Archive for the ‘The Universal Translator’ Category



Today’s the day of the 2012 Quebec General Election, and I’m hoping that any Quebecers reading this will do their best to keep Pauline Maroisthe sum of whose political ambitions entirely fall into the categories of “separate Quebec from Canada” and “discriminate against English speakers by reinforcing the already draconian language laws or creating new ones” – out of office.

Remember: A vote for the Parti Québécois is a vote for the giant, scary, malfunctioning robot from the Quebec Board of the French Language, who will use his evil powers to translate every English sign he sees into French.

Sadly, this isn’t too far from the truth.

For everyone who isn’t Canadian, a French speaker, or more than 20 years old, here’re some quick translations and explanations:

  1. La langue française: The French language.
  2. Pneu 101% québécois: 101% Québécois Tire. Canadian Tire is the name of a Canadian retail store chain.
  3. BlocQuébécois Vidéo: Quebec Bloc Video. The Bloc Québécois is the name of a Canadian federal political party.
  4. Manger sur: “(To) eat on (top of)”. Eaton was the name of a now-defunct Canadian department store chain.
  5. La banque des impérialistes colonistes de Toronto: The Bank of the Imperial Colonists of Toronto, a riff on the Toronto-Dominion Bank, the second largest bank in Canada.

This dark vision of things that may come to pass courtesy of Angloman 2: Money, Ethnics, Superheroes (November 1996) by Gabriel Morrissette and Mark Shainblum.

The Universal Translator – Red Skull: Incarnate #5 (January 2012)


While Johann Schmidt, the future Red Skull, is speaking to his former commanding officer in the Sturmabteilung (Storm Detachment) in this issue, we catch a partial glimpse of a frayed poster on a nearby wall.

Given the meticulous research that went into this miniseries, it should come as no surprise that this is a reproduction of an actual Nazi propaganda poster from early 1933:

While Adolf Hitler certainly needs no introduction, the man to the left of him is Paul von Hindenburg, a Prussian-German military veteran and then-President of the Weimar Republic. The Deutsches Historisches Museum (German Historical Museum) has the following to say about its place in history:

Election Poster of the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers’ Party)
Munich, 1933
117.5 cm x 83 cm
DHM, Berlin
P 62/260

In spite of all the political differences between Adolf Hitler and the President of the Reich, Paul von Hindenburg – who was also very popular with the supporters of other parties – National Socialist propaganda co-opted the “Hero of Tannenberg” for itself after January 30, 1933. For the Reichstag election of March 5, 1933, the NSDAP advertised with a portrait of both politicians in order to enhance Hitler’s reputation in conservative German National circles and demonstrate “national unity”. The quote comes from the poem “Spring Greetings to the Fatherland” by poet Max von Schenkendorf (1783-1817), who voluntarily took part in the War of Liberation against Napoleon.

While the meaning of “Nationalsozialisten” (“National Socialists”) is self-evident, the line “Nimmer wird das Reich zerstöret – wenn ihr einig seid und treu.” translates into English as “The empire will never be destroyed if you’re united and loyal.”

The Universal Translator – Red Skull: Incarnate #4 (December 2011)


I’m not much of a Marvel fanboy (as if that weren’t already painfully obvious from the sheer number of posts about DC Comics in this blog), but the following cover for Red Skull: Incarnate #4 (December 2011) by Greg Pak and Mirko Colak caught my eye earlier today:

I'm digging the Heavy Metal Umlaut in "Red Sküll".

Maybe it’s because I’m so used to dealing with DC Comics’ atrocious translators, but I was taken aback by how astonishingly good the German was in this case. So, for those who’re curious about what it says, wonder no more!

German: Norddeutsche Ausgabe
English: North German Edition

German: 25. Ausgabe / 52.  Jahrgang / Einzelpreis: 20 Pf.
English: Issue 25 / Volume 52 / Price per copy: 20 Pfennig

A “Pfennig” was a German unit of currency (and, as the word’s spelling suggests, is etymologically related to the English word “penny”).

