Translating titles

Translating titles is a huge topic. I just want to refer to a couple.

One is the translation of film titles into German. The German ones are often strangely graphic. But I see Lost in Translation has not been translated. A curious one last year was the translation of Rabbit Proof Fence (English) into Long Way Home (German) (what I mean is, they left it in English but changed the English).

I recently read Atul Gawande’s Complications, a doctor’s story of what can go wrong in surgery, what to tell patients, how surgeons make guesses and so on. I wondered if it would have a market in Germany. I find it has been translated as Die Schere im Bauch (The scissors in the abdomen) by Susanne Kuhlmann-Krieg. I find that really does the book an injustice, reducing it to the most sensationalist level. Not that the title was necessarily chosen by the translator – titles are usually chosen by the publisher (and they are protected as trade marks, I believe).

LATER NOTE: Here is a good essay on German film titles:

The more inane the film the zanier the title: the flop courtroom farce “Jury Duty”, for instance, was inflated to Chaos! Schwiegersohn Junior im Gerichtssaal (Chaos! Son-in-Law Junior in the Courtroom). … Laurel and Hardy entirely sacrificed their names to the exigencies of zany titling, becoming the comedy team Dick and Doof – “Fat and Stupid” – in German. Thus “The Flying Deuces” are Dick and Doof in der Fremden Legion (Fat and Stupid in the Foreign Legion), and \Way out West” is Dick und Doof im Wilden Westen (Fat and Stupid in the Wild West).

10 thoughts on “Translating titles

  1. I too find it an interesting topic, to which my eyes were opened by Adrian Room’s Dictionary of Translated Names and Titles. For some reason, Hitchcock titles are particularly unpredictable; Vertigo becomes Sueurs froides in French, Aus dem Reich der Toten in German, La donna che visse due volte in Italian, and De entre los muertos in Spanish.

  2. Yes, I wish I had a better list. The only lists I found in the Internet – including quizzes – were unselective. There must be one out there with the most ridiculous translations. But here’s something useful:
    http://www.demog.berkeley.edu/~dstein/papers/film.pdf

    It reminded me that ‘Jude the Obscure’ becomes ‘Herzen in Aufruhr’ (Hearts in Tumult) – it was on TV here recently. But I had given no thought to the problems with ‘Jude’, which means ‘Jew’.

  3. The “translation” of movie, TV show titles, etc. has always been a sore issue for me. In Germany, in particular, TV shows and movies are “translated” by German script writers (or worse, by actors, directors and other ninnies) who claim some “cursory” command of the English language.

    I remember one episode of the US show “Crazy like a Fox” (in German: Die Fälle des Harry Fox). In it, Harry Fox (played by Jack Warden) meets up with an old buddy of his in one episode. His buddy says, “Hey Harry, remember the good ol’ days when you and I were just two young gumshoes?” In German, the dialogue went like this: “Erinnerst du dich noch an die gute alte Zeit, als wir zwei junge Gummischuhe waren?”

    Needless to say that “Gummischuhe” does not make any sense in German.

    In another show, I forget the name of the show now, one person was asked to pass the “Trommelstock” (they referred to a piece of chicken!).

    This is what you get when wannabes start translating. Sadly, the German dubbing industry does not have even one professional translator working for them (and the general translation market is hardly any better).

  4. And “Bend It Like Beckham” became “Kick it like Beckham” in German in order to adapt it to the level of English understood by most Germans.
    BTW the titles of the Marx Brothers’ films were treated like those of Laurel and Hardy (Die Marx Brothers im Kaufhaus, – im wilden Westen etc.)

  5. Ah, I thought of Bend it like Beckham and forgot it.

    There is a professor of English (language) at Erlangen University, Thomas Herbst, who among other things investigates the translation of films into German (i.e. dubbing). I remember hearing a talk a few years ago, and I may have forgotten nuances, but I got the impression he and his students just compare the original and the translation. They give no thought to the choice of translator, the money available for the job, whether the translator has a chance or time to see a video and so on. Very strange. Here’s a quote (but Google suggests he has gone in other directions since):

    ‘Research conducted by Thomas Herbst (1994) of Erlangen University has investigated the dubbing of American and British television series into German. Herbst’s findings highlight a marked degree of English language interference in the translated texts, particularly at the level of idiom, cohesion and register. His research suggests that this kind of source language interference in dubbed texts may be in part due to the tendency to attempt to achieve translation equivalence at the level of word, phrase or sentence rather than at the level of each scene. Another problem may be an exaggerated preoccupation with the constraint of lip-synch at the expense of other textual aspects of translation.’ (Either O’Connell, http://www.aber.ac.uk/~merwww/general/papers/mercAud_00-04-01/eithne1.doc)

  6. Example of an inspired translation for one of the most famous films in the world: Gone With the Wind became in French Autant en emporte le vent. Great assonance, poetic as anything, lovely!

  7. To lower the tone of the wind, I always wondered how Cilla Black’s perennial and memorable UK TV show, Blind Date, would translate into German. Well, it’s on cable TV right now – with the unmemorable sweetheart tag: ‘Herzblatt’.

  8. @Céline: Actually, Vom Winde verweht (Blown away by the wind), with two Vs and two Ws, isn’t bad either.
    @AMM: Herzblatt has been on for a few years now. Both Blind Date and Herzblatt were spin-offs from an American programme called The Dating Game (which apparently started in 1965!)- What translation would you suggest?!

    A pet hate of mine is the German translation of ‘Here’s looking at you, kid’ in Casablanca as ‘Schau mir in die Augen, Kleines’ (I may regret posting this, as it is widely regarded as a brilliant translation – but I find it totally macho, in contrast to the play on a toast – ‘Here’s to you’ and the implication that it’s a pleasure to look at her).

  9. Wie ich feststellen mußte, sind wir Deutschen inzwischen auch schon im Ausland für unsere gelungenen Synchronisationen und Übersetzungen von Film-Titeln berüchtigt. Der Language Hat spricht das Thema zwar nur anläßlich einer Stelle in Lost in Translati…

  10. Huge topic! True about the Hitchcock films, they are unpredictable.
    Other examples I particularly enjoy: in Argentina, they translated *Home Alone* as *Mi pobre angelito*, which would (re)translate as “My Poor Little Angel”. *The Sound of Music* is known as *La novicia rebelde* (“The Rebellious Novice”). In Spain, the film is called *Sonrisas y L

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