From the Department of “Things I Don’t Anderstand”

How much do you want to bet this work cost peanuts!


The Tiburtina Subway Station, Rome

The Gallery of Wrongness – Page 15: “Magic Italy”

Criticizing the Italian Ministry of Tourism for its embarrassing, amateurish, ham-handed publicity efforts is a little like shooting fish in a barrel: there’s hardly any sport in it.

On the other hand, how can you resist? Especially if you take into account the hundreds (yes, hundreds) of millions of Euros the Ministry has spent on a money pit of a national tourism website (with ugly, shameful translations in a half-dozen languages) and on publicity campaigns like these.

Many times, an image is worth a thousand words. Here are two. Plus a video. (The leggy redhead in the lesbian-fantasy-porn high heels is the current Minister of Tourism, Michela Vittoria Brambilla; the guy in the video [below] is the former mayor of Rome and, at the time the video was made, Minister for Italian Heritage and Culture, Francesco Rutelli.

Four words in English. Two of them are wrong. (With thanks to Donna Meiss for spotting this first and for creating the graphic.)

Rutelli welcomes you!

(If you cannot see the video, download it here.)

“Italy: Perhaps you dreaming about.”

Now there’s a quotable quote. Michela! Let’s get that on a brochure!

The Gallery of Wrongness – Page 10: (Mc)ProZ’s “native-English-speaking” Italian translators

ProZ.com is famous for allowing translators to claim to be “native speakers” of any language that pops into their heads and for taking no action whatever to ensure that second- (or third-) language translators aren’t defrauding potential clients by claiming to be able to do what they cannot actually do.

But even on ProZ, some people have more chutzpah than others.

Take this translator, who claims to have twenty-three years of experience and to be a “native English translator with Italian parents.” (In other words, arguably, not a native English speaker, but whatever.) She also advertises herself in English as “Dr.,” one of those small Italian scams that Italian translators sometimes try to get away with — in Italy, you’re a “dottore” or a “dottoressa” as soon as you finish you undergraduate degree, but that doesn’t make you a “doctor” in any other language.

Confronted in the past, this translator has argued that the bad translations of websites listed on her résumé were “changed by the client” without her knowledge. OK, here are three perfectly ghastly messes from her current ProZ profile. In other words, she put them there herself.

First, here’s an attempt to render the description of an art exhibition. I know, this is like shooting fish in a barrel. She didn’t even bother to run a spell-check on the piece, her punctuation is shameful, and she never met a calque she didn’t like. Still, phrases like “unctuously aestheticising” and “the state of principal essentially non-event” are evidence of a glaring lack of familiarity with basic English (as is the failure to realize that “Middle age authors” suggests something quite different from “authors writing in the Middle Ages”).

The fact is that Italian clients are frequently in no position to judge the quality of an English translation–they simply don’t read the language well enough. So they count on the translator. And there’s nothing wrong with that; they should be able to count on the translator. But that’s assuming they choose one who knows what she’s doing …

… and not one who slavishly follows every twist and turn of a truly atrocious Italian text to create an equally atrocious (and no less meaningless) one in Inglisc.

Finally, here’s a recipe.

Sure, you can figure out what she’s saying (though that “browny even colour” and “little livers” might give you pause), but the question becomes: How hard would it have been to give this text to someone who could translate it properly, edit out the run-on sentences, and use correct cooking terminology? More to the point, a translation you have to “figure out” isn’t a translation; it’s a hack job.

Perhaps the rationale for all this madness lies in the fact that this translator advertises her services starting at €0.04/word (about $0.05). Despite translations like these, she boasts that she has “developed a good reputation in this field as I am committed to high-quality translations.” She demonstrates that “high quality” once again on a different professional networking site, where her profile includes this description:

Specialized In videogames, tourism, travel, winery, marketing, technical translations, also software localization and subtitiling and websites, i have translated 50 wesbites this year many on Hotels and hospitality, Forex and online casino.

Yes, written just like that: crazy capitals, run-on sentences, “wesbites,” “subtitiling,” and all.

