A Film By Any Other Name

From the directors of Two Stupid Stupid Guys, There's Something Going on with Mary.

Translation is a sticky game. I’ve long wished that I knew Russian so I could better appreciate Tolstoy. I wonder how much more I’d love Love in the Time of Cholera if my Spanish reading comprehension weren’t so dilapidated, or what greater enlightenment I’d have garnered from The Unbearable Lightness of Being in Kundera’s native Czech.

Translation is also a fun game, one that keeps me entertained for at least a stop or two every time I’m on the subway in New York comparing the sparse, pithy copy in the English language MTA ads to the meandering Spanish ones that require smaller font and tighter spacing to fit on the same poster, or pondering the rhythmic differences that make “si ves algo, di algo” sound better to me than “if you see something, say something.”

This post on the Economist’s Johnson language blog takes a look at interesting movie title translations, including “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” which is, in its original Swedish “Men Who Hate Women.” Definitely more going on there than just a little lost-in-translation-ing:

When I arrived in Mexico I wanted something easy to practice my Spanish, so I went looking for “La chica con el tatuaje del dragón”, as I assumed Stieg Larsson’s thriller might be known. It isn’t: the title here is “Los hombres que no amaban a las mujeres” (“The men who didn’t love women”).What a rubbish name, I thought: why couldn’t Mexicans be given a direct translation? In fact, it’s English-speakers who have been duped: the original, in Swedish, is simply “Men who hate women”. (“It was considered too scary for foreign audiences, while just hitting the politically-correct spot in Sweden,” reckons my neighbourhood Swede.)

Duped indeed. Or maybe “Men who hate women” just wasn’t specific enough to differentiate it from other Hollywood flicks.

By the by, I’ve got a little movie title translation of my own to offer — for “Burn After Reading.” Sorry, Coen brothers, you know I love you, but you got this one wrong. Shoulda called it “Burn Before Watching.”

[Thanks, Ter.]

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2 responses to “A Film By Any Other Name

  1. best movie translation was the Czech translation of Not Another Teen Movie to Bullshit!

    • The Unhappy Mediator

      How could I have forgotten? Amazing.

      And on the translations tip, here’s one of my favorite SNL sketches ever, the Teeny Cafe. “We will sing an American classic translated from English into French… and back into English.” Freaking gold. Enjoy it — before the NBC YouTube trawlers take it down:

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