Rythm of the Night or Reebok or Nike?

Of course you’ve seen the images of signs from other countries with amusing phonetic misinterpretations. Sounds in English, for example, just don’t work well in other languages. So, sometimes a misunderstanding ensues. Usually these signs are from Asian countries where concepts and words don’t translate well. The Japanese are usually the ones who get picked on for their verbal bungling. The ‘r’ sound is often used in place of the ‘l’ sound. So, English would become Engrish. The author of this blog explains how these mistranslations often turn out to be a humorous faux pas. Especially when something like ‘bi-curiosly’ comes out instead of ‘vicariously’ as she mentions.

In Spanish mistranslations happen all of the time. English speakers often confuse false cognates like embarazada for embarrassed. The former meaning pregnant not uncomfortable in a social setting. A few years ago in Bolivia a friend of mine, a female, was learning English and decided to practice late at night at a bar. The bar is called the Pub Alpaca in Oruro, Bolivia. I have very fond memories of Willy, the bar owner, and his assistant Katy. Like I said it was late and she decided to practice English after a few drinks. She looks me in the eye and says, “Are you hard?” I look down and play along. A roar of laughter went up from everyone in the pub. Willy tells her that it translates into a faux pas, effectively. In Bolivia asking ¿Estás duro?” or “Are you hard?”, means to ask if you are drunk. We couldn’t get enough of that one. Like I said very fond memories.

However, last night, in Austin, a friend of mine showed me a YouTube video of a caller into a Dominican radio station. “I’d like to hear Reebok or Nike”, he says to the DJ. The DJ brilliantly deciphers it into ‘Rhythm of the Night’, a popular club song. What’s interesting is Nike in Spanish is pronounced like the name Mike in English with a silent e. And Reebok because the th sound is not used in Spanish. I was struck by depth of cultural references and language implications that made this a very amusing interaction.

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