Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Silly-Jilly: Lost in Translation

Anyone who has ever typed something into Google Translate can tell you, the word you want to use doesn't always convey the meaning you hope it does. Some rare words translate perfectly; conveying the precise meaning from first language to second. Others... well, not so much. "Silly" is one such word.

Sunday at church as a friend, Y, and I bowed to pray Jillian took the opportunity to pet Y's hair and stick her, Jillian's, foot into Y's praying hands. When we said our "Amen"s I told my friend. "Jillian is such a silly girl" in English and gave Jilly a kiss on the head. I asked Y, who speaks fluent English, if there is a  word that translated well for silly. The closest I've been able to think of don't really convey the right shade of meaning. "Tannoshii" is more like fun or enjoyable. "Omoshiroii" is like interesting or enjoyable. "Kawaii" is cute. But silly is more like a combo of the three with a little bit of "Henna" (weird) thrown in.
The word she gave me I didn't even commit to memory because when I asked her if it was a good or bad image, she said bad. Her word translated to something like foolish.

I was mortified. This woman, and how many other English-speaking Japanese people, think I've been calling my daughter foolish! I quickly explained that silly has a positive image. Perhaps in the past it was negative, but now it's "Wee Sing in Sillyville"; it's "Silly Songs with Larry"; it's our own Silly-Jilly. Definitely not negative.

Someone needs to warn Larry that he might not translate well into Japanese.
Image credit 
The whole encounter got me thinking about how many other words, or actions I've been using that are COMPLETELY misinterpreted. Probably a lot. I recently found out that when Jillian waved "hello" to people, even in response to "Konnichiwa" people think she's waving "bye-bye". Poor baby has been inviting people to come play and they've been thinking she wants them to leave. We should probably practice bowing rather than waving, but I hesitate because the waving is so darn cute!

I know I'm bound to make, or discover, more mistakes in my word choice. I just hope none of them give the impression I'm speaking ill of my daughter, or other people for that matter.

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