Saturday, May 8, 2010

Labelous language

Idioms are one of the trickiest things to translate from one language to another, especially when the two languages don't even have the same alphabets or sound systems.

I don't know who the marketing genius at Nestle is, but the company somehow has managed to dominate the instant coffee market in the Kingdom, so much so that Nescafe has almost become the generic term for coffee. One of the coolest things they've done from a promotional perspective is to tie in their "Red Cup" brand with red collector coffee mugs, each with a clever coffee-oriented saying. You get the cup as part a nice package when you buy the jar.

Now, "No can do" is a sort of hipster American phrase and apparently the closest Arabic can render it is"Forget it"(انس). Not too bad really. I've consulted with several native Arabic speakers and there's always quite a bit of heated discussion as to what the imperative mode for the verb "forget" might be. One person even suggested that the idea of commanding someone to forget is a metaphysical impossibility. There's even discussion as to whether the Nescafe cup lettering might not be quite right so I've changed it above to the consensus spelling, pronounced eensah.

Next up, a foul little item that appeared at my doorway in a bag along with a nice doorhanger.

Foul medammes or (ful medammas), as everyone knows, consists of mashed brown fava beans which my trusty Wikipedia says derives from the Egyptian language. Ful is Egyptian for fava and medammas is a Coptic word meaning "buried." The Wiki article suggests that it has been described as "like a stone in the stomach." I'll stick to my corn flakes and strawberries, thank you.

Submitted for your consideration: the classic A1 steak sauce bottle.

What I love about this bottle is that they could very well have simply left it as is with the usual information about contents and serving size and the need to occasionally shake the bottle. But someone at A1 decided to perk up my day in a wholly gratuitous and wonderfully whimsical manner.

Did it cost them a penny more to write something whimsical that perhaps conveys a bit of spice, foretelling the contents to be enjoyed therein?

As I used to tell my advertising clients: a good idea doesn't really cost any more than a bad idea.

Finally, a logo that needs no introduction to sports fans.

To the untrained eye it simply looks like Gatorade as seen in a mirror. But to a crack Arabicist like me (more crack than Arabicist some might say), there's an interesting little dilemma: Should you say "zhay-toor-eed," thus mimicking the long "a" of the English brand name, or "zhah-toor-eed" using the standard Arabic pronunciation. Note that Saudi Arabic doesn't have the hard "g" sound so the first letter is a pronounced like a soft "g" or [zh].

After much consultation among my Arabic experts, the feeling seemed to be that either way will do -- "same same" is the phrase used -- but the zhah pronunciation might be best: zhah-toor-eed.

I was about to put a feather in my cap and call it macaroni after this revelation when a colleague who was casually checking out the bottle during my hallway conversation pointed out that the Arabic translation of "fruit punch" was "fruit mix," using the Arabic word conventionally used for "problem" -- thus it becomes "fruit problem."

Makes me wonder what Hawaiian Punch uses for their translation.

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