Frankly, this kind of translator — and the collusion of ProZ.com, TranslatorsCafé, and their ilk in finding clients for them — would be less offensive if she were at least honest: “I’m an Italian-speaking translator with a second-rate ability to write in English. My translations into English are neither elegant nor fluent, but they are very cheap.”

The English would still be terrible, but at least it wouldn’t be fraud.

The Gallery of Wrongness – Page 8: Solar Farm (Parma, Italy)

Solar FarmReport card: C- Here’s my offer to the Parma, Italy-based Solar Farm company, providers of “turn-key photovoltaic in Italy”: If I promise not to install solar paneling, will you promise to stop translating into English?

I think it’s only fair. Because if you ask me, “Is it still worthy a solar farm in Italy?” I’m afraid the answer is going to have to be, “No, it were not.”

The Golden Rush!

The “Golden Rush” is pretty funny all by itself, but the “focues” and the “high energy-yeld” are just plain embarrassing. Even if you’re a bad translator (especially if you’re a bad translator), you should probably learn to use the spell check.

But it’s when we get to brief bios of Solar Farm’s principals, Marco Bonvini and Emilio Zechini, that their site qualifies for the Gallery of Wrongness. I’ll bet both of them are real smart guys, and there’s no question that Italy desperately needs alternative-energy resources.

Growing interest toward and collecting sponsor interest ... a full-time job.

But what if they think like they write? Or what if the care they put into their consulting services is equal to the amount of attention they paid to the English version of their website?

If I were someone interested in solar energy technology, and if I couldn’t read this site in the original Italian, considerations like those would certainly give me pause.

In the end, it’s the age-old question: What kind of business are you running if it isn’t worth the price of a decent translation?

The Gallery of Wrongness – Page 7: Milan Welcomes You with Italish

I have to thank a colleague, who is as astounded as I am by the amount of Italish that exists in public places in Italy, for these images.

In the first, the imposing Milano Centrale train station stands in the background. Hundreds of thousands of tourists cross this piazza every year–either because they’re visiting Milan or because they’re on their way to or from Malpensa (airport buses are lined up to the right of the photo, just out of sight). Still, no one at the panini bar thought it might matter to get the English right on the sign (see close-up). Here is available to reach a captive audience, so who cares?

As bad translations go, this one is definitely an ass-fault!

Just goes to show: The world over, the coppers get grumpy if you don’t lend them the proper attention:

The Gallery of Wrongness – Page 6 (FitnessElite’s PLUST Lighting)

FitnessElite’s PLUST Lighting CollectionReport card: C- ⁞ Unfortunately, it isn’t only FitnessElite’s lamps that are “Made in Italy.” So was the English translation of its website — with the predictable results.

Hey, it’s only content. Why should it matter if it’s gibberish?

What’s interesting to note here is that the Italian is hardly the best — it’s the kind of breathless publicity-speak written with the help of a thesaurus (but without the aid of someone who actually knows how to write a product description). From a translator’s perspective, texts like these are a translation nightmare.

Literal translation (which is pretty much what FitnessElite got) tends to make your eyes glaze over with its silliness. On the other hand, coming up with a decent equivalent in English requires more than just translation; it requires the skills of a copywriter. Unfortunately, since translators tend to get paid about 1/75th of what advertising copywriters make, clients generally don’t want to foot the bill for decent prose.

And why should they?

After all, it’s only their business we’re talking about!

The Gallery of Wrongness – Page 5 (Farmogal & Studio Lavia)

Farmogal Cosmetics & Studio Lavia Editoria e Comunicazione Report Card: D ⁞ “For Game” is PR firm Studio Lavia’s brand-new publicity campaign for the Farmogal cosmetics company. Evidently, however, no one at Studio Lavia understands that “For Game” means precisely nothing in English. Just as clearly, they neglected to mention that fact to their client, which I can only imagine has paid quite a lot to have these confusing billboards placed on Italian sidewalks (this specimen comes from Padova, which is also the home of Studio Lavia).

FOR GAME? For shame.

For the linguistic detective, it’s an interesting challenge to try to figure out what they thought they were saying. “Per gioco” exists in Italian; if that was the phrase, it ought to have been translated as “For Fun” or “Just for Fun” or something along those lines. But perhaps they were trying to say “Are You Game?” (though there’s no question mark).

