Lost in Translation – A rose by any other name

Over the weekend I was watching the news on Radio-Canada as part of my ongoing struggle to gain some mastery of French. One of the main stories was the meeting of Presidents Bush and Putin at Dubya’s Kennebunkport estate.

This item was also featured on the scrolling news ticker found at the bottom of the screen. While reading this I was struck by the spelling of Putin’s name on the scrolling ticker….instead of spelling his name P-U-T-I-N, the ticker read "Bush et P-O-U-T-I-N-E…"

For those who don’t know, poutine is a delicious French-Canadian dish made up of French fries, gravy and cheese curds. This alone is funny. At first I thought it was merely a pronunciation/translation gaffe. But I was nearly on the floor laughing when my French-Canadian girlfriend told me that "p-u-t-i-n" is a French word for a prostitute. Of course, this makes the phrase "Bush et Putin recontrent" (or Bush and Putin meet) even more amusing. Especially when one considers how Putin – one of the world’s most powerful men, an ex-KGB boss and by all accounts a hard-nosed bastard – would react given the choice between being called a whore or a fast-food item.

A brief Technorati search suggests that "poutine" is the preferred Francophone spelling of Mr. Putin’s name. I can only imagine that is because using ‘putin’ would be indecent. It’s been my experience that people’s surnames remain intact when being conveyed in a foreign language…Presidente Bush, Monsiuer Dunn, etc…

This does remind though of the highly amusing instances where a person/culture’s grasp of English leads to inappropriate signs rife with double-entendres. But at least those cases could be prevented with this handy sign-translating gadget.

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2 responses to “Lost in Translation – A rose by any other name

  1. Very interesting. I was a bit surprised about this, but it is accurate. The French version of Wikipedia also has Putin as “Poutine.”

    Mind you, poutine and politics do have a bit of a history together. Go to 1:55 (and watch to 3:55) on this video to see what I mean – http://youtube.com/watch?v=seYUbVa7L7w

  2. Kevin, Thanks for stopping by and sharing the link. I remember that from when it first hit the airwaves but hadn’t seen it in a while. Tasty stuff.

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