German Titles!

Today I was demonstrating to my coworker that the German version of Wikipedia does not contain as many articles because the English version contains trivial pages dedicated to things like Night Court.

Then I learned the German Wikipedia DOES contain a page on Night Court.

Not being a German speaker, though curious enough to want to know what it said, I ran it through the Google Translator, and found the result, Harry’s Miraculous Criminal.

Thoroughly entertained, I began searching for other alternate titles coming up with All Under One Roof (not bad), A Strong Family (kinda weird), and the infinitely hilarious The Greeks Conquered Chicago.

I have been looking for other awkward, computer-generated titles to which I can point and laugh but as of yet I’ve only had luck with 80s and 90s sitcoms.

Sometimes the oddly hard to translate can be in our own language. I had to spend three minutes explaining to a New Zealander WTF the title Two If By Sea was supposed to mean. Never occurred to me that a non-American English speaker would be confused, (unless they were an American history buff, perhaps) but it seems obvious now.

Note that the English Wikipedia is not necessarily more comprehensive than other versions. The New York Times had an article on Wikipedia a few months ago in which it noted, “Spend time in German Wikipedia, and you find jazz musicians like Thelonious Monk with articles far longer than those written in their own language; you may also come upon odd areas of deep interest, like ‘pecherei,’ the extraction of resin from trees — no English equivalent provided — and 15 different tools needed for the job.”

I like how the title for the article on the 2002 movieBig Fat Liar is translated as “lies have short legs.”

The German title of “Night Court” is “Harrys wundersames Strafgericht”, which means “Harry’s miraculous criminal court” – which does make sense. It sees that the Google translator has trouble translating one word “Strafgericht” as two words “criminal court”, which must cause considerable problems translating from German.

Oh Giles, you wet blanket, you.

I suppose that makes much more sense, but it still sounds quite awkward when translated.

I wonder why they change these titles sometimes. Some are more understandable, like the Japanese movie *Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi* which literally translated means “Sen and Chihiro’s Mysterious Disappareance.” That sounds weird, and besides that, is too ambiguous in English.

Titles like Night Court though, seem like they wouldn’t necessitate a complete change for audiences. I dunno though, this may just be my American arrogance acting up again.

For an example of a German title changed when translated into English–All Quiet on the Western Front is known in German as Im Westen nichts Neues (Nothing New in the West). While the English title is admittedly a bit more poetic-sounding than the rather straightforward German title, it lacks the double meaning of the original–and also somewhat dulls very bitter irony this statement takes on at the end of a book.

Another example: the original title of the film Wings of Desire is Der Himmel über Berlin (The Heavens/Sky over Berlin). I particularly dislike this one–not only is the English title very generic-sounding and only vaguely related to the actual content of the film, but considering that the film is above all about the city of Berlin itself, it seems rather a shame to remove any mention of it from the title. What’s more, a literal translation actually sounds better than what they finally came up with. Not quite sure what they were thinking here.

‘Boys on the Side’ was on TV when I was living in Germany. The German title was ‘Kaffee, Milch und Zucker’ – ‘Coffee, Milk and Sugar’. Don’t ask me!

Goldberg is the coffee, Parker is the milk, and Barrymore is the sugar?

The TV series Homicide: Life on the Streets was translated to Murder from Red to Black in Israel, referring to the whiteboard at the show’s center. Producer Barry Levinson has been quoted as saying that he prefers the translation to his original title.

That Japanese title contains a piece of word play that’s impossible to translate. Sen and Chihiro are the same person, so a literal English translation might be “Sen/Chihiro’s spiriting away”. Sen/Chihiro has her name changed in the move by Yubaba (the witch in charge of the bath house), by having the second character of her name rubbed out. Japanese kanji (which are based on Chinese characters) have two readings (or more), and that changes the reading of the first character in her given name from “chi” to “sen”. So, written in Japanese characters, the first and third characters of the movie’s name are the same, but are read differently.

Japanese movie and TV program makers love word play: one title is “すもももももも” – yes, it has the same character 6 times. In this case, the reading is the same since it’s hiragana, so you would write that as “Sumomo mo momo mo”, with word breaks, and it could be translated into English as “Both the plum and the peach” – but the series is actually known in English as “Sumomomo momomo”, so the word play is there, but the meaning is lost.

Actually, the German is singular: one greek conquers Chicago.

And the strong family life is also incorrect - the german title translates as A strong family. (stark has more than one meaning in german).

BTW, you do know that German titles are not the fault of the translation engine, but of the dumb networks who decide on them?

You might be interested that Married With Children becomes “a terribly nice family”.

You could also look at IMDB for how lightyears apart the original and the translated title often are.

I was in Germany at the time Legally Blonde (or maybe the sequel, come to think) was released there, and kept seeing posters for it. The German title is Natürlich Blond, which I thought was pretty good. As you might guess that means “Naturally Blonde”, and is a pun in German the same as in English – it means both an undyed blonde and “blonde, of course”. The original English pun on “legally blind” wouldn’t work in German.

The Japanese title for Legally Blonde is Cutie Blonde. It’s like they weren’t even trying.

You must forgive my lack of knowledge in German; I’ve never studied it (I’m more familiar with Japanese). It seemed like it was singular to me as well, but then again I don’t know the rules for singular and plural words in that language.

In one instance Google translates Eine starke Familie as The Strong Family and in another as The Strong Family Life… I don’t get it. Could you elaborate what you meant multiple meanings for the word ‘starke’?

Networks decide to change titles for one reason or another, but the online translator helps make these changes look particularly strange. It’s my understanding the German is a very literal language filled with compound words–this makes it a prime candidate to illustrate the difficulty of automated translation.

Speaking as an American, jazz fan and musician, I am not a bit surprised. The more I learn about jazz and about America, the more surprised I am that it has any following at all in its native country. (As it is, there’s precious little.)

Perhaps as a matter of wishful thinking, I misread the thread title as “German Titties”.

Musicals tend to keep the same titles all over–Les Miserables is Les Miserables in any country. One glaring exception is Phantom of the Opera, which feels a glaring need to translate the title into the country’s language. Do they think nobody knows about the show?

The Jim Carrey movie The cable guy, was translated to Electric pipe man (Sähköputki mies) in Finland. Usually they don’t bother to translate the title, but ad a subtitle in Finnish. Independence day became Independence day - Maailmojen sota (War of the worlds).

The best part of the page on “The Greeks Conquered Chicago” (Perfect Strangers) is that, according to the entry, the show ran for “eight squadrons.”

Now, how do ya know THAT’s translated from German?

Okay: Literally, stark means strong, both in the direct sense - I am strong enough to pick up this heavy stone; but in the case of a family, also figurativly: we are a strong family because we stick together.
Additionally, in slang/colloquial speech of teens, “Stark!” is a milder version of “cool”.

Translating it as Family life is wrong, though, in my opinion.