The Italian doesn’t help much:


Studio Lavia's Farmogal page

Though this description is written in nearly incomprehensible “publicity-speak,” one gets the sense that they’re ATTEMPTING to communicate the notion that Farmogal invites women to use its cosmetics to play with their appearance, to make a game of the way they present themselves to the world. If that’s the case, what Studio Lavia meant to say was “Ready to Play?” or “Get into the Game!” or “It’s Only a Game” or even “Get Your Game Face On!”

The meaninglessness of “For Game,” however, is worthy of Engrish.com, which I heartily recommend. Among other things, Engrish.com provides ample testimony of the growing use of English (largely in Asian countries) not for its meaning, but as a kind of graphic element whose sole purpose is to make a product “cool.”

We’ve all seen the Chinese T-shirts with slogans like: “Happy Boy Extra Limb!!” Perhaps that’s what they were after at Studio Lavia. (And perhaps I should open a new site called Italish.com.) In other words, meaning is an unnecessary detail. The important thing is to slap some words in English onto the sign.

There’s a lot of this sort of thing going around in Italy, though. The Italian-based watch manufacturer, Cronotech, uses the equally nonsensical slogan “Shock Your Time,” and the mobile-phone operator Vodafone exhorts its customers that “Life is NOW.” (Arguably, Vodafone’s slogan at least sounds like English, though it’s certainly no less vapid than “Shock Your Time.”)

The SEAT auto company (which, to be fair, is Spanish, though they advertise their Ibiza, Leon, and Altea cars widely in Italy) is currently running a spot on Italian TV whose slogan was evidently written by a first-year student of English: “I Sound Me.”

"I Sound Me" by SEAT: This Slogan Gibberishes Me!

Sanpellegrino’s soft drink Chinò, meanwhile, is the sponsor of a promotion entitled “Gioca fuori dal coro” — in other words, “step out of the crowd,” “play your own kind of music,” pull away from the pack,” or words to that effect. The Italian site, however, informs visitors that Chinò is the “Sponsor Ufficiale di Play-Out.” Yeah so … “gioca” means “play” and “fuori” is “out.” But otherwise … huh?

Sanpellegrino's "Gioca fuori dal coro"

Would it have been so difficult for Studio Lavia to consult with a native-English-speaking translator regarding its Farmogal slogan before plastering it all over fancy billboards? (Or SEAT? Or San Sanpellegrino? Or Cronotech?) My bet is that it would have taken about five minutes to come up with something better.

Studio Lavia assures its would-be clients that it provides “a single contact point that allows you to resolve the vast majority of your communication problems, saving time and money in the process.”

Right. Except for those communication problems that come from not knowing how to write advertising slogans in English.

The Gallery of Wrongness – Page 4 (ItalianNews.it)

ItalianNews.it / SiciliaInformazioni.com / ItaliaInformazioni.comReport card: D+ ⁞ Here’s an enormous site with hundreds of articles, scores of writers, and a mission that is apparently quite serious. In other words, it’s an awful lot of work for a truly shameful result. Why does ItalianNews.it use Italian “passive” translators (those translating into a second language rather than their native one) rather than English-speaking translators? Why is ItalianNews.it content to publish articles by translators incapable of writing decent English? These are the eternal questions we ask in the Gallery of Wrongness.

And here’s another. Who could possibly be the intended audience for material like this? An English speaker, faced with a sentence like this one — “Just a matter for questioning about this pyramid built by the court: the good education produces a “gentle” growth in children, a personality put in a mainstream society according to the rules of citizenship and respect for others?” — will click away in three seconds. Unless you’re truly desperate for information about a specific event, you won’t spend any time trying to make sense of babble like this. And Italian speakers can read the same article in Italian.

So what’s the real danger of a site like ItalianNews.it? It’s this. Amateur translators work at places like ItalianNews.it for a time. Later, they put the experience on their résumés and use it to help them move on to another job in the same field. After a while, they’re considered “professional” translators. No one tells them their work is shoddy or that they should be embarrassed by their English. Instead, the house of cards keeps on growing.