German: Berlin, Donnerstag, 16. März, 1939
English: Berlin, Thursday, March 16, 1939

German: Kampfblatt der nationalsozialistischen Bewegung Großdeutschlands
English: Fighting Paper of the National Socialist Movement of Greater Germany

While the name of the miniseries appears at the top (of course), since this phrase was the motto of the Völkischer Beobachter (“Nationalistic Observer”), the official newspaper of the NSDAP or Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeitspartei (“National Socialist German Workers’ Party” or Nazi Party for short) from 1920 to 1945, the cover is obviously intended to be a mockup of the publication’s front page.

German: Beförderung für den Roten Schadel
English: Promotion for the Red Skull

German: Agiert unabhängig als Ebenbild der S.S.
English: Operates as an independent counterpart of the S.S.

Can you imagine the level in badass the Red Skull must’ve taken in order to be declared an autonomous agent of the Nazi Party on par with the Schutzstaffel or S.S. (“Protection Squadron”), a frickin’ paramilitary force?

German: Als Auszeichnung für ausserordentliche Dienste, nun Himmlers Gleichgestellter
English Now Himmler’s equal in honor of extraordinary services rendered

“Himmler” is, of course, Heinrich Himmler, the Reichsführer-SS (“Reich Leader of the SS”). This means that, at this point in time, both he and the Red Skull reported directly to Adolf Hitler himself and were one step away from being king of the mountain. There’s a slight spelling mistake here, though, as the “ss” in “ausserordentliche” should actually be a “ß” (sharp s).

German: Der Rote Schädel
English: The Red Skull

German: Aja + Völkischer Beobacher & Der Stürmer
English: Aja + Völkischer Beobacher & Der Stürmer

The cover artist, David Aja, manages to slip a small self-reference in in the form of a picture credit. Also, Der Stürmer (“The Stormer”/”The Attacker”) was the name of a weekly Nazi Party tabloid published between 1923 and 1945.

German: Böhmen und Mähren wieder im Reich
English: Bohemia and Moravia (are) part of the (German) Reich once more

This is a reference to the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, which was established by Hitler on March 15, 1939, one day before this issue of the newspaper was released on Earth-616.

As a neat little bonus, here’s a reproduction of the actual front page of the Völkischer Beobachter from March 16, 1939 from our world courtesy of the Zentral- und Landesbibliothek Berlin (Central and Regional Library Berlin):

"Völkischer Beobachter" - Volume 52, Issue 25 (March 19, 1939)

Notice how the headline about the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia in the authentic version matches that of the fake word for word. Someone really did their homework on this one!

The mockup isn’t quite perfect, though. Aside from the aforementioned spelling mistake, while the font used for the cover of Red Skull: Incarnate #4 is damn close to the original one, it uses a modern “s” instead of the archaic “ſ” (the so-called long, medial, or descending s). Also, the contemporary German spelling of “nationalsozialistischen” appears in the motto instead of the period accurate, hyphenated one (“national-sozialistischen”).

But those’re extremely trivial details, all things considered. A tip of the hat to David Aja, Alejandro Arbona, and Sebastian Girner for putting that much effort into a miniseries front cover!

The Universal Translator – JSA All-Stars #16 (May 2011)


Today’s translation topic, courtesy of JSA All-Stars #16 (May 2011) by Matthew Sturges and Freddie Williams II, will be short and sweet:

You know, I'm pretty sure I didn't sleep through that history class, as hearing about something like that would actually have been exciting...

Considering how earth-shattering an event the attack of giant stone creatures summoned by Magical Neo-Luddites is, the 18th century Germans sure picked a boring name for it for posterity: “Ungeheuerangriff” translates as the somewhat mundane “Monster Attack”. Perhaps they simply lacked imagination…or anything remotely similar to compare it to.

On a side note, since “Angriff” is masculine, it should actually be “Der Ungeheuerangriff” and notDas Ungeheuerangriff”.

