  "Sting" being translated as "Hinotama Soul" ("hinotama" being Japanese for "fireball"), and "Thunderbolt" becoming "Raigeki" (Japanese for thunder strike).
    • The English card Giant Trunade is the Japanese ハリケーン, pronounced harikein, or Hurricane. The Trunade part of the English card is an alternate version of トルネド, pronounced torunedo, or Tornado.
    • A few card names are written with certain kanji but with furigana indicating that they should be pronounced like an English word; in the early days these cards would be released in English with a more direct transliteration of the kanji instead. For example, one Sea Monster card is called "Leviathan", but in English it's referred to as "Kairyu-Shin", a transliteration of its kanji name 海竜神 (meaning ocean dragon god); similarly "Nosferatu Lich" became "Fushioh Richie", with "Fushioh" being a transliteration of 不死王 (undead king).

    Video Games 
  • Animal Crossing: New Horizons introduces an article of clothing based on a Japanese backpack known as a "ランドセル" or "ransel", originally from the Dutch word for "knapsack". The English name for this item is a direct Romanization of the katakana used to write it, "randoseru."
    • This isn't exactly an issue with the game's translation however, as the term has been imported from Japanese into English that way, according to the other wiki.
  • Some creatures in Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow had their names wrongly transliterated from the Japanese, from simple things like "Arc Demon" (which is just missing an H to the proper form, "archdemon") to stuff like "Skull Millione" (which should be "Scarmiglione", one of the demons in Dante's The Divine Comedy) and "Alura Une" (it should be "Alraune" - this error carried over to Dawn as well). One that's particularly funny, though, is an enemy called "Curly", which should actually be "Kali", as in, the four-armed Hindu goddess after whom this enemy is patterned. Another demon got the Unfortunate Name of "Lubicant". Final Fantasy fans should immediately recognize Rubicante.
  • Final Fantasy VI:
    • A classic example at the very start, where you play alongside NPCs named Vicks and Wedge. They're meant to be Biggs and Wedge, a Shout-Out to Star Wars: A New Hope, but the translator missed the reference and went with a more normal-looking transliteration.
    • The "Guardian" weapon was named "マインゴーシュ" (maingōshu) in Japanese. This one went over the localization team's heads because it's a loanword from French — it's supposed to be "main-gauche."
  • Quite a lot of the gibberish in Final Fantasy VII got into it this way. So did a lot of things that fans like and decided to keep.
    • An intentional one that exists in the original Japanese: When naming the game's heroine, the developers started with the idea of calling her "Earth" to suit the source of her magic and contrast with the hero Cloud. They ended up literally transcribing the word "Earth" letter for letter into katakana, ending up with "earisu", which was then re-transliterated in English letters to create the name Aerith (which also happens to be a Significant Anagram of "I, Earth"). This was stated in a 1997 interview with Famitsu.
    • The most obvious (and beloved) mistake in the game is garbling Cloud's 'bastard-sword' to 'Buster Sword'. This has been kept in better-translated material, because it turns it from a generic weapon type with an awkward name to a cool name for a special sword (that works as a pun on the phrase 'cloudbusting').
    • Another one that got kept in later appearances: Cloud's upwards-jumping L2-1 Limit Break was recursively translated from 'Climb Hazard' to 'Climhazzard'. This name is used in Cloud's appearances in Super Smash Bros., amongst others.
    • Barret's mysteriously-named 'Ungarmax' attack was supposed to be 'Angermax'. This was not kept, and was fixed for the PC port.
    • Barret's name is an example. The Japanese intention had been for him to be called 'Bullet' and he appears with that name in some early English promo material (as well as with other garblings like 'Ballet').
    • The giant snake enemy fought in the swamps around the Mythril Mines is supposed to be Midgardsormr, a name from Norse mythology. The localisers presumably noticed its similarity to Midgar (a city that appears in the game, with a name also derived from Norse mythology) and mangled it into 'Midgar Zolom'.