In other words, sites like ItalianNews.it help legitimize bad translations and unqualified translators.

And what about the “translators” who signed these fiascos? (ItalianNews.it is one of those occasions when not citing the translator’s name would have been a wiser move.) Most of the pieces are “translated” by a woman who indicates she is affiliated with the John Milton Institute (a private language school in Sicily), where she teaches in a master’s program in business development. It will come as no surprise that she claims to be “perfectly bilingual.”

Here are a few other examples of ItalianNews.it’s “perfect” English:

“The sun was high and, under my naked feet, the pavement already manifested its arrogant heat. (From “… Welcome to Palermo, Sir!!”)

“News is those that force you to come to terms with yourself. If you are a parent, but even if you think it eventually will be…. What sin have stained. According to the Court of Milan, “have not brought their children to the feelings”. Is not a “culpa in vigilando” i.e. “culpa in supervision”, the one with which parents sometimes make the accounts….” (From “Boys raped a little girl, convicted parents.” The headline alone would make you laugh … if the subject matter weren’t so tragic.)

“In the meantime the Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has received a plea-letter by the lays of the centre-right … to ask for a “soft law” on the living will, which does not regulate in a strict way the issue and leaves space to the will of each person.” (From “Living will.”)

“A delicious caprese cake or an enormous Mont Blanc, or an enticing fruit tart. If you want to lose wait, you can just look at the pictures of these delicacies.” (From “The new frontier of diets.”)

“The password for those who decide to spend a holiday in this type of place is “leave home noisy things”. (From “From a noisy city to a holiday with the monks.”)

“This is not the plot of a new film, but the incredible fact told today … of a young Sicilian couple. It all started with the honey money of the young Sicilians. A relaxing cruise, maybe too relaxing, especially for he man, who had to keep an eye on his wife. Because she, a blond 25-year-old, let herself go with a black waiter and had sexual intercourse. Just one, amongst the many had with her husband.” (From “Marriage in Caltanissetta.”)

“So there are 9 million Italians who uses homeopathy.” (From “Italians like homeopathy.”

“Captain Umberto Nobile, on board the airship Norge, was flying over the geographical north pole, leaving fall-down on the ice pack a Norwegian flag, as well as an Italian one and one U.S.” (From “The mail that comes from the ice.”)

“Does the fact that the four beautiful ladies part of the government never object – unlike Rosy Bindi – make acceptable their beauty even if they do not have other qualities?” (From “Italy? The Banana Republic.”)

Headlines: “Italians in lupins advance”; “Chestnuts, a journey throughout history between taste and passion”; “Miss Italy, the reality show that cuddles Italians”; “The five traps on the Prime Minister’s way” (hint: this last one is NOT about golf.)

What sin have stained!

"Those who refer to Italy are even more."

"One of the main characters of the landing in Sicily."

The Gallery of Wrongness – Page 3 (Tourist Inglisc)

Jewish Quarter, Fondi ⁞ Report Card: D. ⁞ A splendid example of the “tourist English” in which Italy is drowning — otherwise known as “My brother-in-law the plumber, who has been to England twice, did this ‘translation’ for free.”

Entrance to the Jewish Quarter, Fondi, Italy

Vandals have also been at work on the sign, though it’s curious why anyone would choose to deface the word “ghetto.” The point of the sign, after all (historically debatable though it is), is that the Jewish quarter wasn’t called a “ghetto.”

The Fattoria Torre a Cona ⁞ Report Card: C- What to say about the web page of this agriturismo near Florence … where “accommodation” is spelled wrong, where visitors have “a possibility to follow different types of taste,” where a tour includes “the mill corporate millstones and stone cold,” where “brushette” are offered, where “the booking is recommended,” or where they provide a Tasting Children Menu (understandably, it costs less to taste the children — they tend to be bony)? What to say, indeed, other than “Get another translator!”

Tuscany, overrun with hotels, restaurants, quaint towns, farm holiday guesthouses, and all the businesses that depend upon the smitten, “Under the Tuscan Sun” tourist, takes the visitor largely for granted. As a result, the tourist industry in Tuscany has tended not to be concerned about providing travelers with adequate English-language information. Will Italy’s economic crisis change that?

