Things I've discovered by trying to translate a short story into multiple languages

ObscuredBeyond
For the record: Google Translate really seems to hate this story.
For the record: Google Translate really seems to hate this story.

So, have you ever written a machinomic, or...any short story, for that matter, and later thought to yourself: "Say, it'd sure be cool if I could get readers from all over the world!"?

If you have, you'll find the journey to make your masterpiece (I use the term loosely) work just as well around the world in other languages to be just as sometimes-fun, sometimes-frustrating, as actual travel! (But possibly a lot cheaper!)

A little backstory context

Purge-Flare: Stickin' It to Pencil is a short story taking place in Earth-G7, the seventh main continuity family generation of The Gerosha Chronicles, in Dozerfleet Comics. It is the longest-running, and most coherent and complex comic book world ever developed for that brand. The story was shot using GTA 5 in Director Mode on the PS4, and serves as a loose sequel to the still-pending Sims comic Blood Over Water - which is itself a remake of a 2009-era Ferris State University miniseries.

To support creation of BoW, a custom Sims 4 stuff pack was created in January - August of 2020: The Sims 4: Oughties Big Rapids Living Stuff. Brought to you courtesy of Dozerfleet Labs.

Purge-Flare also precedes Ciem: Inferno, which tells the tale of a centipede-themed heroine living in Gerosha (Boonville), Indiana, who must protect her town from the evil Triumvirate - one third of which consists of a band of space alien mobsters called the "Hebbleskin Gang" that own a plethora of criminal rackets.

Yet, things go south for Candi Flippo / Ciem when her personal romantic life and after-school part-time superhero antics conflict, leading to her being confused for someone else by police in the middle of a riot. This leads to her darkest secrets being exposed, landing her afoul of the new anti-Altered law dubbed the "Kirby Act."

After making Drop-In retreat to end his cop-killing frenzy, she cooperated.  No charge for resisting.  Bad day at work.
After making Drop-In retreat to end his cop-killing frenzy, she cooperated. No charge for resisting. Bad day at work.

Trivia note: Since the Hebbleskins captured Gerosha (Boonville), Warrick County was compromised. Candi was taken to Vanderburgh County. This is as close as I could render to an authentic Vanderburgh County Jail female mugshot using Photoshop and Sims 4.

Even while she and her family plot vigorously to stop the Hebbleskins' latest evil plan for southern Indiana, Candi finds her civilian identity in the midst of out-of-control federal agents trying to get her railroaded into a parody of season 1 of Girls Incarcerated on Netflix. So she has to figure out how to save everyone, before she more-than-likely has to go to prison regardless. But if she succeeds, and the Hebbleskins are forced to retreat? Then she doesn't care if she gets a few months in juvie. After all: she got careless, because she was too busy messing around with her boyfriend to notice a riot happening! So in her mind, she deserves a little time out.

Moral of the story: nymphomania can make you dangerously irresponsible! (And apparently, can also give you bad luck in unexpected ways.)

Long story short, however, the recurring character Chris "the Purge-Flare" Kennal makes an appearance in Ciem: Inferno. After Candi is arrested, and a dome put over Gerosha, Miriam realizes she should've radioed a warning to Candi...but herself got distracted, and let Candi go over to Danny's house without being properly briefed! Feeling like Candi going to jail was her own fault, Miriam sought to atone for this...by trying to hire Chris to take out the enemies that would normally be up to Candi to deal with!

Alas, working with Chris...would be like a deal with the Devil!

She eventually wins him over.  Miriam...has really bad taste in men.
She eventually wins him over. Miriam...has really bad taste in men.

However, I noticed a while back a huge problem concerning Chris: he goes from a nobody bottle plant worker, to a sudden serial killer whose main targets are pedophiles, to...a fully-suited Punisher / Prowler knockoff? And how does he know about Gerosha? How does this nobody from Big Rapids know to come all the way to Indiana? How does he know to avoid I-69 near Evansville, after it gets nuked?

There were many plot holes about where Chris disappeared to in his six years between Blood Over Water (2009), and Ciem: Inferno (2015.) So Purge-Flare: Stickin' It to Pencil was rendered in GTA as a way to explain how Chris knew to go to Gerosha. At the same time, to show what he's been doing since he left Sleet Mountain.

REAL LIFE PLOT TWIST....

