I want to learn basic polite phrases to say when I go to Paris next October. I can’t simply keep my mouth shut, I know this about myself, so I need to prepare. Long ago, lost as usual, I accosted a startled French pedestrian demanding, “Where is the war?” when I meant to ask directions to the train station. I understand that people are using a translation app on their phones these days to ask such questions. Could that be the answer? I doubt it.
Consider the phrase I ran across in www.wordorigins.org. “All your base are belong to us.” It was the 1991 English language release of the Japanese video game Zero Wing, and the phrase became an in-joke among the gamers. Eventually it became a graffiti tradition. Mistranslation is funny because it’s almost right. It gives the reader pause for a beat to put it in the correct order.
In The Mother Tongue, Bill Bryson quotes a warning to Japanese motorists, translated as, “When a passenger of the foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet at him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage, then tootle him with vigor.”
“Tootle?” There’s an unusual word. www.etymonline.com describes it as a “frequentative” of toot, which means, a word implying continuous action. I think I’ll beware of the translation app and stick with my French phrase book for tourists.