Green, Charlie Babbitt

I’d be much more inclined to believe certain self-appointed experts if they demonstrated fluency in the language of the people they claim to know so much about. I’d like give the stuffed-shirts over at Britmodeller or Hyperscale a language exam. Luftwaffe “experten” could demonstrate fluency in German, those who claim to know all about Japanese hardware from seventy-five years ago could do a little karaoke in Japanese, then read back a few pages of a recent Japanese novel and translate it into English for us.

How about those Russians? Let any American who claims to be the final authority on VVS paint chips rattle off some Russian, then explain what he (or she?) just said.

Translation is such a bear that we really have a hard time understanding how and why we understand things. For example, let’s say I am translating English into Japanese. The original statement from Joe Flyboy (age 94) is given below. Joe grew up on a farm in Georgia and went to war and became an ace before he was old enough to grow a beard.

“If I recall correctly, the color of those aircraft was kind of a green. The color of something you might see in a cow pasture.”

Now, he’s describing olive drab. The color of what is euphemistically referred to as “cow flops.” He’s trying to be polite and avoid the words “cow shit.” In fact, being a southern gentleman, he’s trying to avoid referring to at all, while still conveying the meaning.

Now here’s the translation.

“I recall that the color of those aircraft was a shade of green. They were the color you might see looking at a pasture.”

Am I making my point, ladies and gentlemen? The translation can be very good, but the outcome can be just the opposite of what was intended. The translation implies that this pilot said that the airplanes he flew were grass-green in color. The original implied something very different, but only to a native speaker.

But don’t worry. You take something that was translated from Japanese or Russian and post it on a forum, and you can always get a fight started. No matter how silly.

2 Replies to “Green, Charlie Babbitt”

  1. Theres quite a world apart from what peoples say and what they intend to convey. Even more so if they speak some slang or lingo where words may mean something else. Does the translater really know what is being meant by the way it’s spoken/written!
    Olive drab??? When I get olives in a cup at a restaurant I get ones various shades of green, dark green, brownish, greyish, black ones! Which ones the olive ones? 😉

  2. Experts at US Navy air museum.
    So I was looking for photos of Curtiss F11c Goshawk as I’m building the old Lindberg kit. The museum has a beautiful reproduction BFC2, the field modified F11c to an enclosed cockpit. Great, except I finally determined the repro has a later version of the Curtiss 1820 engine and a cowling that is incorrect, probably from some other later model aircraft. Also sports a 3 bladed prop which was never fitted to either version. There were many small modifications to F11c so they varied from year to year. The Navy only had 28 of these, so they tried many inexpensive mods in the lean depression years. So in short, be cautious of museum exhibits. I find that original photos are likely most true.

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