Warning: Contains Nuts
November 27, 2004 8:58 AM   Subscribe

"To protect baby’s eyes offending by dazzling light..." Technical Standards runs a yearly contest for the Worst Manual, offering a $100USD prize. If you enjoy cringing at bad interfaces at This Is Broken, clicking your tongue at typos in library databases or rolling your eyes at the corrections at Regret the Error, you'll thrill to such gems as "Do not iron clothes on body." Note: not all bad manual contest winners are just bad translations. [via plainlanguage]
posted by jessamyn (12 comments total)
There's also these poorly-translated instructions. May pre house the seamy side volitation!!!
posted by driveler at 9:11 AM on November 27, 2004

My very first printer was a Juki 6100. The manual which seemed to be about a thousand pages long started with the words I'm having on my tombstone.
"Mount it the printer on a level and tough table of stand"
posted by Cancergiggles at 9:32 AM on November 27, 2004

From the first runner up:

[Capitals theirs]

posted by jzed at 9:41 AM on November 27, 2004

The 2004 winners are here. Also see Darren's Hall of Technical Documentation Weirdness - in particular this entry.
posted by O9scar at 9:51 AM on November 27, 2004

Damn it - I somehow managed to miss driveler's comment.
posted by O9scar at 9:53 AM on November 27, 2004

My favorite warning was on a bag of Lay's Salt and Vinegar potato chips. On big bold letters on the back it said: "Not a low-sodium food!"
posted by ..ooOOoo....ooOOoo.. at 10:53 AM on November 27, 2004

I was actually reading about the recent murders in Ruzhou, China, and stumbled upon this "foreign investment guide" for Ruzhou, which I wonder if any foreign investor has ever actually read, or even could read. I know it's not particularly egregious or funny, but it is a very good example of the poor translation work one often encounters in the PRC (and as most of these products in the OP are made in China, I imagine most of the instruction manuals have been translated from Chinese):

The long history Ruzhou city is one of the original palaces of Yangshao and Longsan Human Culture. The famous ancient wander places such as Fengxue Temple, located nine km on the north to the city, founded in Beiwei dynasty, 1400 years history up to now. The beautiful Fengxue Temple, surrounded by quiet many-mountains and heavy pine trees and green loft peaks, with complete-keeping buildings of Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming, Qing dynasties, is Key Preservation appointed by the State Council.

I am fascinated by these sorts of bizarre translations. For one thing, they are difficult if not impossible for a native speaker to imitate (although that game of using Babelfish to translate into another language and back comes pretty close). Such translations are unique manifestations of a country where the vast majority of English students are taught by non-native speakers using often outdated textbooks (or the 18th and 19th century British novels that until recently were practically the only Western books you could find in China), where the emphasis is on formal or technical English (as would be found on the college entrance exam or the TOEFL) and not natural spoken English. Thus, you commonly meet people who can read and understand complex scientific texts, but cannot coherently assemble, or even pronounce, a simple statement about what they did that day. And in such an environment, the same mistakes or unnatural word choices are perpetuated until, I would argue, they have become their own dialect of English. For example, I am always amazed that nearly any Chinese person, no matter where they went to school or what part of the country they are from, will say "Oh, it's a pity," (oh, eet's a PEE-tee) instead of "Oh, that's too bad." Or will say "My English is too bad" instead of "My English isn't very good." Or will say "My English is very terrible."
Of course, it works both ways, as Westerners learning Chinese will often make literal translations such as "Did you have a good evening," which when translated into Chinese using the word for "have," makes about as much sense as saying "Do you possess a good evening?"

Another problem is that translation is usually done word-by-word, with no overall sense of word choice, grammar/syntax, or context. For instance "the long history Ruzhou City" is clearly Mandarin syntax. I imagine words like "quiet many-mountains" and "complete-keeping buildings" are direct translations of Mandarin words as well. Even expensive, high profile buildings like the Shanghai Pudong Airport have glaring errors in public signs and notices, which a native speaker could have corrected in less than 5 minutes for an infintesimal fraction of the construction budget (or, hell, I would have done it for free as a public service).

But I have decided that, most of the time, the English translations are not actually there for the benefit of English speakers (or at best, it is only a secondary benefit). Rather, they are merely to demonstrate to Chinese people that "this location is so interesting/famous that even foreigners visit here, as you can see by the translations we have provided." Whether or not the translation actually communicates anything is beside the point. This is similar to clothes or stores that have a nonsense English name to make them look more fashionable or high-quality.

This does not, however, explain why some instruction manuals are so incoherent. That, I think, is someone being too cheap to hire a competent translator.
posted by banishedimmortal at 12:08 PM on November 27, 2004

I think the amazing thing is how much accurate meaning is still conveyed despite the poor translation.
posted by 327.ca at 4:19 PM on November 27, 2004

I can beat that easily (well, I wish I could). We had some plastic computer cases that required assembly. I think I'll have to submit these insturctions next year!

Some quotes:

"On the unit 26, if the distance is short from a salient to a point near the salient, it means that part will be the upper side. The other will be the down side."

"The is the bottom frame of the case, unit 18. According to the distance of the arrow as figure, divide the upper and down side."

"Divide left and right surely and attach firmly with adhesives as figure."

(that was just one of the 13 pages)

"This is a fixing method with nut after putting the bolt for the use of fixing and rubber washer."

The winner: "When Attaching, the adhesion part between the parts must be attached and drop the adhesives soaking in the adhesion part.. (sic)" say what now?

For the nonbelievers.
posted by shepd at 7:11 PM on November 27, 2004

Awesome link, fandango_matt. I knew someone had to be archiving these things online. I had this wrapper taped on the outside of my door in college.
posted by Faint of Butt at 2:34 AM on November 28, 2004

"...you commonly meet people who can read and understand complex scientific texts, but cannot coherently assemble, or even pronounce, a simple statement about what they did that day." - banishedimmortal

You just described my relationship with French and German perfectly. I'm not exactly proud of it, but scarcely ever mixing with native speakers of either language here in Texas (while reading a lot, especially technical documentation, in both languages) has had exactly this effect on my language skills.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 2:49 AM on November 28, 2004


Pinky, are you thinking what I'm thinking?!
posted by muppetboy at 10:26 AM on November 28, 2004

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