It took about 10 months for the short story to get finalized and edited. After its release, however, one of the first women to show interest in it...was a woman from China. Her English wasn't very good. So I offered to translate it for her. That...turned into an interesting experiment of its own...

Every single step of this was painful.
Every single step of this was painful.

After putting the story in Chinese, which was like splitting hairs, I decided to try a few other languages, until I felt I'd hit enough markets. The next on my list:

  • Spanish
  • Polish
  • Japanese
  • "Cebuano" (really, Bisaloglish, native dialect of Cagayan de Oro teens)
  • Korean
  • Russian

Still working on Bisaloglish, before I get around to the last two. But what I can tell you already, is that antihero crime dramedy is a very hard genre to make work internationally!

These are just some of the obstacles one can encounter:

1. Punctuation Perils

If only all languages had English punctuation! I got off easy with Chinese and Bisaloglish. Not so easy with Japanese or Polish! At least after two years of Spanish in high school, I was prepared to deal with most of the eccentricities of Spanish punctuation.

2. What is a "crackhouse"?

English speakers take this expression for granted. But it really doesn't translate well into any other language. At all. Describing Daran Phillips' hideout...requires some serious creativity!

3. Purging? Flares? Modules? Pencils? Sniperbadgers? Lava Tigers?

Characters' nicknames and Google Translate don't always get along. Chris "the Purge-Flare" Kennal is sometimes called "Cleansing Fire." Don "Module" Glotine (a parody of Micro from Netflix's Punisher) gets called a variety of different names too. Miriam "Sniperbadger" Flippo is no better. Mike "Pencil" Javelin has been called "Lapiz, Lapis," and "the accursed pencil," depending on which language I'm aiming for. Antonio "Lava Tigre" Frenze probably has a fairly easy time.

4. Centipedes

If you trusted only Google (which you shouldn't!), you'd mistakenly believe that there are many languages that have no word for centipede. Describing what Candi's animal motif is can get pretty difficult!

Although, in Japanese, her godfather's other goddaughter, Charlotte Yamamura, also has centipede powers (but rather than operate like the Nightcrawler / X-23/ Batgirl / Spider-Girl of a southern Indiana hicktown, Charlotte mostly resembles Elektra in fight style.) Charlotte is already known as Mukade. So to distinguish Candi's "Ciem" centipede from Charlotte's very Japanese Mukade, I had to get very specific: Stone Centipede (Lithobius.) "Ishinomukade."

The villains in this story talk about Candi an awful lot, though Candi herself never makes an appearance in Purge-Flare.

5. Whores whores whores...

This seems to be the single most universal anti-woman insult in the world. Module, frustrated with Miriam's manipulations, is not above calling her every variation of one that the various languages I'm sampling allow him to. Granted, "thot" doesn't translate. Neither does "Machiavellian bitch" translate universally. European languages usually do a good job. Asians? Not so much.

Chinese also calls Miriam a "huli jing" at one point; essentially a vixen. Only, much more evil and vulgar than how the west understands them. More comparable to a succubus or a siren. (But don't tell that to Jissika "Nemara" Sundue from the related Anarteq series, as she is almost literally a siren! She might find being compared to an "amateur" like Miriam...a tad insulting!)

On the rare occasion a gal wants to sexually denigrate a guy, Miriam mocks Candi's boyfriend, Danny Loffin, by calling him "the boy toy." She thinks they look cute together; but she's convinced he'll run away if the going gets tough.

She doesn't believe they should be sleeping together; but she covers for them doing so anyway. This is because Danny treats Candi better than Tyrone treated Candi. And because either treat / treated Candi better than Corey treated Miriam at age 14. She fears Candi making the same stupid mistakes at 16 that she (Miriam) made at 14. (Their legal guardian never found out.) Miriam admits that she's jealous of Candi. However, neither girl seems to choose men very wisely. Nor what to do with them very wisely. This will come back to haunt both of them in a later story.

However, "boy toy" doesn't translate via Google. Even the much crasser "f*kboy" doesn't translate well! "Walk of shame" doesn't always translate either. In fact, for the Philippines, the line became a dissertation about the use of towels. Outright calling Danny the "boy toy" got replaced with "he's probably just chasing Candi's body; but I hope I'm wrong."

