Martha and Grant discuss advertising slogans and product names supposedly botched in translation. They also recommend an eclectic mix of books for the word-lover on your holiday list, from military slang to Yiddish. Plus a slang quiz on the words blue-bird and corpsing, and a caller from San Diego has a friendly disagreement with friends about the phrase bald-faced lie vs. bold-faced lie. This episode first aired December 15, 2007.
It’s the wacky title of a new book by language enthusiast Elizabeth Little which has Martha and Grant talking about whether Coca-Cola and Chevy ran into cultural translation problems when selling products abroad. Did the Chevy Nova really sell poorly in Latin America because “No va” means “don’t go” in Spanish? You can find more information about it in Dave Wilton’s book Word Myths.
A caller wonders about the origin of gedunk, which means “ice cream” or “a snack bar” where you might buy sweets.
A caller asks about how lakes get named, and we talk about a lake with a 45-letter Indian name that may or may not translate as, “You fish on your side, I fish on my side and nobody fishes in the middle.” It’s Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg. If you want to know how to pronounce that, here’s the helpful song Martha mentions on the show. It was written by Stephen Willey of the band Shades of Grey.
Grant recommends two books that are great for giving as gifts. FUBAR: Soldier Sland of World War II by Gordon Rottman looks at the language of soldiers from different armies. Also, Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin by Nicholas Ostler, which looks at the history of Latin in the countries where it originated.
Photo by NOAA Photo Library. Used under a Creative Commons license.