You probably wouldn’t think so, judging by the Inglisc menu of the Ristorante Il Campagnolo [Report Card: D] located “a two pass from the sea of the Versilia” (in other words, still in Tuscany, but closer to the coast).

If you visit, be sure to try the rucola with nuisance or the porky mushrooms, though non-vegetarians may prefer a simple plate of Catalans. Anyone wishing to recreate the miracle of Shadrach, Meschach, Abednego and the Fiery Furnace, meanwhile, can enjoy a pizza while seated in the firewood oven. Don’t believe it when you hear that anyone can travel in Italy without knowing any Italian. A firm command of Italish is absolutely necessary!

The Flower to the Buttonhole of the Baldi Brothers: For the lovers of the meat.

Another interesting note: The Il Campagnolo restaurant is associated in some inchoate way with the publisher, G. L. Lucca Editrice and with the Accademia del Turismo (Academy of Tourism). Okay, so the Accademia isn’t really a university or a training institution (though its site is nonetheless chock-full of equally entertaining examples of Italish), but is G. L. Lucca Editrice a real publisher?

Look for it on the Italic Street, only two pass from the sea.

Perhaps so, but one thing it doesn’tsite, G. L. Lucca is in no way responsible for errors or omissions on its pages. publish is silly mistakes. Nope, according to its

Which is only fair. The Accademia del Turismo’s errors and omissions are entirely the fault of someone cavalier enough about language to think a free machine translation could produce a text in English. As Il Campagnolo says: “So much to quote some of it!”


The Gallery of Wrongness – Page 2 (Milano è Turismo/Milan Tourist Portal)

“Milano è Turismo”/The Site of the City of Milan’s Convention and Visitors BureauReport card: C For crying out loud. This is the official site of Italy’s (arguably) most cosmopolitan city and (purportedly) its wealthiest. The Comune di Milano spent quite a few (thousand) euros to get this snazzy (not to say ostentatious and tarted-up) site online. You’d think they could have done a little better with the translation.

Instead, this is a good example of how not to translate a large site. As you work through the multiple pages and embedded links, you immediately notice vast differences in the quality of the English. What that suggests is that the Comune of Milan did what everyone does: used multiple translators with varying levels of skill (from “quite good” to “stop me before I translate again!”), including non-native-English speakers.

Why use multiple translators? Because the translation of institutional sites like this one is always left for the last minute. When someone remembers that there’s still the translation to think about, it isn’t humanly possible for a single translator to get the job done. (Mind you, the worthies who wrote the content in Italian took their time; the translators were the ones who had to contend with impossible deadlines.)

Among my favorite boners and flubs on this site are the links to “Passionateness” and “Amusement,” the “aspects” that “have arranged to meet up to release a desire to evolve” (Run for your lives! They’re alive!); the description of Milan as “like a mosaic of ten tiles” (not much of a mosaic, is it, with only ten tiles); and the information that “The nature is dotted by inhabited centres” where “you can also taste the produce of the culinary and wine tradition.”

But what really makes this site a miracle of mediocrity is its exhausting, stultifying, low-fiber, vapid, jargon-ridden ad-speak emptiness — characteristic, frankly, of the vast majority of tourist websites in Italy, but unforgivable in the case of a city like Milan and a bells-and-whistles effort like this one.

A few examples:

“A metropolis is always a location for innovation and creativity, and so it will inevitably be in the forefront as regards experiments in contemporary living and in heralding the arrival of the future.” Translation: Milan is just so darn cool.

“The Milanese institutes train professionals in various disciplines and numerous specialist schools also offer a post-university qualification.” Translation: We have an educational system. (Remarkably like every other large city in the world, actually.)

“For Milan, Europe is the city’s natural domestic dimension, while the world is its constant arena of relations.” Translation: something about Europe.

and finally: “The Municipality of Milan, according to the principle of subsidiarity, favours associations and individuals that contribute and offers itself as a point of reference for societies that wish to make a commitment to donating to charity.” Translation: I have no idea, but I can confirm that “subsidiarity” is a new low in calque-translation.

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