2006 September


The sign said “Cyclists dismount”, with below it the equivalent Welsh translation, “Llid y bledren dymchwelyd”, or at least it was supposed to be the Welsh translation.

For those of us who do not read Welsh, the sign actually has nothing to do with cyclists dismounting but very much to do with the bladder disease cystitis. Although in fact the translation actually makes no sense at all. This mistake by Vale of Glamorgan Highways Department left people bewildered and the Council rueing their use of on line translators.

However, all this served to remind me of the many times I have mangled or misused other languages.

Whilst living in Germany I asked my friends daughter, aged then about 17, if she was hot. The translation into German seemed pretty simple to me and I asked, “Bis du heiss?”. The effect might not have been quite so dramatic had we been elsewhere than in a crowded restaurant, but there followed a sudden stop in everyone’s conversation and I became the unwelcome centre of attention. What I should have said was, “Es ist dir warme?” (Literally, “Is it that you are warm”). What I had actually asked her was if she was ready to go to bed with me. I never did get an answer but 35 years later we are still friends so I assume she was not too offended.

My mother once got her pronunciation slightly wrong and in German announced to a crowded bar that she attended a ‘naked’ school rather than a night school and on another occasion wished a group of hunters “Good shooting” but what she actually said confused them a little as it would have involved them all rapidly visiting the toilet.

I remain somewhat embarrassed by my rather stupid slip up in my early days in Wales. Having gained some idea of the pronunciation, I asked what the word ‘wru’ meant and was confronted by baffled looks. It was only when someone thought to ask me where I had seen it and I admitted it was on a certain red shirt, the answer became clear.


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