Why word for word literal translation is not the best

Wrdfrwrd
Last night I went to a Tex-Mex restaurant.  They had tortilla chips on the menu, which was even in English.  So we ordered them.  This is what we got. 

A fried tortilla with fries on top. 

Fries=chips in British English.

So, tortilla chips. 

Word for word translation can lead to serious miscommunication.

The fries were good, so this was not a serious miscommunication, just a good laugh.

Published by Nora McNamara

Lover of languages and linguistics. Besotted Auntie. Jesus follower. Sacred Harp singer.

9 thoughts on “Why word for word literal translation is not the best

  1. Hey, Nora!
    I looked at your photos and the bag that the women make (I guess the women do it) looks almost exactly like the bags that the women make in Papua New Guinea. They are called bilums. They are made by sort of hand weaving a single strand of string, sort of looks like crochet. Wow, that is so cool that the bags are made it such two divergent areas of the world.
    Will be praying about your house. Your dog is sooooo sweet, I bet you miss him.
    Roisann

  2. Ok Peter, so you’re telling me that you would order tortilla chips in a restaurant in England and end up with that? If you say so, I believe you…
    Besides, the restaurant was covered with paintings of Native Americans and license plates from the all over the States. Therefore, I would argue that it was a reasonable assumption that the menu was in my heart language.
    By the way, welcome to the blog.

  3. No, Nora, if I asked for tortilla chips I would get a strange look, and then either be offered tortilla WITH chips which is what you got, or perhaps if the waiter knew some American English he would say, “Or do you mean tortilla crisps?” But I would expect British English in a former British colony (except for those rebel American ones) if that is what “mmmBELLYmay land” is. 😉

  4. The thing is, I read tortilla chips right off the menu. My guess is that the menu was written by an American, and then at some point the restaurant was taken over by someone who speaks British English.
    @ Peter-I’m in francophone Africa. Hence the novelty of Tex Mex!

  5. hey nor, long time…as part of the uk younger generation;-) i would have to say tortilla chips are definitely in common usage in British English and if anyone served me fries on a tortilla i would find it equally hilarious:-)
    Literal translation has never served me particularly well in England when I go to order takeaway and ask for a ‘chip’, which in Northern ireland means a good-sized portion of chips complete with salt and plenty of vinegar….:-)

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