    • When Ifalna talks about where Jenova landed, she says it landed in the 'Knowlespole'. Many players assumed this was supposed to be a cool-sounding fantasy location, but it's really just a nonsensical retranslation of the English loanword 'North Pole'.
    • One late-game eye-bat monster was supposed to be an Ahriman. Somehow this ended up in English as 'Allemagne', the French word for 'Germany'.
    • An enemy that looks like a set of scales and uses justice-themed attacks was given the bizarre English name "Jersey". Its name in Japanese was "jajji", the English word "Judge".
    • A fat tusked dragon ended up as "Velcher Task" instead of "Belcher Tusk".
    • It might have been a Woolseyism but the late-game enemy "Gighee" was probably supposed to be "Ziggy", as its look and moves are a Shout-Out to David Bowie. However, its horse-like appearance comes from how in Japanese, "Ziggy" is a homophone with "geegee", as in a bad horse. ("Gighee" is still referred to with this name in Final Fantasy XV.)
    • A Theme Naming joke where the mayor of the pizza-shaped city of Midgar and his assistant were called Domino and Hut (after the pizzeria chains) was obscured by the fact that Hut's name was localised as 'Hart'.
    • There is a Shinra bomber in the game called Gelnika, which should have been "Guernica", as in the Pablo Picasso painting of a bombing's aftermath.
    • The character "Shera" was meant to be called "Sierra".
    • The W-item and W-summon materia are called such because W is used to represent "double" in Japanese (and is frequently pronounced that way), even though the same isn't true for English, and they would be properly localized as "double-item" and "double-summon."
    • In one scene, Bugenhagen keeps talking about something called "Life's dream", which turns out to be just a bad translation of the term "Lifestream".
    • A couple more mangled Norse mythology references: the town of Nibelheim was supposed to be Niflheim (this could even qualify as a double example - the letter "f" in Old Norse is pronounced more like a "v", and in Japanese, "v" is often rendered as "b", so the name went Niflheim > Niburuheimu > Nibelheim) and Odin's special attack, Gungnir no Yari (Gungnir Lance, referencing Odin's spear from mythology) got rendered as "Gunge Lance", leaving English players wondering what slime has to do with the attack.
    • Some enemies that had perfectly sensible English names in Japanese got given bizarre bordering-on-gibberish names in the English version due to misinterpretation of the katakana, such as Cokatolis (Cockatrice) and Maximum Kimaira (Maximum Chimera). The enemy known as "Chimera" in Japanese was called "Harpy" in English, somehow being given the name of a completely different mythological creature.
    • Other enemy name examples - "Evil Wrap" got rendered as "Bad Rap", "Basilisk" somehow became "Bagrisk", "Coeurl" became "Cuahl", the boss "Proudclad" became the rather amusing "Proud Clod" (this was corrected when an identical boss of the same name appeared as a Shout-Out in Final Fantasy XIII), "Geminismi" became "Jemnezmy", "Lesser Ropross" became "Lessaloploth", "Maul Dancer" became the far less threatening "Malldancer", "Moss Slasher" (named because it resembles a gardening implement) became "Moth Slasher", "Jammer Armor" became "Jamar Armor" and "Heretic Hojo" became "Helletic Hojo" (though this could be interpreted as a pun).
    • The first stage of the Final Boss was given the name "Bizarro Sephiroth" in the English translation. This was another result of misinterpretation of the katakana - the boss's original name was "Rebirth Sephiroth", a reference to the sefirot from Kabbalah which Sephiroth is named after. However, the katakana for "rebirth", "ribasu", can also be read as "reverse". The translators mistook the name for "Reverse Sephiroth", and Woolseyed it into "Bizarro Sephiroth". The second phase, "Safer Sephiroth", was a mistranslation of "sefer", another Kabbalah reference.
  • The name "Veil of Wiyu" seen in several Final Fantasy games is a complicated combination of this trope, Good Bad Translation and "Blind Idiot" Translation:
    • It first appeared in Final Fantasy Tactics as collectable quest reward item in form of a book, but due to low overall quality of the translation, its intended meaning, "Oeilvert", French for "green eye", was lost, but since it wasn't an item that effected gameplay in any way, few people even knew it existed and even fewer people paid attention to its name.
