Here is an analysis of the main error types in the Funny Book entries I put into my previous blogs for your amusement. Of course, some of these sentences qualify for several categories, which makes them even “funnier”. The aim of presenting and reviewing them is to make you more aware of what can easily go wrong if you are not on your guard all the time when writing a sentence or a paragraph of English. So the overall category into which all of these clangers fall could be labelled “MINDLESSNESS”.
A. Sentence order
Sentence order mistakes are a common fault made by Polish users of written English. Usually they just turn the sentence into gibberish, if the mistake involves the inversion of the SUBJECT-VERB-DIRECT OBJECT sequence. But sporadically they may result in a hilarious topsy-turvy rearrangement of the sense, as in the example below:
- The initiated say that the race for the death of James Dean, the contemporary cinema myth, caused the wedding of his beloved, Pier Angela, with the candidate chosen by her father.
Article errors are another typically “Polish” type of blunder. Sometimes they give rise to humorous readings, especially when the wrong choice of an article results in a semantic change, as with the noun man:
- synanthropic animals, that is those cohabiting with men . . .
- animals . . . living with a man . . .
There is no excuse for misspelling a word which can be looked up in a dictionary, unless you count the laugh. Common spelling mistakes often involve word pairs which are spelled in a deceptively similar way but mean completely different things, with just a little difference in the way they are written – usually a slight change in the vowels or diphthongs. Note that Spellcheck will not recognise the really funny blunders, because they figure in its data bank as genuine words:
- Jan Lechoń’s Dairy is an inestimable source of information.
- The owners were depraved of their houses.
- Marital Law, a period of particularly brutal methods of enslaving human minds, led to the increase of patriotic emotions as Poles ex definitione cannot bear any kind of constraint.
- The average Pole uses 300 kg of rubbish anally.
D. Vocabulary and idioms (trusting too much to the dictionary)
This category is really big, almost inexhaustible, and it accounts for the majority of the errors that make sense – but not the right sense. Often the feature that generates the unwanted humour is connotative meaning:
- Maria Callas . . . after the death of the biggest love of her life, Aristotle Onassis, was broken down . . .
- Maria Callas never stopped to love him . . . even though he had left her for a different woman.
- Even though Aristotle left her for another woman, she never stopped to love him.
- Taking magnet specimens, which lessen the tension of the heart muscles is beneficial.
- The Communists dirtied and destroyed the Polish countryside.
- Siemiradzki could not find desirablemodels in Munich.
- Cracow, whose large parts were left untouched, is a lucky city.
- Thousands of buildings all over the country were deconstructed in order to gain bricks.
- . . . flats built of great urban flab . . .
- an opportunity for recalling the gay and interesting history of the city of Radom
- If the newspaper clothes rip you can always change into toilet paper.
- For last several years a group of amateurs organised in Społeczny Komitet Ratowania Zabytków Radomia (Social Committee for Preservation of Radom Monuments) became interested in the Roman Catholic cemetery placed near Limanowskiego Street and later initiated archaeological works in searching for the non-existing castle. The local authorities and many associations for the preservation and renovation of historic buildings positively welcomed the initiative.
- The monarch [Franz Joseph], good enough to be an apostle, abhorred sitting behind the table, therefore he did not just eat, he devoured the dishes.
- The privy say that the death race of James Dean . . .
- He was impressed by the green plantations started in the place of the middle-aged fortifications
- Two of his own countrymen, one of whom turned out to be an agent provocateur in the pay of the police, helped him to expose himself.
- After a short period of physical work he was transformed to the office.
- Getting up and other types of courteous bouncing are not welcome by our savoir-vivre.
E. Word-for-word translation of metaphors and figurative language (trusting too much to the dictionary)
Some metaphors, proverbs and figures of speech are hosted by many languages, but others are language-specific and cannot be translated directly. Again, connotative meaning and phraseology is largely to blame for the hilarious howlers:
- The Blooming Times of Roman Caesarism
- The Flowery Times of the Roman Empire
- From the times of Blossoming Roman Empire
- Poland is a frontal country.
- . . . the autumn sun shines and the streams of dry, yellow, cinnabar, and tawny leaves flow under the legs . . .
F. Cultural errors
To safeguard yourself against this type of error you need to have a knowledge of the cultures associated with the respective languages you are translating from and into. The moral is that it takes more than purely linguistic proficiency to be a good translator:
- . . . following the death of Admiral Nelson in Trafalgar Square. . .
- . . . on the battlefield of Trafalgar . . .
- Nihil Novi . . . the noble political system of the First People’s Republic
- His Majesty Frank Joseph
G. Present participles
Another “typically Polish” error, due to mindless direct translation of the syntactic unit – for – syntactic unit type. The Polish imiesłów (participle) construction cannot always be rendered directly by an English present participle, regardless of the arrangement of the syntax in the rest of the sentence:
- It’s well known a can is useless after drinking.
- It has been proved that the strongest stressing factor is death.