The Universal Translator: Justice Society of America #44 (January 2011)


While attempting to determine for himself the connection between an attack by the superpowered terrorist Scythe on the city of Monument Point and a World War II black ops raid on a Nazi laboratory in Libya that both he and the Golden Age Green Lantern were involved in, the Golden Age Flash asks the annoyingly cryptic (and incredibly decrepit) Senator Eagin a very pertinent question.

Congratulations, Senator. You’re an utter failure in TWO languages.

No, actually. No it’s not.

First of all, Senator Eagin presumably meant to say “Scythe is the English word for ‘Drachen’.” since the way he’s phrased his sentence here implies that “scythe” is a German word and “drachen” an English one when the exact opposite is true.

Second, “Drachen” has several possible translations. It’s the plural of “dragon”. It’s the proper German word for “kite” or “hang glider”. It’s a condescending slang term for a woman. But it sure as hell doesn’t mean “scythe”. The correct translation of that would be “Sense” (pronounced “sen-seh”).

On an unrelated note, I’m not normally this harsh on a new creative team – Justice Society of America #44 (January 2011) is only the second issue in Mark Guggenheim and Scott Kollins’ run on this title, after all – but their German language failure is matched only by their character interpretation failure. Turning the JSA, of all teams, grim and gritty? Twisting the normally level-headed, likable Jay Garrick into someone all too willing to consider murdering a child and a criminal? Seemingly suggesting that conscience and morality are weaknesses and that the state is infallible and should always be obeyed? Absolutely pathetic, people. Absolutely pathetic.

The Universal Translator – The Final Night #1 (November 1996)


Hoo boy…this one from The Final Night #1 – Week One: Armageddon (November 1996) by Karl Kesel, Stuart Immonen, and Jose Marzan Jr. is a doozy, all right:

Aside from the incorrect comma placement and the fact that “ça” has a superfluous space separating its two letters, the French is actually fine. The kicker is that this translates into English as, “Two suns? What is this? A diabolical plan to destroy the culture of France?”

The Universal Translator – The Brave and the Bold #9 (February 2008)


Sometime during World War II, the Boy Commandos are assigned with the task of preventing the Nazis from getting their hands on the mystical artifact known as the Orb of Ra. Though greatly outnumbered by their adversaries, the timely arrival of the Blackhawks manages to turn the tide of the battle, and, together, they successfully drive off the German troops. Little do any of them realize, however, that the alchemist Megistus has brought the mummies resting in the nearby pyramid back to life in order to help him secure the Orb of Ra until one of the Boy Commandos, Dan “Brooklyn” Turpin, suddenly goes missing.

"How the hell did his overbearing mother track him all the way to Egypt?"

While comic book readers who don’t speak French will doubtlessly realize that English is neither Boy Commando André Chavard nor Blackhawk André Blanc Dumont‘s first language, those who do will come to the inevitable conclusion that French doesn’t seem to be their first language either. Or at least they would, if they could only stop laughing about the following translation error long enough to realize it:

There IS a difference, people.

To be fair, the punctuation and accent placement (acute, grave, and circumflex) are surprisingly impeccable and several of the other issues aren’t exactly beginner’s mistakes. While my French is apparently better than that of the two Andrés, it’s not exactly my first language either. This being the case, I decided to initiate a combo breaker by enlisting the aid of my friend, the lovely and talented Magali Lachapelle, to make sure that I don’t make a gigantic fool of myself by providing translations that are equally, if not more, questionable than the originals.

French: Une maman a Brooklyn!
English: A mommy has Brooklyn!

The French translation is too literal and doesn’t convey the original English meaning well at all. It would’ve been better to translate the first two times this is said as “Une momie l’a attrapé!” (“A mummy caught him!”) and then as “Une momie a attrapé Brooklyn!” (“A mummy caught Brooklyn!”) when Dumont asks Chavard for a clarification. Magali mentions that “Une momie a capturé Brooklyn!” (“A mummy captured Brooklyn!”) is a perfectly viable alternative depending on what the mummy’s (perceived) intentions may be.

French: Petit André, ce qui s’est produit?
English: Little André, what happened.