    • Fast forward to Final Fantasy IX, and one of the plot-important locations now shares its name with this book and the name has actually been transliterated correctly this time: however, since the name now belongs to a location instead of a book, very few people are able to make the connection that the two of them are supposed to have the same name. Ironically enough, while IX has gotten complaints about transliterating references to previous games incorrectly, it also manages to transliterate this particular reference correctly, which then renders it unrecognizeable.
    • Finally, the book and its original transliteration of the name from Tactics are then used from that point onwards in other FF games: this is likely done because the name itself sounds more interesting than the intended meaning and because the book is generally associated with Summoners and a "wiyu" happens to be the Nyishi peoples' term for spirits, which Summoners can naturally summon. Final Fantasy XIV further references its originally intended name by granting the player an ingame achievement called "Green Eyes" for successfully completing a quest required to obtain it.
  • Golden Sun: The Lost Age's Superboss has an attack where he hits you with a gigantic sword made of lightning, called "Formina Sage". This turned out to be a bad re-translation of "Fulminous Edge", the name used in the sequel.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures has a fat NPC running a ball-passing Minigame, hoping this "ball diet" helps her lose weight. This sounds weird in English unless you know that in Japanese, the English loanword "diet" means exercise and has nothing to do with eating.
  • Pokémon Red and Blue had this problem with "Celadon Mansion", which is very clearly a high-rise apartment building, not a mansion. The loanword "mansion" in Japanese refers to exactly that kind of building. Even weirder, the burnt-out building on Cinnabar Island, which more correctly fits the English definition of the word, is also called a "mansion" in the English version, and it wasn't until the Video Game Remake of Pokémon Gold and Silver that Celadon Mansion was corrected to "Celadon Condominiums".
  • Used for an amusing In-Universe gag in Super Robot Wars: Original Generation 2. The translation software installed in the Mechs used by the aliens (kind of) known as the Inspectors apparently does this, leading to one of them pausing in the middle of a climactic battle to wonder if it's broken when Ratsel Feinshmecker ("Mysterious Gourmet" in German) appears.

    Web Original 

    Real Life 
  • Good translations, fan and official, often do this because of the Gratuitous English trope, and the fact that many loanwords aren't used by the borrower in the same manner as in the original language. Chances are, you've probably never heard 'diamond' shortened to 'dia,' ice cream merely called 'ice,' or a two-person team called a 'combi' if you're a native English speaker. In the same vein, there are even terms that are not immediately recognizable as English. (As an example, portmanteaus of two words' katakana spellings. Dekotora = decorated truck.note ) You can get even more confusing with "tension" - which can mean excitement. Think of an upcoming game, battle, Cooking Duel, or somesuch. Leaving it turns the character's feelings of "Oh, yeah!" into "Oh, Crap!!" - the exact opposite of what the writer intended the speaker to be feeling. There's more where those examples came from, in each category.
  • Brazilian former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso saw fit to explain to an English speaker interviewing him what French loanword "malaise" meant. All of that in a horrible pronunciation of English.
  • A joke on Mock the Week went: "I don't know why they insist on calling it a putsch when we have a perfectly adequate English word: coup d'état." Which is French.
  • In a similar vein, some Hebrew purists hold that instead of 'sarcasm' (which is borrowed from English who borrowed from Greek by way of Latin) people should say tsiniuth (ציניות, cynicism) which is both not the same thing and comes from Greek.
  • Likewise, a few holdouts in Quebec insist that the usual Quebec French term for "weekend" — la fin de semaine (literally "the end of week") — is a terrible Anglicism, and that people should avoid it in favour of the real French term, as used in France: le week-end.
  • James Fallows of The Atlantic recalled a time when a Japanese person once asked if there was an English counterpart for the Japanese concept of ニュアンス, or nyuansu. That is, "nuance." Which is from the French, er, "nuance".