Monday, November 30, 2009

Grammar Detective

I was compelled to respond to a photograph that Shawna Blumenschein included in her Grammar Detective blog post. Such mindless errors occur quite frequently in signage, which I find to be incredibly irritable. With limited space to express a simple communication, an error such as writing "personel" instead of "personnel" can be very distracting, even to the relatively unaware mind. The general sentiment is still clear on the sign, but such an error is almost like an ugly focal point for the passer-by, who would not have likely used that particular door anyways. (What exactly is the attraction of entering a mall basement storage room? Who would do that? Maybe an ex-Soviet spy, that's all).
Although not meant for professional criticism, the website (a pun that ridicules the tendency for Oriental Asian translators to mistake the letter "l" for an "r") has some wonderful and hilarious examples of meaning lost through translation and poor grammar. (Check it out late on a Friday night after a few stiff beverages for maximum entertainment). The site is refreshed with new material daily and is sure to have some gems of improper language use. For example, a sign warning people with heart disease of potential risks for going onto the Great Wall of China reads, "Heart cerebral disease sufferer, ascent the Great Wall to please watch for." Upon close inspection, the meaning can be deciphered, but not without mentally coding some awkward diction, improper verbal tense, and misplaced modifiers. Another example that comes with a different problem is the sign, "Deformed Man Toilet," again, courtesy of China. Although not incorrect, such a sign might rouse anger in handicapped tourists, who are used to seeing "Handicapped Washroom(s)," or simply the universal symbol for such a facility. 
No translation is done with complete accuracy, but, if done directly, can severely complicated communication. Many examples exist in our own society; however, I find the ones at to be particularly amusing. (Is it right that I find this website funny, or just distasteful?).


  1. I agree with you about the amusing nature of incorrectly translated signs. It is also very common to see "Engrish" or incorrectly translated English on clothing and merchandise from Asia. A favourite of mine is a Batman toy from Japan with packaging that reads "This Batman. He will catch all Baddy!" The grammar, or lack of, makes me cringe despite the fact that it is so amusing!

  2. Incorrect spelling in translations-to-English are quite common in other countries. When I was in Japan about a year and a half ago, nearly every translated sign I saw was incorrect. While these can often be entertaining, it is understandable as to why they are not perfect as it isn't the first language of that country. The intended meaning can typically be surmised, but the context, spelling, and/or grammar are often erroneous. Very interesting post, Andrew!

  3. I was lucky enough to experience this first hand over a series of summers I spent in Ukraine. T-shirts with English phrasing on them were the latest and greatest fad at that time. Barely any of these phrases made remote sense. It' was funny at first but then it started to become just plain offensive. It seems like so many countries are caught up in Americanization. What's the point if you don't even understand it?