This one’s tricky to explain. “Ce qui s’est produit” would only be a valid translation of “what happened” if it were part of a declarative sentence or statement (“This is what happened.”) or was immediately followed by an explanation or clarification (“What happened was…”). Since we’re dealing with a question here, you’d have to translate this as “André, qu’est qui s’est produit?” or “André, qu’est qui s’est passé?” (Incidentally, Magali prefers the latter since the former sounds way too academic.) While we’re at it, I’d also drop the “petit” like a bad habit since, while it’s not blatantly incorrect, there’s pretty much no context in which it doesn’t come off sounding weird. Its literal meaning (“little”) has no real business being applied to a freakin’ child soldier and using it as a term of endearment suggests a level of familiarity, affection, and intimacy that simply doesn’t exist between Chavard and Dumont since it’s established during the course of the story that this is the first time they’ve ever met.

French: Une pierre s’est ouverte comme une porte et elle l’a traîné dedans!
English: A stone opened like a door and it dragged him inside!

Passable, though Magali suggests tweaking it slightly to “Une pierre s’est ouverte comme une porte et la momie l’a entraîné à l’intérieur.” (“A stone opened like a door and the mummy dragged him inside (of the pyramid).”). This has the added benefit of both clarifying where Brooklyn is being dragged to as well as to specify who is doing the dragging since the French words for “stone” and “mummy” (“pierre” and “momie”, respectively) both carry the feminine article. Within the context of the story, though, it’s pretty clear what’s going on even without this change.

French: Cette pierre…ou celui-là…
English: That stone…or that one…

French: Ou celui-là…
English: Or that one…

Today’s lesson has been brought to you by The Brave and the Bold #9 (February 2008) by Mark Waid, George Pérez, Bob Wiacek, and Scott Koblish. And extra special thanks to professional linguist and English-French translator Magali Lachapelle for her assistance. 🙂

The Universal Translator – Justice League of America #44 (June 2010)


As you can probably guess by the unimaginative title of the premiere entry in this ongoing series, I’ll be using these blog posts to provide English translations for foreign language text appearing in comic books, cartoons, movies, television shows, anime, manga, and whatever else strikes my fancy.

This time around, we’ll be focusing on Justice League of America #44 (June 2010) by James Robinson, Mark Bagley, Rob Hunter, and Norm Rapmund, where four members of the Rocket Elite, a German armed forces unit outfitted with powered suits of armor, are sent to investigate a meteorite crash in the Black Forest and end up having a run-in with the Demon Etrigan:

German: Wie lange haben wir erreichen das Ziel?
English: How long do we have reach the target?

Yes, that’s a literal translation, meaning that the original is grammatically incorrect.  “Wie lange, bis wir das Ziel erreichen?” (“How long until we reach the target?”) would’ve been more accurate.

German: Dreissig Sekunden, Commander Danitz.
English: Thirty seconds, Commander Danitz.

Since comic book fonts are generally comprised of uppercase letters only, substituting “ss” for the “ß” in “dreißig” is indeed correct. What’s strange is that “commander” is still in English. A complete translation would’ve been, “Dreissig Sekunden, Kommandant Danitz.”

To be fair, though, translating “commander” isn’t as clear cut as I’ve made it out to be here: it’s highly dependent on the branch of the armed forces you’re dealing with as well as the country. If you were to subtitle or dub a movie or television show that focuses exclusively on the U.S. Army, for example, you’d usually leave the rank designations untranslated. Commander Danitz is obviously German,  though, so I see no reason for them to leave it in English here.

German: Gut, ich bin sehr gespannt…
English: Good, I’m very eager (to)…

Vas ist…
English: What is…

This is a common mistake. “Was” (German for “what”) is written with a “w”, not a “v”. The reason why this error appears so frequently is due to pronunciation differences between languages:  the German “w” sounds more like the English “v”, while the German “v” sounds more like the English “f”.

English: No…

The poor guy didn’t even get to finish saying “Nein”.

Die Rakete-Auslese
English: The Rocket Elite

The grammatically correct translation would be “Die Raketen-Auslese”, though I would’ve gone with “Die Raketen-Elite” myself.

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