A&F found itself in a bit of hot water today after The Internet found out that it was selling “nigger brown” pants in the UK. Except they weren’t really, so you can uncream your Twinkie. (I need to point out that A&F still sucks for trying to turn teenage girls into sex objects.)
I actually laughed when I clicked through to the fake Abercrombie website advertising “nigger brown” cargo pants. Maybe I’ve just hit my fuckery limit this week or something. I think I’m in some kind of waking coma.
In any event, turns out that Abercrombie doesn’t have control over the website selling ni-CLANG! brown pants, which is being run by some Chinese cats who really need to update their translator software:
Apparently some chinese website is knocking off A&F clothes, and because whatever translator program Chinese people uses translates “dark brown” into “ni-CLANG!”, these dark brown cargo pants in English-speaking countries turn into ni-CLANG! brown pants in Chinese countries.
I’m still laughing as I write this. I’ve never wanted a pair of ni-CLANG! pants so badly in my life. Why am I finding this so hysterical?
I think I need a drink or four.
[via Gawker][cross-posted at ABLC]
Because you have passed through rage and marched right into hysteria. Sometimes it’s the only sane thing to do.
Wow. Good thing I am already drinking.
If you hang out at Language Log, the linguistic blog, there are always amazing posts by Victor Mair about Chinese language mistranslations. Of course most of them are so obscure that you have to be a Mandarin scholar to find them funny.
I’ll bet the tumblr activists were all over this one.
Pirating iz hard.
Oh, those zany East Asians.
Marcellus Shale, Public Dick
Hell, I just had to yell at an IT guy on Facebook for not checking himself on this one (despite his superior expertise with tech). Apparently, because I focused on the fact that it was a knockoff site and not under A&F’s control, I was somehow negating the idea that it was a racist translation.
As I said there, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard of “dark brown” getting translated as ni-CLANG! from Mandarin. I can think of a couple of things in Puerto Rican Spanish (my native dialect) that – if it weren’t the same word for “black” in general – would end up translated the same way.
@aimai: A friend of mine was so amused by the bad English used on Japanese stationery that she compiled a notebook full of bizarre usages. She also, years ago, sent me a link of American dopes sporting tattoos with kanji characters that didn’t say quite what the tattoo wearers thought they did. So I guess it works both ways.
Boing Boing has an article about this that also mentioned an African-Canadian woman who got a couch made in China that was labeled as ni-CLANG!-brown.
An elderly English relative of mine who worked in fabric business back in the day had a color of thread or fabric called “nigger black”. We’ve had discussions about how that wouldn’t be an acceptable color name these days and how much things have changed in his lifetime.
jane hamsher just ordered a thousand.
Apparently for garment pirates, language is a chink in their armor.
@Violet: Even trickier when in non-native languages. At the exact time I was first in France, their polite term was Negre, not Noir — I don’t know if I ever managed it without stuttering first. I’ve no idea if it’s changed since.
I think they are sexy pants.
Democratic Nihilist, Keeper Of Party Purity
And here’s where some of my personal history becomes…useful? Anyhow, I do antique wood restoration. AND I’ve dealt with the Chinese in a trading capacity. This is probably the only time in my life those two things will unite and give me something substantive to contribute to the discussion, so I’m just going to kick back and enjoy for a second.
The term “nigger brown” is not a mistranslation, it’s an actual name for a color. The name didn’t really fall out of common usage here in the US until the fifties. Australia kept using it through the eighties.
Obviously, these days the name for it has changed, at least in the Western World, but – and this is how a LOT of stuff ends up getting called “nigger brown” over there, furniture and all kinds of stuff, not just clothes – the Chinese get some weird cultural artifacts from the West and that color name happens to be one of them.
Weirder still are the Victorian-era Western names they give their kids, but that’s for another post.
@chopper: Win. Were do you want your Internets delivered?
The Chinese word that means “do” (more or less), which is used for certain kinds of food preparation, also translates as “f***” (I’m not sure if this word triggers the WP censors so I’ve *-ed it), so a lot of Chinese menus have that (e.g., “f*** silk”).
Can someone tell me where the “Ni-CLANG” thing got started? It seems pretty recent and also too ubiquitous. Do only liberals use it?
Any linguistic insight appreciated.
@Svensker: Blazing Saddles
Repubs should be buying them up!
@Chris T.: And while we’re doing the questions, I now have a burning desire to know what technique “do” is and how can it be applied to silk?
one line in Blazing Saddles gave us both “near” and “Ni-CLANG”
Edit: two lines
” The sherif is a n (bell rings)”
“The sheriff is near?”
addition to KG’s reply: the scene is on YouTube, and should be easily found if you search on the movie title.
