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November 20, 2005

The Trouble with Translation

A new Home Depot just opened at Baseline and the 10, on the lot where the Kmart used to be. Due to the high concentration of residents who speak only Spanish—it is, after all, not even a mile from Guadalupe—Home Depot chose to print their grand opening banner in two languages. "GRAND OPENING," it proclaims in English in large orange letters. Just below that, in slightly smaller orange letters, it proclaims "GRAN APERTURA." The problem with this, of course, is that it doesn't mean grand opening. At least not in the sense Home Depot was hoping it did. In the Paris Hilton or Slut Puppies 7 sense? Yes. In the sense that the Grand Canyon is a gigantic opening in the ground? Yes. In the sense that a building has just opened its door for the first time? Not even close. For anyone who's been living under a rock for years and didn't catch the pop culture references, what it reads as in Spanish is roughly "BIG HOLE!" Not generally what one wants to portray their shiny new store as. Obviously they have (or plan to have) Spanish-speaking employees in this location, so why in the hell didn't someone think to show the banner text to them before getting it printed? This is such a chronic problem in Phoenix it's hardly believable. "We have Spanish-speaking employees, but let's print something completely unintelligible and embarrassing in mistranslated Spanish!" On the other hand, businesses love to use pretty Spanish words to sell to English audiences that would never fly if they knew the translation. Take, for instance, the absolutely gorgeous Madera, a name Knoell Homes applied to one of its elevations in the 80s. Nice name to English speakers. It's soft, it rolls off the tongue, it is at once beautiful and mysterious. Little did any of the English-speaking buyers know just how accurate the name was: It's Spanish for "lumber." Quite the twisted apropos quality to it if you ever had the opportunity to deal with Knoell Homes...

Posted by Colin at November 20, 2005 10:57 PM

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