Lost in Translation

‘I’m sorry, Miss, I have to leave class early today. I’m going soliciting.’

Although we were in Amsterdam and the Dutch are a broadminded lot, I was pretty sure that my English-language student wasn’t heading towards the red light district. It  was another case of False Friends – an English word that looks similar to a Dutch word but with a totally different meaning. She was seeking work and going for a job interview, the Dutch verb for which is, soliciteren. I explained to her what she’d said and we all had a good laugh about it. Fortunately, the Dutch have a great sense of humour and don’t take themselves very seriously.

Malapropisms are less frequent amongst Dutch speakers but when they do crop up, it’s usually to comical effect.

In class I encourage lively debate about current affairs and one afternoon I chaired a discussion about animal welfare. The touchy subject of Halal slaughter reared its head. One of my students explained to me that the government had come up with a typically Dutch compromise, the animals would be seduced first and then have their throats cut. The joker of the class said he usually preferred to sedate his victims first and then seduce them.

And what about the ill-fated ABN Amro’s ad campaign? Some bright spark in marketing misinterpreted the idiom, ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ and in a prophetic mix-up, the bank’s slogan, ‘here today, where tomorrow?’ heralded ABN Amro’s dramatic and rapid demise.

Many moons ago my husband resigned his job at a French bank and started up an IT training company. Shortly after, a bilingual Dutch friend introduced my husband as an undertaker at an expat party. In Dutch, entrepreneur is translated as ondernemer. If you then translate ondernemer literally back into English it becomes undertaker. To spare our friend’s blushes my husband explained the mistake after she had moved on to the next cluster of party goers. ‘I thought you looked too cheerful to be an undertaker,’ was the new-found acquaintance’s rejoinder.

But does it really matter? My driving instructor always used to tell me to ‘give a little gas,’ meaning accelerate, in UK English. I knew what he meant even though it was grammatically incorrect. After living here for more than twenty years I sometimes don’t even notice Dunglish anymore. My ear has become attuned to it. Worryingly, Dutchisms have started to creep into my own speech and writing…

Susan Carey is a writer and learns people good English. She is living with her man in Amsterdam. She is taken in by the Dutch folks but their consequent use of the present continuous is always giving her a pointy head!

Also she is getting cross when they their word’s jumble up wrongly, putting adverb’s and catastrophe’s in all the uncorrect places. She fastly is losing her temper over this. But she doesn’t let it see. For her students she is a patient teacher always. If she is getting home then her man gets the wind from the front! Which is not very far as he always speaking Dutch very good. Like his mother’s tongue.

Afterwards she is sorry and eats humble pie. Often she is making him something typical Dutch for dinner. He loves Endive Mashpot. Well you have to be Dutch to like that! Soggy endive and mashed potatoes. Anyway it’s a little sacrifice to make. Afterwards he rubs his molly belly and says, ‘My compliments to the cock!’ Then they higher glasses and give a little toast in praise of Dunglish.

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