• Jessica McDonald

Adventures in Translation (NSFW language)

#japan #adventuresabroad


SO SINCE MARCH, I’VE BEEN LIVING IN JAPAN. 

And I’ve been dating. Now, I speak Japanese at what I say is a “conversationally fluent” level–I can maintain a conversation for a couple-hours’ long dinner date but I still have to use my phone to look up words and some of my more complicated sentences wander into the WTF territory. But mostly, I understand and can be understood. 


UNLESS WE START TALKING ABOUT @ARCHERFXX


I was recently on a date with a guy, we’ll call him K, and we got on the topic of discussing differences in translation between Japanese and English media. I said I watch shows like Brooklyn 99 with Japanese subtitles, and some things (”Bingpot!”) just aren’t translated the same. K agreed, saying he’d recently watched The Hangover and even though he didn’t speak English, he knew some things were off. I, being a huge fan of the show, brought up Archer as an example of a show that must be difficult to translate. K asked me for an example.


Now, there are a lot of catchphrases on Archer. “Phrasing!” would’ve been simple to explain. “Do you want ants? Because that’s how you get ants.” Even “Holy shitsnacks!” would’ve been fairly easy to communicate. But my brain did not choose one of these. No, in that moment, my brain could only pick out, with laser-like focus, one singular line:


“HE EVEN TYPES LIKE A GAPING DICKHOLE.”


Let’s examine this phrase. A gaping dickhole is bad, and so to type like one would mean to type in an undesirable way, but it’s in a particularly annoying and irritating way. It doesn’t even really make sense in English, and yet we all know exactly what it means. There’s some sort of cultural understanding here that grounds the phrase, and this is the phrase I chose to try to explain.

 

THIS WAS A MISTAKE. 


I know how to say “dick” in Japanese, so I started there. And I know how to say “hole.” I put these two words together in hopes that K would understand. Let me state here that Japanese has a helluva lot of nuance, moreso than English, so I’m not entirely sure my use of the word “hole” was the correct implication. 


AND THEN I STARTED TRYING TO EXPLAIN “GAPING.”


I don’t know this word, so I just said すごく大きい, which means “really big.” 

K was looking at me with something akin to mild horror, but I continued on. It was my sole desire, nay, obligation, at this point that this 40-year-old Japanese man understand this specific Archer line. I’d gone too far, and there was no coming back. 


Let me also state that the restaurant we were in was incredibly small. Like, there were only four tables, and we were so close our chairs were almost touching. So there are approximately 10 strangers now listening to this crazy foreigner explaining what seems to be some abhorrent American slang that involves putting holes in penises. Because what this trainwreck of an explanation really needed was an audience. 


Then I began to explain the “He even types like” portion of the phrase. It’s easy enough to say, but K could not make the connection between typing on a computer and a gaping dickhole. He kept asking me why the dickhole was gaping. He asked how one types like a gaping dickhole–like he wanted the actual physical mechanics of it, as if I could produce a CAD drawing that would explain it better. In defense of my culture and a show I think is hilarious, I soldiered on. I didn’t even care about a second date at this point. All I wanted was for K to understand the irritation of typing like a gaping dickhole.


The crowd of strangers around me continued to shoot me bemused glances in my continued struggle bus of an explanation. I felt like a great cultural failing would occur if I did not succeed in my duty. At long last, K finally nodded and said, “あーなるほど。めんどくさいね.” 

“Ah, I see. It’s annoying.” 

That’s it. After all my efforts, I wasn’t sure I’d conveyed to him howannoying. He then asked why a gaping dickhole was annoying and I conceded defeat and told him I didn’t know. This 10-minute endeavor into cross-cultural communication had ended with the simplest of phrases, and yet I still felt like a failure. K had gone from mystified, to horrified, to confused, to resigned, to mild comprehension. I’d given him 0.5% insight into American humor and it left him reeling.

Surprisingly, K still talks to me. Next time he asks me for an example, though, I’m going with “Phrasing!” 

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