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Humor and iPad

ipad_touch_mock_upPut in very simple words, in order to construct a sentence we retrieve from a mental lexicon the words we need and then we arrange them in meaningful sentences following certain rules.

This mental lexicon contains the words, their synonyms, etc., just like the dictionaries we know, but moreover, it contains all our knowledge, encyclopedic or other, and personal experiences that are associated with a specific word.  For example, the word “flood” primarily means “an overflowing of a large amount of water beyond its normal confines.”  For some people, this word may bring India to their mind, as we know from our encyclopedic knowledge that India suffers from floods, or it may bring to their mind a mishap they had, or a nice touching book they read about a flood-hit village, a nice painting, or a horror film, etc.  “Lemon” may mean something sour or may bring to the mind a nice fragrance, a wedding, etc.  One word therefore is associated with many others and with various mental images, and they form little groups.

Here is where the success of humor lies: the narrator creates an atmosphere where the interlocutor(s) expect words or phrases of a certain group to be uttered, words or phrases that have to do with the image the narrator is creating and belong to the same group.  And… the narrator utters a word that belongs to a different group and this unexpected association makes us laugh.  Or what the narrator says makes the interlocutor expect a certain development due to common sense or to common beliefs, but the narrator brings things upside down and changes direction.  For example, the narrator says

I didn’t sleep with my wife before we married. Did you?

The logical and natural interpretation of the elliptic sentence at the end is, “Did you sleep with your wife before you married?”  So, here comes the unexpected answer:

Hmm…I don’t remember. What’s her name?

Like I said, this is a simplified analysis because in the unexpected association of words and phrases lies the power of poetry, but in poetry this association makes us stand in awe before the wonder of mind.

iPad, as you may know, is the new product of Apple.  But unfortunately, the word “pad” belongs to another group of words and images too, and therefore the name has been associated with a hygienic product. It is not the unexpected here that causes laughter; it is just the association with the other group of words.  This has brought about a series of jokes – no laughing matter though!

Other blunders that have to do with mistranslations or with unfortunate naming of products is the German toilet paper brand name called BUM, or the Swedish one called Krapp, which bring smiles to the English speakers’ faces.  Or an ad for America of a Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer Electrolux that goes, “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.”

Do you know of any other mistranslations or naming of products?

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  • View 4 Comments
    • How funny, Beverly! I love reading mistranslations. I think these are my favorite:

      In a Rome laundry: Ladies, leave your clothes here and spend the afternoon
      having a good time.

      In the office of a Roman doctor: Specialist in women and other diseases.

      In a Norwegian cocktail lounge: Ladies are requested not to have children in the

    • Iryna, I totally agree. I worked for a translation firm before I came to Mango and the stories are endless! I did want to let you know I meant to put Lilia’s name on this post. It is automatically defaulted to me – so I can’t take credit for this fun post.

    • one of your best internet sites covering this subject that I’ve observed in a very lengthy time. Humorous that I just stumbled throughout it while trying to find dvds. Many thanks!


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