Living in Hong Kong, I’m constantly frustrated by the complexity of the Cantonese language – what some have called “the most difficult language in the world.” Others call it “WTF?!”.
As an example, take the word “Gau” (say it like “now” with a “G”). Depending on the tone you use, Gau can mean: 9, enough, dog, dumpling, or “cock” (sexual connotation, not a rooster). “Gau m’gau” is how you ask, “Have you had enough?” or “Gna yau ho die gau!” can mean either “I have a very big DOG!” OR “I have a very big COCK!” – all depending on how you pronounce the tone. On my island is a shop which advertises a “Gau mung, gau chun, gau.” or “9 dollar, 9 inch, dog.” You can see where gwielo (foriengers) can get themselves in serious trouble. “I’ll have a 9 inch cock, please.” Yeah, put some mustard on that.
But, as it turns out, Cantonese isn’t the only language where these problems exist. I’ve been reviewing translation questions from the European BDLA publishers today… and having a good laugh. I thought I’d share:
ANTHONY: Gang members! Pssssht. I’ll show them a member.
Publisher: What he means by “I’ll show them a member. ” ? What is the situation ?
American: “Member” can refer to the male sexual anatomy – “Touch my member!” or “My what a large member you have!” – “Member” can also mean a part of a group, or in this instance, a gang. Anthony is mixing the two meanings of the word in order to make a joke.
Double entendre doesn’t seem to cross international borders.
ANTHONY: Damn girl, you so fat when you cross the street cars look out for you!
Publisher: Meaning “when you cross the street, cars look out for you” or “when you cross, the street cars look out for you” ?
American: Usually a person looks for cars when crossing the street. This woman is so fat that it works the other way around: cars try to avoid her.
I guess “fat jokes” don’t work either.
ANTHONY: Touch my hot dog!
Publisher: what he means ?
American: “Hot dog” once again refers to the male anatomy, as in “keep your hot dog in your pants” or “I’ve got the hot dog and you got the buns.” in this context anthony is making a joke about being searched by an airport security guard.
Sadly, innuendo also fails.
ANTHONY: Yo! Chill it leaf blowers!
Publisher: stay quite, mexicans ! ??
American: This means “calm down my mexican friends.”
Even the goofy racial euphemism doesn’t work.
Who says English is easy?