Everlasting Ego /Eagle

The German TV midday magazine program has been showing a clip of Kathleen Hepburn, at a fairly advanced age, saying she goes out every day intending the be the victor in the day-to-day struggles. It was dubbed in German. At the end she says ‘That’s me – everlasting ego’. At least, that’s what I understood. The German version was ‘immerwährender (?) Adler’, i.e. ‘eagle’.

I understand that dubbing can go wrong, but then I wonder why they show the clip at all if the punch line is so weird.

It reminds me of the Gary Larson cartoon the Nürnberger Nachrichten showed just before Christmas one year, where a witch is disappointed that her Brussels sprouts house is not luring any children. Brussels sprouts was translated as ‘Brussels lace’. The picture was coloured, but the lace remained white. Of course, the translation was not the NN’s work but syndicated, but why did they take the cartoon at all? I suppose because gingerbread houses and witches are Christmassy. At all events, it would be hard to convey in Germany that kids in the USA and Britain don’t like Brussels sprouts.

8 thoughts on “Everlasting Ego /Eagle

  1. Do you really think German kids like Brussels sprouts? I don’t think I know any who do. IMHO the cartoon would have “worked” very well in German. The mistake probably went unnoticed because people are used to fairly strange things from Larson.

  2. They may not like Brussels sprouts, but they aren’t popularly known as something no kid likes, are they? Maybe in German just ‘Gemüse’. In English, cabbage and spinach would create the same reaction.
    I always know I’ve missed something if I don’t understand the Larson, though. Maybe there are lots of badly translated ones.
    In the bigger Larson book with background materials, there is a bad translation. Larson defines comedy and tragedy: The first: You fall into a hole in the ground and die (or something like that). The second: I injure my little finger (can’t remember the exact words). Both ‘you’ and ‘I’were translated into German as ‘Man…’

  3. I think it’s very obvious in German. The cliché is that children don’t like spinach, which many children actually love (as opposed to Brussels sprouts). I decribed the cartoon to my son who immediately understood it and thought it was very funny. (He hates Brussels sprouts as well).

  4. Well, OK, but in any case, the NN did not have the original caption. All they had was ‘Brüsseler Spitze’. ‘Erna couldn’t understand what was wrong with her house of Brussels lace’.

    I wrote a letter to the NN mentioning that I taught at a translation school and that translation involves more than just looking at the words (although it seemed they hadn’t even done that). I got a letter back from the man who does the car reports and reminded me that his daughter had been one of my (very good) students. He told me the letter could not be published because it would be incomprehensible without a picture – quite a cop-out, I thought.

  5. I believe the quote you’re referring to, MM, is
    “Comedy is when you fall into a manhole and die. Tragedy is when I cut my finger.” The quote was first uttered by Mel Brooks (director of “Blazing Saddles,” “Young Frankenstein,” and the like). The problem with comedy, specifically, translated comedy being sent across the Atlantic, is that it requires you, in Germany, to understand the colloquialisms (the volks-mots?) and social references that we understand in the US. That problem exists even when there is no language barrier. Some British comedy fails miserably in the US because of the American lack of understanding of how the British use puns or view parliamentary politics. In any event, your Ellenbeuge post illustrates this language problem equally well. There’s dictionary-proper langauge, and then there is the social language of the people. Such is life.

  6. That’s it. And they translated it “Comedy is when one falls into a manhole and dies. Tragedy is when one cuts one’s finger.” I had the German volume once and I couldn’t understand the joke, so I found someone with the English original and there it was. I think a fair amount carries over from the US (I’m British, of course, although I’m in Germany) but the Larson texts are usually rather difficult to translate with that subtlety – things like ‘Rusty makes his move’, with the dog using a breath freshener before getting closer to the bitch, are not easy to convey – even the names of the characters are part of the fun. My biggest problem is with cultural references I don’t get, like the La Brea Tar Pits in L.A. (I’ve had them explained to me now) – this is the point you make too.
    A lot of U.S. soaps are dubbed in Germany. On FLEFO on CompuServe it was always fun when the Dutch translators of ‘The Nanny’ produced their lists of ten or fifteen cultural questions about why something was funny. But at least they were doing subtitles.

  7. I’m at a loss as to how anything on the Nanny could be considered funny, but then I imagine the cultural questions about The Simpsons, a show that is deeply tied to Americana, would be overwhelming abroad.

  8. I must admit I had never seen the Nanny. I always meant to do so after these sets of questions appeared. When I eventually saw it I was disappointed and could only take about 10 minutes. You would probably be surprised how many cultural references can be packed into something and how witty it can sound before you’ve seen it, so to speak.
    When I was clearing up a couple of days ago, I found a note I’d made of the Larson translation I quoted. I will put it here – don’t know if anyone else is still reading! – just for reference.

    Translation: Was ist eine TragÖdie? Man schneidet sich in den Finger. Was ist eine Komödie? Man fällt in eine offene Jauchegrube und stirbt. (Aus dem Amerikanischen von John Ormrod und Friederike Meyer)

    Sounds as if John Ormrod was there to make sure the nuances of the English got through…Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die.

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