Posts Tagged ‘The Universal Translator’

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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