A question of interpretation

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A question of interpretation

Post by Erik_Kowal » Wed Oct 07, 2020 4:18 am

I ran across some amusing anecdotes in this account of life as an interpreter in the London Review of Books, as well as some equally amusing descriptions in the comments below the feature article. Here are a couple of them:
Lynn Visson’s account of her work as a UN interpreter reminded me of a story (possibly apocryphal) from an EU agricultural conference many years ago. The French speaker had been droning on for ages, then came to a sentence ending ‘la sagesse normande’. While the rest of the hall was snoozing the English delegation suddenly burst out laughing. What they had heard in their headphones was: ‘We must all learn to model ourselves on Norman Wisdom.’

Chris Sansom
London E5

Vol. 36 No. 1 · 9 January 2014

Like Chris Sansom’s story about translators, mine too is possibly apocryphal (Letters, 19 December 2013). A friend of a friend was the personal staff officer (PSO) to an air marshal. The great man was told, at short notice, to address a Nato meeting. He said he’d use the speech he’d delivered recently at the RAF Staff College. The PSO pointed out that it contained a joke about cricket which only the Brits would understand. He was assured that all would be well. When he got to Brussels, the PSO took a copy of the speech to the instantaneous translators. They agreed that the joke was impossible, but said they knew how to cope. When the air marshal approached the difficult section, the delegates heard in their headphones: ‘The air marshal is about to tell a joke. It is about cricket. It cannot be translated. In the interests of Nato solidarity, please laugh when we say – “Laugh.”’ On the way back to London, the air marshal said: ‘Didn’t the joke go well. I told you it would.’

Clive Rainbow
Speen, Buckinghamshire

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