JAVID AHAMED is the Creative Director at Quartz Communications Jeddah and an occasional writer who loves to record Life’s Little Things.
When I first received my Saudi employment visa ten years ago, I took it to my father’s colleague for translation. He was a professor of chemistry but had a flair for the Arabic language. He couldn’t give a proper translation for some of the words. “Is it too difficult uncle?” I asked him. “Javid, I am only Dip. in Arabic, not deep in Arabic”, he replied with a smile, referring to the Diploma course he had attended.
They say translation is a serious business. It was evident while listening to a talk given by Mr Khaled Almaeena, a leading media and political analyst, at the International English and Translation Conference held last month at the Effat University.
He stressed the importance of being fair with translation without unnecessary addition or omission from the original text. He shared the story of a reporter who filed the news of the passing away of a Prince’s mother. The reporter while translating the news from Arabic to English, added the designation of another Prince with the same name resulting in people condoling the wrong person. “Mr Khaled, you killed my mother!”, that was the first sentence on the first phone call he received the next day, from the Prince who was quoted wrongly. Apologizing for the error and bringing the situation under control was a different story.
While having a chat afterwards, he recalled seeing signs that had funny typos – “Low Office” instead of “Law Office”, “Cing’s Road” for “King’s Road”, “Bush / Bull” stickers, “No Barking” warnings and the one that I couldn’t decipher at all – “Evil Saloon for Men”. He clarified, “It had an illustration of Eiffel Tower.” I got it. That was supposed to be “Eiffel Saloon for Men”.
An advertisement in a leading English newspaper wanted “a male cooker”. A restaurant in Jeddah is happily serving “freshly prepared Indian and Pakistani cousins”. Many a time, I have overtaken a cargo van which had the “costumer care” number sticker at the back. I have seen a number of “laundary”, “brost” and “barbar” shops.
Contrary to the above, an advertisement hoarding I remember to this day, was on the famous Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai for Nescafe. It had the product at one corner with the copy: “Brimulate your stain”. No, it was not a typo. It’s clever use of spoonerism. Brilliant copy for coffee!
Once, we commissioned an Egyptian photographer for a product shoot. While retouching, he asked me, “How do you make a bath?” Sensing my puzzled look, he pointed to his computer screen and repeated the question. When I looked at the monitor, I realized he wanted to know how to make a path in Photoshop.
Blame it on wrong pronunciation or the influence of mother tongue or not giving too much importance to a foreign language or whatever, I enjoy these ‘unintentional’ typos and goof ups, ONLY as long as it’s not causing embarrassments or involving serious issues. We have to be careful while speaking and more so while putting things in print. Otherwise, it’s not all right.
I often get reminded of this smart driver who covered up a typo brilliantly. While vacationing abroad, my friend’s mother, a school teacher, got into a taxi in central London driven by a Pakistani. Emblazoned on the inside of the rear passenger doors were large signs: on the left door, it read “EXIST” and on the right, “NO EXIST”. Deciding to correct his English, she said, “The word is ‘exit’, without the ‘s’.”
“No,” replied the driver. “In London, if you exit on the left side, you will exist. But if you exit on the right, you will not exist.”