.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

May 17, 2005

Lost in translation

Recent events have got me thinking on how a word can have very different connotations for different people, even though they speak the same language.

What I mean is, there are many languages that are international; English, Spanish, and Portuguese, for example. And the lives and experiences of people who are united under a common tongue may be very different. Equally the meaning, and even the value, that is attached to a common word may be different.

It's very easy to assume, given the globalisation of business, that culture is also globalised, and maybe it is becoming that way. But it ain't necessarily so.

It's also easy to assume, when you write something that is open for all to read, that your readers will be like-minded with yourself, but again that ain't necessarily so.

As a result, it's quite possible to be condemned by somebody who doesn't even know you, and be generally condemned by his or her peer group. And it's possible that they will make up their minds about you without giving you the opportunity to convince them otherwise. Without even wanting to know you. To find out what you are really about.

Should it matter? In spite of the words you choose to use, and in spite of intentions, providing no harm is done, does it actually matter?

And even if a word is used maliciously and harm is intended, if no harm actually results, does it matter? Can a word be bad in itself? Is there such a thing as a bad word; one that is universally bad throughout time and culture?

I'm not sure.

So how do you account for idiom?

It's like the apocryphal advertising story, in which a highly successful ad campaign for a soft drink was ported to the far east. The basis of the campaign in the West was the catch phrase "it tastes wicked!" The translation in the new campaign in the east meant something more akin to, "it tastes like witches' piss". It failed to catch the imagination even in a comedic sense. Japan didn't think it was funny. The product bombed.

And burning books isn't wrong, if they contain offensive material, is it?


  • Mo'75 to that. Obviously when you're writing for what you hope will be public consumption, you put on a public face and use your public voice. But it can be so tiresome worrying about offending people.

    I said the other day, the irony defence can seem quite lame at times, but when people just completely miss he point of the joke (as one reader did yesterday with an old crack I made about Arachibutyrophobia and spiders), you just want to bang your head into the wall.

    I've said before that the unrelenting niceness of Flickr gets on my nerves sometimes. Often, you want to say, "The horizon is wonky and the photo is crap"; or, "Can you be any more self-obsessed, you pitiful specimen? Stop taking self portraits with your digital camera and do something."

    But you don't, because Flickr is one of those places where if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all. People don't go on there to be abused (or disabused). It's supposed to be a bit of fun.

    There are people to avoid in life, and it can feel like a violation when one of them finds your blog and decides to be offended or give offence. To respond with "I was only joking" can seem like the last refuge of the lost argument, but (especially with Hoses of the Holy) it's most often the truth.

    I've said it before, but it's worth reiterating: too many of the people on line are still the kind who neither read books nor get out much, and they simply can't cope with a sophisticated sense of humour or world view. These are the people who would have been offended to hear me as a 15 year old in the school playground, and they'll go on being offended by flippancy, irony, facetiousness etc., so it's just not worth being worried about.

    By Blogger bot37363838, at 4:42 am  

Post a Comment

<< Home