Misleading Translations (Top 50…)

This one was Jeremy Thompson’s idea. He offered ‘In loco parentis’ – ‘Dad’s an engine driver’; and ‘Sic transit gloria mundi’ – ‘It was a rough crossing yesterday but it is a lovely day today.’ It’s always hard to capture the spirit of the original, and Alan Beattie had a slightly different version: ‘After a heavy weekend, Gloria threw up in the van.’

  1. ‘Pas de deux’ No, I only want one, demands Hopi Sen.
  2. ‘Jeux sans frontières’ Juice with no bits, as drunk by Fiona Laird. I thought that was “Deus ex machina.” Jeremy Thompson thought it was “Entente Cordiale” – juice for camping.
  3. ‘Ex officio’ I work alongside my former wife, offers Robert Wright.
  4. ‘Mañana’ A larger-sized fruit for the gentleman, suggests Ben Stanley.
  5. ‘J’y suis et j’y reste’ I am Swiss and I’m having a lie-down, says Mark Colvin.
  6. ‘Coup de grâce’ Lawnmower. Thanks to Jeremy Cliffe.
  7. ‘Pro bono’ A fan of the U2 frontman, offers Citizen Sane.
  8. ‘Doppelgänger’ Changes in perceiving someone as a potential criminal as they move towards and away from you. From Alan Robertson.
  9. ‘Potpourri’ A teapot that doesn’t drip. From Mark Bassett.
  10. ‘Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’ I want my money back, and so does my mum, says Ben Stanley.

This was a popular list, and I received many more nominations that were worthy of publication, so I have compiled the rest of the Top 50 below.

Qui custodiet ipsos custodes. My custard diet put pounds on my hips. Thanks to Simon Landau.

Schadenfreude. The joy of shutting the curtains. Robert Wright.

Lèse-majesté. A minor member of the royal family. Mark Bassett.

Entre deux mers. Between two mothers. Fiona Laird.

Je m’appelle. Juice with my own apples. 54 Beats 44.

Moi aussi. I am an Australian. Nick Short.

L’escargot. Reduce the amount of luggage on that craft. Citizen Sane.

Coup d’état. Let’s get rid of this crappy stock. Ben Stanley.

Deus ex machina. OMG, my laptop’s died. Robert Wright. (Although other translators render it as “juice without bits”.)

Noblesse oblige. You don’t have to say “bless you” after someone sneezes. Robert Wright.

Übermensch. An outrageous tweet even Louise Mensch wouldn’t send. Mark Bassett.

Ad nauseam. Sick of that John Lewis commercial. Citizen Sane.

Schmaltz. A slow dance. Graham Kirby.

Magnum opus. A large Irish cat. Graham Kirby.

Ersatz. Denoting someone used to sit here. Alan Robertson.

Bauhaus. Sheep enclosure. Alan Robertson.

Glockenspiel. Tendency of police officers to tell long stories once they join the firearms squad. Alan Robertson.

Auto da fé. Instantly charged. Alan Robertson.

Bossa nova. Under new management. Alan Robertson.

Antipasto. The opposite of spaghetti. Alan Robertson.

De gustibus non est disputandum. High winds and no mistake. Claudia Pritchard.

Sotto voce. In a drunken voice. Christina Demetriou.

O sole mio. It’s only me. Christina Demetriou.

On y soit qui mal y pense. I honestly think I’m getting a headache. Gary Twynam.

Ich bin ein Berliner. I throw away anything German. Adam Huntley.

Gerard Depardieu. Steven Gerrard is leaving Liverpool. Adam Huntley.

Modus operandi. Orchestral version of Quadraphrenia. Adam Huntley.

Ad hoc. Mix with cheap wine. Adam Huntley.

Caveat emptor. Stone Age refuse collector. Adam Huntley.

Dieu et mon droit. God is my finger. Julian Archer.

Suivez la piste. Follow the drunken lady. Julian Archer.

La vie en rose. The pink aeroplane. Charles Oglethorpe.

Esprit de corps. Embalming fluid. Lloyd Bracey.

Schadenfreude. Sunglasses belonging to Sigmund, Lucien or Clement. Brendan Barnes.

Krankenheit. About four and a half feet tall (like the little one dressed as a schoolboy). Brendan Barnes.

Fruits de mer. Release Boris. Brendan Barnes.

Malade. A very poor commercial. Brendan Barnes.

Mardi Gras. A police informant having a strop. Brendan Barnes.

Lederhosen. To sleep with ladies of ill repute. Brendan Barnes.

O tempora o mores. I could eat this Japanese food all day. William French.


Marvellous. Many thanks to you all. I am the mere curator of greater talents.

Originally published in the Independent on 25th January 2015

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