Day 3 of 12 Days of Christmas : 3 French Hens & translations

Day 3 cover Little Red Hen French and EnglishDay 3 should be 3 French Hens but, since we couldn’t find said triplet chooks,
we decided to give you a singular hen —
— and appropriately, in French.

A peu près la même chose?
as our cross-Channel amis might say?

Which raises the tricky question of translation,
especially of beloved books like The Little Red Hen.

Day 3 cover Asterix the GaulJoanna’s favourite: Asterix

My favourite for translations is Asterix.

With character names there, some of the translators have been fantastically inventive.

Ignoring Asterix and Obelix themselves, which no translator dare change, we have:

French Original                         English                                   German

Idéfix (Obelix’s dog)                Dogmatix                               Idefix
Panoramix (druid)                   Getafix                                    Miraculix
Assurancetousrix (bard)        Cacofonix                               Troubadix
Abraracourcix (chief)              Vitalstatistix                         Majestix

Day 3 cover Asterix in BritainWhich is your favourite?

Difficult, but I think my vote goes to the druid potion brewer, Getafix. Or maybe Cacofonix, the bard who makes everyone stick their fingers in their ears? Both utterly brilliant inventions.

Mind you, so is Idéfix.
How many dogs do we know who have just one idea in their heads?
(Usually food or walkies or, annoyingly, humping any available leg…)

Sophie’s favourite: Beatrix Potter

Many years ago I recall reading a classic essay by Paul Jennings about what Beatrix Potter’s translators did to her beloved originals. In Italian, Peter Rabbit becomes a Sicilian bandit Il Coniglio Pierino, he said. The Flopsy Bunnies turn into a turbulent and suffering Mauriac Famille Plopsaut.

But for me, the greatest insult was Squirrel Nutkin.

In English he’s the anti-hero -— a young tough, always pushing the boundaries. His brother and cousins are respectful to Old Brown Owl. They bring him presents when they ask his permission to collect nuts on his island. But Squirrel Nutkin, though he comes along with the crowd, has no respect and no manners! He taunts Mr Brown with riddles and dances about, not collecting nuts. Eventually, he jumps on the owl’s head.

Then all at once there was a flutterment and a scufflement and a loud squeak.

When the other squirrels tiptoe back, Brown is sitting on his doorstep quite still — but Squirrel Nutkin is in his waistcoat pocket. Then Old Brown carries him into the house and holds him up by his tail, intending to skin him.

But Nutkin pulled so very hard that his tail broke in two, and he dashed up the staircase and escaped out of the attic window. 

He learns his lesson and ever afterwards scolds and throws things at anyone who asks him riddles. A scarred survivor, he becomes wiser, grumpier and learns to channel his aggression.

Now consider the French translation – Noisy Noisette.

I mean, I ask you.

It makes him sound like a Can-Can dancer, looking coyly over his shoulder and fluffing up his petticoats.

Noisy Noisette would have charmed and cheated Old Brown. Or tried to. It probably wouldn’t have worked and she’d have been skinned anyway. But even if it had worked, and she’d got away, she’d only have gone back to dancing about and asking people cheeky riddles. The Noisy Noisettes of this world never learn their lessons.

Not a bad story at all, mind you. But not Beatrix Potter’s!


A Day 3 Challenge from Joanna and Sophie

Anyone prepared to offer any wordplay or funny translations of characters or places?
To give you a start, you could have a look at the marvellously inventive German version of the London tube map by Horst Prillinger from Vienna.

Day 3 wordplay: London tube map in German, sort of

Horst played with the English words. We loved the Bakerloo line becoming Bäcker-WC (Everyone, including Horst, knows Bakerloo is a contraction of Baker Street + Waterloo but German-speakers clearly have a sense of humour too.) There are lots more: think what you can do with Full/Ham/Broad/Way or Lad/Broke/Grove… And yes, Horst did.

Give us your suggestions for English wordplay, or translations from foreign language into English or the other way round. What about:
Champs Elysées?
Lord Peter Wimsey?
or anything else you fancy…

Groanworthy puns gratefully received. Let’s all have a chuckle for day 3, shall we?

7 thoughts on “Day 3 of 12 Days of Christmas : 3 French Hens & translations

  1. Elizabeth Hawksley

    I rather like Horst’s simple translation of Angel – which originally referred to the Angel Inn in Islington. His translation is direct : Engel, which instantly gives the tube station a political dimension by its reference to Karl Marx’s friend and supporter, Friedrich Engels, who, as it happened, lived only a few minutes brisk walk away in nearby Percy Circus.

    Given that, in the 1980s, Islington referred to itself as The People’s Republic of Islington, re-naming the tube station Engel is nicely apt.

    1. Joanna Post author

      I wasn’t aware of the Engels history, Elizabeth. Thanks for that. There are lots of Horst’s translations that I love eg Süd Kannnichtweiter (= can no further) for South Kenton (+ can’t on) or Vollschinken (Full Ham) Hauptstrasse for Fulham Broadway or Frisierdose (Barber’s box) for Barbican. So clever and imaginative.

  2. Elizabeth Bailey

    Never seen that tube map before. Extraordinary and hilarious. Loved WestmOnster! No offerings of wordplay here, I’m afraid. Not much of a punner.

    1. Joanna Post author

      It’s actually Westmünster, Liz, with a U + umlaut, which is actually a simple translation of West Minster. However, I think WestMonster would be a great idea. And it would work in German, too.

  3. Anne Gracie

    I do adore the Asterix comic books. Getafix is inspired, as is Cacophonix, I agree. Also Geriatrix. I remember discovering them aged around 13 and chuckling my way through all the delicious puns.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Yes, they still make me chuckle too, Anne, after so many years. And I’d forgotten Geriatrix. Thanks for the reminder. I do think the English translations are cleverer than the original French, but then puns are easier in English, i think.

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