What Happens When Movie Titles Get Lost In Translation

Words can be funny, especially when it comes to translating them. What seems clear and rational in the native language can become funny, confusing or even embarrassing in the target language. This is what makes a translator’s job so important as they meticulously search for a way to keep a document, a text or even a title as close to the original meaning as possible.

A Massive Mess of Movie Titles

There are times, however, when translations can’t or don’t want to replicate the original. At the end of February, the Academy Awards gave out their yearly Oscars to people in the film industry who did their best to earn the much-coveted gold statue. In honour of the Academy, we thought we would look at the difficulty of translating movie titles into different languages.

A Tale of Translation Difficulty

Warren Clements of The Globe and Mail explains the difficulty of translating movie titles accurately from one language into another: “What works in one language may stumble in another, particularly if it’s based on an idiom.” He goes on to say, however, that “many alleged translations turn out to be fakes dreamed up by Internet comedians” and that many titles stay the same when translated from one language to another, such as Moulin Rouge (2001) and Casablanca (1942).

According to The Globe and Mail, some languages can pose more of a difficulty, such as English to Chinese, where Leon The Professional (1994) becomes The Hit Man Is Not as Cold as He Thought. Some titles get changed “for greater intensity,” such as the French translation of the movie My Sister’s Keeper (2009) into My Life For Yours. And, sometimes, the “French title aims for clarity,” as in the case of Jaws (1975), which became The Teeth From the Sea.

Other titles that had some fun with the translation include:

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid »Résultats de recherche d'images pour « Dos hombres y un destino »

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

Spanish translation: “Dos hombres y un destino”

Translation back to English: Two Men and One Destiny (IMDB)

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Swedish translation: “Du gor mig galen”

Translation back to English: You Drive Me Crazy (IMDB)

Dead Poets Society (1989)

Italian translation: “L’attimo fuggente”

Translation back to English: The Fleeting Moment (IMDB)

Making Tidy Work of Your Translations

These movie titles are fine examples of how difficult translation can be. Simply plugging a sentence into a translation app doesn’t always yield good results. When it comes to the things that are important, human beings have a way of getting the point across in a way that’s quite a bit clearer.

Our in house department is dedicated to selecting, evaluating and managing our linguistic network. Along with our sales team and project managers, they make sure that our translators have all of the information they need to turn your words into something understandable. The next time you need to turn a basic idea into something great, contact us.

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