Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Guest Blogger: Vera Isayeva - Totally Lost in Translation

In a recent announcement at my other blog, I asked readers that if they were interested in writing a blog article, to just email me, I'll review it and post it up. Well one reader wanted to submit an article for the Zen blog and I jumped at the opportunity. Vera lives in Russia, and as a cinephile, when she is looking for a movie to go see, she finds herself a little stumped over the title translation of English language and French films.  I look forward to posting blog articles from readers, so to start us off, here is the first Guest Blogger article:

Greetings everyone!

I am to start exploring a very interesting and sometimes quite funny topic of movies’ titles translation. Well, I think there is much more to explore in the movies’ translation field, from subtitles to interpretation itself, but a title for a movie is like a business card for an executive, makes up plenty of the first impression. Can you imagine a business card of a serious executive decorated with balloons? Or printed with flowers? Yet it happens often with titles of the movies that are being translated from its original language. In my case this happens with translation into Russian.

Of course I understand that it is extremely difficult to translate huge pieces of script from one language to the other and keep it alive (if you know what I mean) and within the right style and I respect the translators work, but some of their decisions leave me no choice but to ask :"Ah, WTF was THAT?”. I will give you several examples that puzzled me in 2012.

Firstly, some funny translations from English into Russian. Hmmm, actually, as you will see, they are not exactly translations. More like “titles based on the titles. Or plot. Or whatever came into my mind while I was translating”. I understand translations can work from the plot, but I usually expect at least some link to the original title. Maybe I hope for too much… See for yourselves.

1) Ted

I would like to begin with the most memorable one for me. I wanted to check out Russian release dates for Ted and went in search of the film to our most popular movie-related website. It took me nearly an hour to realize that I simply can’t find it! What was I doing wrong? Well, after another hour of search I had the reason. Here’s the “translation” from English into Russian and the Russian transcript (in case you want to start learning the language.)

Ted = Odd man out = Третий лишний = Tretiy Lishniy

Oh, how could have I missed it? Stupid me… Ted and Odd man out, they are just the same! We’ve all called our bears the Odd-man-out-bears of course! 

2) Silver Linings Playbook

This one I did not expect at all. I came across a Russian translation in a newspaper article and did not really pay much attention to the original English title. Then just by accident my gaze slipped on the poster on a foreign website and…here came my second most powerful “WTF!”. I would not have found it as well if I ever went looking.

Silver Linings Playbook = My Boyfriend Is A Madman = Мой ПареньПсих = Moy Paren’ - Psikh

I understood the motives of the translators of course, but still… title was made like this for some reason!

3) Lawless

I haven’t seen the film myself yet, but I intended to, and checked out its title and cast. And guess what? Another pleasant surprise for the one looking for brilliant translation decisions!!! I would not have thought of THAT in a million years to come up with the translation, if I was working only from the title, but not from the plot.

Lawless = The Most Drunken District In the World = Самый Пьяный Округ В Мире = Samiy Pyaniy Okrug V Mire

Surprised? Or not at all? well, I was surprised a great deal. Gave me quite a laugh. 

4) Zero Dark Thirty

It is not yet released in Russia, I think it comes out somewhere in the mid-February. There is also some confusion with the title. So, here’s the Russian translation:

Zero Dark Thirty = Target Number One = Цель Номер Один = Tsel’ Nomer Odin

I think that this example enables me to explain why I do not approve of somewhat improvisational approach to translation. When a director comes up with a certain title, he tells a part of the film’s story with it, and gets the viewers in a certain mood. Of course we all understand that this horrible terrorist has been the Target Number One for the US military for quite a long period of time, but the original title refers to a certain point in time, to the most important moment of several soldiers, to the tension. And I do not approve when translators and those who authorize the alterations change the titles in whatever ways they think will be more suitable for a certain movie market. I feel like I am fooled a bit. And if I did not speak English, I’ll certainly lose some part of the film’s charm or appeal for sure.

I have told you about most…hmmm…vibrant English ones. There are also ones that are somewhat arguable since there is not so much difference in meaning.

5) The Dark Knight Rises

Even here our translators managed to improvise and add an unexpected twist to the title. It is not altered much, but still it was not the way it was initially planned!

The Dark Knight Rises = The Dark Knight: The Rebirth of The Legend = Темный Рыцарь: Возрождение Легенды = Temniy Rytsar’: Vozrozhdenie Legendy

The last time I looked, the original title did not feature the word Legend anywhere. Luckily, the core idea was the same. At least I could find in the search pop-up list.

6) Inception

Here’s my favorite one, because it’s quite linguistic related.

Inception = Начало = Nachalo

I decided to give you the Russian word first because this one is complicated, since there are some options of translating it into English. It can be either Beginning, or Start, or Origin, or Source. But again it is not quite Inception! And it is not quite what they were trying (successfully and unsuccessfully) to do. But that one keeps me thinking till the present. Difficult one. What do you think about it? Do you think some of the suggested words are properly used?

And a couple of classics to end the English list!

7) Die Hard

I only recently paid attention, because I’ve been watching all the parts for some time now, and by the way my mom is just fond of Bruce Willis, but still the “translation” is not quite accurate.

Die Hard = Back-Breaker = Крепкий Орешек = Krepkiy Oreshek

But I actually like this one. It kind of fits.

8) Some Like It Hot
Hmmm, maybe you can guess this one? Unfortunately I live too far from you all to send something to you as a prize, but the closest one will be considered the most telepathic linguist of the FF society! 

(and could you promise not to look it up on Russian sites? It will spoil all the fun!) 
So, please feel free to post your variants for the supposed Russian translation of Some Like It Hot!

And here comes the second part of my list, it is much less than the first, and it is translations from French into Russian. One film is dated 2012, another back to 2003.

1) Intouchables

Don’t know their motives for messing up with the title. It worked fine for me. Well, it kind of fits, eh, but it was not the original one! (damn me, maybe I should take it easy). Anyway, see what we’ve got in Russia.

Intouchables = 1+1

No Russian letters here. It just was that way.

2) Jeux d'enfants

Aaaaaand I want to conclude this somewhat long post with the one like Ted. In the way that you would not expect that at all. Here you go!

Jeux d'enfants = Fall In Love With Me If You Dare = Влюбись В Меня, Если Осмелишься = Vlyubis’ v menya, esli osmelishsya

Bet you did not expect that, I did not for sure! A colleague of mine brought it to my attention.

So, that’s it! I hope you liked the list and the Russian words. The list is not exhaustive of course, since I only recently have started to give movie posters a closer look. I am sure each one of us non-native English speakers has a couple of those.


  1. Very interesting and entertaining article! Hope to read you again soon, Vera!
    In France, foreign films often keep their original title...don't know why

  2. Emilie, thanx!!! and how about a guess on Some Like It Hot? ))) I want to see the direction of the readers' thinking and how it correlates (or not?) with the translators' view.

  3. Ok, I'll bite: Some like it hot = Maniacs who love sex under the sun.


  4. Well, Simone, unfortunayely you weren't even close. Perhaps the actual distance played the role))) original translations was Some like it hot = There are only girls in jazzzz = В джазе только девушки = V dzhaze tol'ko devushki.

    But still thank you for guessing!!!)))))))))

  5. Thank u for post, its nice and I gone through full post, interesting. Keep posting....

    Russian translation