I am ashamed to admit that even after all these years, I still can’t read or write Japanese very well, so I always work with someone else on translation projects. But I’m still learning all the time. During a sudden spate of translation projects recently, I learned some interesting things.
In a guide to healthy living and longevity, it was suggested that one should “practice good alcohol” when drinking. I don’t know how to “practice” alcohol, and what is “good alcohol”? The opposite of “bad alcohol”? Hooch? Rotgut? The translator explained that it means don’t get rowdy and mean when you drink, so I changed it to, “Don’t be a nasty drunk.” It’s interesting that Japanese gives the concept a more positive spin than English.
Then there was the case of a program about a large company that managed to survive the transition from analog to digital because it didn’t succumb to “big-company-disease”. Huh? Corporate Chicken Pox? Business Beriberi? The translator explained that it means the paralysis that sets in when a company gets large and can no longer make timely decisions or take appropriate action. I changed it to, “Don’t get caught up in red tape,” which is really more about bureaucracy, but gets the point across.
But this was my favorite, although it was more of a typo than an idiom problem. An artist “…drank in the hardtop swallow new normal that came rushing in…” after last year’s earthquake. I wasn’t working directly with the translator this time, so I couldn’t ask. I just stared at it for the longest time, totally flummoxed, trying desperately to imagine what that could possibly mean. And then I finally got it. Change “hardtop swallow” to “hard-to-swallow” and everything falls into place.