Tails of Creaking Shrimps

Posted on August 11th, 2010 by Valerie

Clearing through truckloads of papers the other day, I came upon a priceless handwritten note from last summer that I’d given up for lost.

Vinegar bug holes

Rice with stroke

Tail of quick shave to the oven

Codfish to the old one

These gems were from the English version of the menu at a restaurant whose name I do not recall (location: Barcelona’s Avinguda de Gaudí). Okay, it’s very funny, and we did fall around laughing, especially as my dinner companion of that day is a teacher of translation and interpreting at the university.

But beyond the laughter, it’s sad.  I’m going to say it here, for the umpteenth time, publicly. The problem is not translation software in itself.  Machines do what they do. What is sad is that there’s such a widespread lack of understanding of language, of how it works, and how translating from one to another works.  There are plenty of highly qualified and skilled translators out there. But if you must use translation software for your bits and pieces,  if you don’t have enough of the target language to recognise rubbish when you see it, surely it’s a no-brainer to find a native speaker to check it over? One hilariously meaningless menu may not make or break your business, but it’s the thin end of the wedge.


Let us know if you can figure out what the above delicacies are. And the title of this blog (taken from the menu shown here.)

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16 Responses to “Tails of Creaking Shrimps”

  1. Angela Says:

    Some really choice entries here although the old “sailor style rape” is still a corker. I also rather like “boiled language with green sauce”.

  2. Theresa Says:

    Rape / prawns / squid to the iron is always nice, too.

  3. Sue Rutherford Says:

    How about “Faith Fat” … when a chef boldly swaggers ventures into French cuisine? That’s foie gras!

  4. Sue Rutherford Says:

    Whoops, forgot to eliminate a verb there!

  5. Adrian-oh Says:

    I know this one – just off Carrer Diputació towards Aribau….

    The sad thing is that I end up judging the restaurant by the sloppiness of the menu translation, assuming that this must reflect the restaurant at large. Perhaps I’m wrong, because I recently stumbled upon this gem from a very well-regarded bakery and restaurant group, with some considerable international experience:

    “Salad of little gluttonies”. Took me days to work it out…. c’mon!

  6. admin Says:

    Thanks for this, Adrian-oh. A friend passed it onto me – had no idea what restaurant it was. Not that it matters!

  7. admin Says:

    I agree with you entirely. Before I burned out as a translator, I often used to say: you wouldn’t present yourself or your business with spinach in your teeth or egg on your tie, would you? Well that’s what bad translation is like. Talk to the wall. And that was before everything went digital.

  8. Sarah CG Says:

    It has obviously been translated from the Catalan version, and surely “seva” should be spelt “ceba”? “Hat of joints” is fantastic, hope they didn’t inhale… Rice with stroke has me foxed, but I did find this dish, perhaps it’s a clue: Arroz cremoso de chipirón de anzuelo con cebolleta y pinceladas de su tinta

  9. Sarah CG Says:

    Think I’m on the right track: “arroz con pincelada de tinta de calamar” ???

  10. Sarah CG Says:

    Me again, I’ve been saying to restaurants for years that I would happily translate or check their menus for free if I get a decent meal for my pains, but they don’t seem that interested!

  11. Valerie Says:

    HI Sarah
    Thanks for all this – most illuminating! Pincelada makes sense! I suppose as long as they make money, why should they care? It would be difficult to demonstrate a direct link between crap translations and bad business.

  12. Yves Says:

    En français on obtient avec le traducteur magique de Google: “Queue du rasage rapide au four”
    On peut tout imaginer, c’est grandiose !

  13. Sally Says:

    My own favourite was the ‘menu’ in Barcelona which included ‘He came from home’ — otherwise known as ‘el vino de la casa’.

  14. Francis Barrett Says:

    My favourite was “Moroccan prickles with female Jews”. On the other hand, when I paused to sneer at another English version of a menu displayed outside a restaurant recently, I was startled and impressed to see “Platos combinados” rendered as “Mixed Courses”.

  15. Valerie Says:

    Another hilarious one.

  16. Sheila Crosby Says:

    My favourites include “Pork chop Suzie” and “milksnakes”.

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