Lost in Translation

by Jean-Philippe Fortin

Have you ever been lost in translation (or to be L.I.T. as Muschelli likes to say)? I experience the L.I.T. on a daily basis, and believe me, it is sometimes really embarrassing. Thankfully, I have good friends out there to help me.

L.I.T. Type 1: Inappropriate Words

  • The verb “to fondle”
    At lunchtime, I wanted to comfort my friend whose cat had passed away the night before. Sadly, the first word that Google returned to me for “to comfort” was “to fondle”.  I then learned that it is not OK in a crowded cafeteria to ask your friend if you can “fondle” her. Awful L.I.T. due to unreliable Google translate.
  • “That’s what she said”
    One way I practice my English speaking skills is to watch the TV show The Office.  Everyone knows what “That’s what she said” means. Everyone but me. After constantly using it in my department in any context, often in front of faculty members, my friend Elizabeth was kind enough to explain to me the sexual connotation of the quote. No need to tell you that I felt horribly mortified and embarrassed.
  • I don’t “own” people
    One day, my friend Elizabeth brought sushi to share. I told her “I own you”. She got pretty mad and said that nobody “owns” her.  I reaffirmed that I really owned her. That’s how I learnt to pronounce “owe”. And towel, and owl. Thanks Elizabeth, I owe you that.
  • “Tinkle” is a home word
    I’m learning idioms fast because I live with a native English speaker. But this also has its disadvantages. It is not OK to say “I need to go tinkle” at school.

L.I.T. Type 2: The Unpronounceable Words

  • Coin
    I have a major deficiency for this word. Thanks to Mandy for spending many hours improving my pronunciation. The trick is to start with “coy” (like “boy”), add an “n”, but avoid pronouncing it as “corn”.  We realized that it works perfectly after two or three beers.
  • Worcestershire sauce
    That’s a classic. We spent an entire night plugging Worcestershire sauce randomly into conversations.

L.I.T. Type 3: Incorrectly Stressed Words

French, contrary to English or Spanish, is a pretty flat language.  We don’t stress words. In English, the meaning of the words can change when the stress changes.

  • “Bag” versus “Bike”
    I went to the gym, but forgot my bike lock. I asked the woman at the front desk if there was room inside for my bike. She said that there was no problem, I could just leave it in one of the gym lockers. I said kindly, trying to pronounce “bike” very distinctly with a harsh “k” at the end, that my bike would not fit. She laughed because she was positive it would fit. She obviously heard “bag” twice. There was no way I was going to repeat it a third time; I have some pride. I had no option left, I decided to go ahead, and started to walk my bike to the locker room, waiting for her to stop me.  She looked at me, she looked at my bike, and told me I was not allowed to bring my bike inside. I told her that she told me that she thought it would fit into a locker room. She told me it was stupid. I told her bye. I felt so lame.  Now I use the word bicycle. “Bike” is on my black list forever.

L.I.T. Miscellaneous

My friends always repeat my L.I.T.s to tease me. I like that. It reminds me that I am learning everyday.

  • Now Alyssa likes to say mentally “hill”
  • Frazer likes to say “What day we are? We are Fridays!”
  • Elizabeth always “pays” me a drink
  • Mandy thinks that I’m hhhonest

My conclusion

At the end of the day, L.I.T.s are a lot of fun. Muschelli loves to impersonate my French-Canadian accent everyday. And now I often pretend to be L.I.T. to joke around. We call it “playing the L.I.T. card”. Sometimes they think I’m faking to be L.I.T.. Sometimes they think I am L.I.T. because I’m saying crazy things, but no, that’s just because I am crazy.