Miriam gets distracted while discussing her family relationship drama, which irritates Module. But his curiosity with deducing the identity of this "creepy sick child" that hacked his phone gets the best of him, leading her down more side tangents. The two finally regain focus, and Miriam reveals that Emeraldon took down the plane that was coming for Pencil. So Chris' plan to assassinate the pedo at the airport and then steal the plane...won't work. Chris will have to improvise another escape route, to flee the airport before security can catch him!

6. Pork this! Screw that!

Ah, the good old f-bomb! To keep the original somewhat PG-13, I had to get very clever with euphemisms. Unfortunately, those don't always translate well. In many cases, frustrated characters' marshmallow ways of yelling "F*k!" were replaced with "Dammit!" All so they could translate.

When Module slips away from some thugs chasing him to bump him off, after they deduce he's helping the "fake Extirpon," they break into his control room. No guy in the chair. One thug shouts in frustration: "Pork my rear with a chainsaw! The little bugger got away!"

Yeah...that line...is always a few headaches to translate into any language, particularly well! While Candi may be guilty of the most fornicating in the story, it's clearly Miriam who has one of the dirtiest minds!

She even says "FMU" over the phone to Module, with the "U" standing for urethra, in reference to the 14-point challenge! Module is understandably disgusted when she explains the reference to him, and he curses public education for corrupting her once-beautiful mind.

Each new language...requires that acronym line to be dramatically rewritten!

7. Getting hacked

Hacked? Hijacked? Pirated? Who knew this would be such a challenge of a word?

8. Going Stumpy

The Hebbleskins are really evil! How do you know? They don't just buy out pedophile rackets; they also have a sadistic mantra for executing their prisoners! Decolarent eam, eviscerate eum! (Latin, obviously, for Off with her head, out with his guts!) As such, Miriam figures out that Module has almost figured out her identity. But she urges him not to say it. If a third party hijacks their phone call; it'd be too much of a clue! If the Hebbleskins ever captured Miriam, it'd be off with her head, literally! Her middle name may be Ann, but she has no interest in dying like Anne Boleyn!

Even so, trying to explain decapitation in multiple languages is tricky. When the original is constantly using slang in her phone calls? It is painful to translate! References to "the Lumberjack Barber" don't work. "If lucky, I get his French cousin," doesn't always translate well either.

9. Chopper

No, not head-chopper! This one oddly enough isn't a decap joke. Helicopters are an interesting one. Some languages have no problem. Others, break at the sight of that word! But proper "helicopter" must be used. Most languages haven't figured out that "chopper" can be another word for it.

10. Hell, Angels, and Demons

You'd think that, cosmologically, Spanish would have an easy time describing all the references to the Cherinob Saga scattered throughout this story! (Cherinob 1 takes place in Romania in April of 2015. Pilltar 1 is set in March of that year. Purge-Flare is set in September. Ciem: Inferno is set in October, Anarteq: Guardian of the Soo is set in November, and The Gray Champion: Shaken Dust in December.) You'd be wrong!

Even Filipino languages, in spite centuries of Catholicism, struggle with getting proper treatment from Google when describing Kritchobol as "a demonic beast." (One of his forms. His most common disguise makes him a mix between Cilian Murphy and Tom Hiddleston, while Cherinob's most common disguise is a red-haired woman that looks like something between Jessica Truscott and Jessica Kent.)

Weirdly enough, Chinese was the easiest to work with on this. Diyu is just similar enough to Dante's Inferno (let alone Biblical Sheol,) that I was able to replace all the European and original Cherinob mythos symbolism with Chinese mythology symbols rather easily, and the visuals made no less sense than Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal. The Tianshi, or Agents of Tian/Shen Du /Shangdi, are not too terribly separated in concept from Malak / Apthalans. And while Agents of the Accuser / Biroots are not identical in concept to a Chinese Eyemo, they are similar enough to make the analogy work.

I'm running out of time and characters to keep going; but these are just some of the many challenges that can go into translating even a simple short story! If you ever wonder why professional services want $2,000 from you upfront, now you know why!

Things I've discovered by trying to translate a short story into multiple languages
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  • Arivor
    Yes, I have done the same thing with a few lengthy poems I have written and worked quite a while on just how to word it out in English such that it would translate exactly the same in Catalan, Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Italian and Polish. It took me a few hours to finally get it to work. It was fun though...

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