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Thursday, April 29, 2004

Flowing from his bat like water flowing from the Ganges ... 

Flowing from his bat like water flowing from the Ganges ...
A common pastime in my office is trying to figure out how to translate or rewrite a colloquialism from the U.S. edition of one of our magazines when the story is being run internationally. In some cases, it's simply a matter of replacing an American football reference with a soccer one, but other times it means recasting sentences to replace a bit of slang that makes no sense in translation.

Mlive.com has an interesting story (picked up from AP via The Wall Street Journal) about how Asian sportscasters have to stretch their languages when calling a game:
Often, sports terms can't be translated directly. There's no way to replicate expressions such as "to hot dog," meaning to show off, or to make a basketball shot "from downtown" or from long distance, says Kennegh Lau Yeung, an announcer for ESPN/Star and former Hong Kong basketball player. "We have to avoid expert terms, like rotation defense, and look for things that are familiar in the Asian lifestyle."

That's why an "air ball," a basketball shot that misses the hoop and backboard entirely, becomes, a "mian bao" -- or bread roll -- in Taiwan. The Chinese-language analogy, created by Taiwanese fans, probably came about, says Mr. Lau, because bread rolls "look hard on the outside but are very soft on the inside." And a blocked shot, meanwhile, is "kai mao" in the Mandarin dialect of Chinese, meaning "a hat covering your head," while a slam dunk is "yup jun" in the Cantonese dialect spoken in Hong Kong -- roughly, "cork the bottle."
According to the article, much of the time these expressions come from the imagination of the presenters:
Just as U.S. commentators compete with unique terms, Indian announcers seek to outdo each other with distinctive expressions. One, a retired cricket player named Navjot Singh Sidhu, has become famous for his "Sidhuisms," as when he refers to a losing team as "tumbling over like a row of bicycles without their stands."
And that doesn't even get into dealing with the names of individuals. May Chew and her fellow researchers at ESPN/Star headquarters in Singapore had to spend 48 hours with only five hours of rest finding three-syllable Chinese equivalents for all the players on the 64 teams in the NCAA March Madness basketball tourney. "This isn't sport, it's linguistics," Chew said.

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