Sunday, 4 November 2007

How not to use a dictionary

I pass this sign every day on the way to work and it illustrates a few perils of looking things up in dictionaries and/or using babelfish or other automatic translation programmes. Firstly, looking up each word separately in a set expression - the original should have hyphens, i.e. "prêt-à-porter"; secondly not checking for differences between nouns ("un prêt" would indeed be a loan) and adjectives/adverbs; thirdly not realising that "porter" can mean wear as well as carry, which you would have thought, in context, they might have guessed from the long list of English equivalents of "porter"; and fourthly, a basic structural word-order issue which makes "prêt-à-porter homme" in French into "men's ready-to-wear" in English. I have probably made equally bad mistakes myself in various languages but you would think someone running a business would check before paying for a sign!
However, while most of us would translate "retouche", in this context, as "alterations", I quite like the idea of a workshop of final improvement!


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