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WEB WATCH

Translate at your own risk

December 05, 2004|Christine N. Ziemba

Not counting dangling participles or comma splices, many Americans butcher the English language. Misspellings and malapropisms are everywhere: Notice restaurant signage that boasts "fine dinning" or check out the "Headlines" segment on "The Tonight Show," where Jay Leno pokes fun at mistakes that slipped past copy editors.

We're equally bemused by the fanciful way English is used in other countries. The website www.engrish.com collects photos of "Engrish" as it's used in Japanese advertising -- and the results are often humorous because, yes, things do get lost in translation.

Visitors can examine the packaging for products like "Tissues of Puppy" (a box with pictures of frolicking dogs) or a Bic razor with a head-scratching wrapper: "You know what you want and what to expect. To run, at one time, like a horse on the prairie."

Although some may think the site is politically incorrect, Honolulu-based webmaster Steve C., who's lived and worked in Japan, says that his domain is not meant to offend. "I try to execute the site in a way that 'has fun with' the Engrish phenomenon rather than 'making fun of' the people who make it," he writes via e-mail.

According to the site's FAQs, most examples are for decoration rather than communication -- akin to paintings, tattoos or jewelry with Japanese lettering here in the U.S.: "English is used as a design element in Japanese products and advertising to give them a modern look and feel (or just to 'look cool')."

It seems that the Japanese food industry has the most fun with the language, with product names like Germ Bread. The mysterious slogan -- "Hey! Come on let's begin joyful talking. Here's to the fantastic discovery! Keep your balance! good!" -- is printed on a doughnut package.

As with most of the atmospheric phrasing on the site, it's probably best not to look for meaning. Just savor the laughter! Enjoy. It's good for health!

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