By Erin Harrington
On Dec. 5th, after 26 grueling hours between the SFO airport and four separate viewings of Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, I arrived in Sapporo, Japan. I stepped off of the plane, an unsuspecting oaf of a tourist waiting for an exciting change. Little did I know that I was cursed to be a proofreader- regardless of my global coordinates.
While scrambling to figure out how to take a train from the Chitose airport to the downtown Sapporo station, I was shocked to find that in Japan, the English language is rampant. Quite a few people speak English, and the language is also slapped onto billboards and street signs. Despite the well-intended efforts, the English is brimming with spelling and grammatical errors (a.k.a. a copy editor’s wet dream). My mission was set: find as many spelling and grammatical errors as possible no matter how much blood had to be spilled.
During my first meal in Japan, I noticed on the menu that if I wanted milk straight from the cow’s udder, I would have to ask for "flesh milk" instead of "fresh milk." Besides being totally grossed-out from the horrid visual of flesh milk dancing around in my head, I was able to add one notch to my copy editing belt.
I arrived at my final destination in Kitami city with a burning passion to brandish my metaphorical red corrective pen in as many places as possible. I braved sleet, snow, minus-five degree Celsius weather, and slippery, head-cracking sidewalks to uncover any trace of incorrect English. Some rewards were as follows: "Kitami City Libraly," more "Flesh Milk" and "The song which you want to sing is surely here" (f.y.i "which" is a word to be used in a non-essential clause, while "that" is the appropriate word to use in an essential clause).
Soon after my quest for spelling errors and grammatical awkwardness, I found a side-job editing. I worked for a well-off doctor proofreading his papers on recurrent rectal carcinoma. I just couldn’t get enough of the rectal carcinoma.
One day, while pondering the logistical workings of rinse-in shampoo, I stopped to think-do I have a Japanese counterpart braving the streets of America, searching for the numerous ways that Americans have screwed up the Japanese language? I certainly hope the answer is "yes."
This thought sparked another inkling of an idea. Why does the Japanese doctor that I am working for have to publish his medical journals in English? If doctors in Japan have gone through the tedious work of learning English, then shouldn’t the English-speaking doctors learn Japanese as well? Wouldn’t this only serve to create a better and broader marketplace of ideas? Personally, I feel that the more knowledge I have to choose from, the better my chances of finding what I want, and making my purchase.
So… "Kitami City Library" has an "L" in it- so what? So…Americans pronounce "karaoke" wrong and think that a California roll is a type of sushi- so what? No matter how hard a person tries, something will always get lost in translation. The fact that a person goes the extra mile to try to translate is what counts.