@Svensker: See Blazing Saddles…
pseudonymous in nc
@Democratic Nihilist, Keeper Of Party Purity:
In this case, I suspect that it’s a cheap/free/easily-pirated autotranslator that uses an old Chinese-English dictionary with that definition.
The translation thing was the heart and soul of Chinglish, which was on Broadway for an eye blink this winter.
@Democratic Nihilist, Keeper Of Party Purity:
When I lived in Hong Kong I was told (not sure how true it is) that the kids of a certain age in school were given a book of Western names and picked one to use. I am assuming that the book was probably old as I encountered a great many girls named “Fanny” which I am assuming is not a name in common usage today (or even back then, even taking into account the great Fanny Craddock).
Really? Blazing Saddles? That’s a long time ago. But doesn’t it seem as though the “ni-clang” thing is really popular lately?
Thanks for all the responses. I’m STILL not going to watch that movie. Every boyfriend I had in the 70s and 80s wanted me to watch it — haven’t done it yet and plan to go out without. :)
Oh, come on, you have to see it! It is one of the two or three funniest movies ever made. The scene in question revived in popularity with the election of Obama because it so beautifully captures a certain mindset. In fact the whole plot of Blazing Saddles is a beautiful allegory of our times. (the “morons” scene is also quite resonant today)
American kids still know what Blazing Saddles is if they ain’t stupid
I can get it if you don’t want to watch it but still: you really should watch it
I don’t think it’s anywhere close to Brooks’s best but when it comes to race in America it’s a pretty crucial text IMO, up there with Chapelle Show and Black Reconstruction in America
Posted this in a previous thread but thought others might enjoy this. Conan writer goes after rascist bumper sticker person
Where the hell is Keith G.?
Also if anyone has missed Boss N****r I suggest you give that a watch too
Well, okay, but you’re missing out on a major cultural marker, and not just a male one. They probably tried to sell you on it by saying there’s a really funny farting scene (and it is pretty funny) but there’s a lot more to it than that.
“Mongo only pawn in game of life.”
Mel Brooks mocks everyone and everything, every ethnicity, every race, racism, Judaism (and he’s Jewish) and religion in general, just to name a few. Who else could come up with a concept where producers purposely produce a play meant to lose money and the play is called “Springtime for Hitler”…and the play ends up making money instead!
Pepsi! It brings your ancestors back from the dead.
@Mnemosyne: I agree, it is hilarious, spot on satire; much of which was written by Richard Pryor, I believe.
The instructions for installing my new toilet telling me to “circumvolve to capacity in a gentle manner” convinced me that in Chinese-English translation anything is possible.
Now, that sounds like it might feel REALLLLLLY good!
@Svensker: I can understand avoiding movies that people you think are dopes think are great; I’ve done that myself. But Blazing Saddles, which nobody would dare make today, is a hoot from start to finish. My understanding is that Richard Pryor was supposed to play the part of the sheriff, but after he got busted for drugs or some such, Warner Bros. got cold feet and Cleavon Little got the role instead. Still, Pryor worked on the screenplay, along with Brooks, Andrew Bergman and Gene Wilder (all Jews). Supposedly Pryor wrote all the Jew jokes, and the others tried to top him with their jokes about blacks, with everybody ganging up on the Irish. I doubt that’s actually the case, as the welcoming of the sheriff really seems like Pryor’s brand of humor, and a scene in which Brooks plays a Yiddish-speaking Indian chief really seems like Brooks’, but it’s a good story. But Blazing Saddles really is one of the funniest movies ever made, and its exuberant subversiveness is a lot of the fun.
What, no love for Undercover Brother?
For some reason, that phrase got me thinking of Encyclodepia Jones, boy detective. Except now it’s Ni*CLANG Brown, boy detective.
Oriental language to English translation errors caused are just inherently funny. I’ve always strongly suspect that the humor works the other way as well. It would just about have to.
I’m also sure that there are a dozen really excellent dissertations that could be mined out of the subject.
In London in 1977 my wife was shown, at Harrods, a garment described by the proper English saleslady as “a lovely n— brown coat.” Her shocked reaction shocked the saleswoman. As Andrew Young said many years ago, the English invented racism. Whether they did or not, there’s always been plenty of it to go around.
@Svensker: That movie was funnier than hell! The sherrif installs a toll booth in the middle of the desert, you can walk around it, no problem and Slim Pickens says “Somebody’s got to go back to town, and get a shitload of dimes!” Mel Brooks is the real life equivalent to the old Loony Tunes, but for grown-ups.