Unfortunate Words

Film, Observatory

When I have a book coming out in America, my editor skims through it to see if there’s any language that won’t translate, and adjusts words accordingly. But it doesn’t seem to work the other way. America’s ‘Where’s Waldo?’ became ‘Where’s Wally?’, but to us a wally is English for a plonker, an idiot.

Years ago I worked on Robin Williams’ show ‘Mork & Mindy’, and his next door neighbours in the series were called Mr and Mrs Wanker. So we had dialogue lines like ‘Here come the wankers’, which made me laugh while everyone else asked what was so funny. Of course in English, the word ‘wanker’ is usually accompanied with a rather graphic hand gesture, particularly when yelled from the window of a white van to a cyclist.

And recently, ‘The Last Airbender’ suffered from lines something like ‘He’s one of the world’s greatest benders’, which had cinemas of children rolling about laughing in the serious moments, thereby helping to doom the film even further (not that it needed help).

Are there any words that do this the other way?

6 comments on “Unfortunate Words”

  1. cleggman says:

    I suppose Fanny comes to mind (when doesn’t it?). ‘Fanny Pack’ conjures up all manner of interesting images. Also, in the playground of my long past youth, Bumming around, Bum, and Bummer all had entirely different connotations for me and my peers.

  2. Helen Martin says:

    There’s always “I’ll knock you up in the morning,” which has to be translated for the same reason.

  3. Steve says:

    It might be stretching it a bit, but “banger” or “bangers” could be somewhat problematic. “To bang” slangily is “To fornicate”.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    What about rubbers – which used to have the meaning (Cdn) waterproof covers for shoes or (elsewhere) erasers. These days it appears to have another meaning so we’ll have to start wearing rain boots or galoshes and others may have to resort to erasing errors with an -ahem- eraser.

  5. Dom says:

    Oh I always like asking my U.S Friends if I can “Bum A Fag” if I run out of Ciggies!

  6. Dom says:

    I just looked at my above post and realised the awful misuse of capital letters and the exclamation mark. Do things like that annoy you. Appologies.

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