It’s a good idea to get somebody who knows the language to be your proofreader

If you're going to use text from another language, it behooves you to get somebody who knows the language to be your proofreader. Those who fail to heed this advice with respect to Chinese characters may end up featured on Hanzi Smatter 一知半解, which starts with a book titled A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols whose cover depicts the character "book" () upside-down. (Psst, they're called "characters", not "symbols".)

David Beckham could have done with a good proofreader when he got his wife's name tattooed onto his arm in Hindi, but misspelled it. I get a real chuckle out of the response from Mr. Beckham's poor publicist:

"You have to understand that there is a difference between Hindi and Hindu. The tattoo has been checked by a Hindu expert."

When told that Hindi is a language and Hindu a religion, the spokeswoman insisted: "We know the tattoo is spelt correctly."

The BBC helpfully suggests a way the tattoo can be salvaged.

My final example of consulting with someone who understands the language you're using comes from a dance rave which used passages from the Koran to decorate its advertising brochure.

"We had no idea what any of it meant. It looked good on there. It is a beautiful language. And we had desert and a camel in there."

The kicker is that one of the people involved apologized for the sacrilege with a particularly poor choice of words: "It was an honest-to-God mistake."

Comments (22)
  1. Garry Trinder says:

    Is Hindi a language or a cipher?

    I’m not sure how anyone can say the Beckham tattoo translates to "vihctoria" is English, since that isn’t a word, and therefore could not possibly has a Hindi translation.  It sounds like they’re saying one just substitues a Hindi letter for an English letter and get a "translation".

    For that matter, "Victoria" is a name, which wouldn’t really have a Hindi translation either.  (Perhaps he should have gone for "Victory", which would have acknowledged his wife, his career, and gotten a real translation.)

    This would be similar to how a Chinese vendor create a chop for me.  It has three Chinese characters which are meaningless together, but when pronounced form roughly "Ja-Mu-Us"  ("James").  Now, how can one say that is "spelled wrong"?

  2. mph says:

    JamesCurran, note that in the Guardian article they explain that due to Queen Victoria, it is a name they are used to writing in Hindi.  I take that to mean that there is an established, "correct" transliteration for that proper name.  Similarly, we can say that in English, "Beijing" is correct and "Bayzheeng" isn’t, because the former is the spelling we’ve settled on.

  3. Mike Swaim says:

    The same applies for resumes.We once got a resume from someone who was "Impatient with impotence." One of my coworkers called the guy and found out that it should have been "Impatient with incompetence." He didn’t get the job.

  4. He wasn’t applying at Pfizer, was he? ;)

    He should have stuck to his guns.  "Impatient with impotence… yes… um… I can’t stand people who are unable to get things done."

  5. Paul Bennett says:

    Thing is, the BBC haven’t even done it right. Obviously, they were playing for laughs, but in a story that complains about correct transliteration, they really ought to have done a better job. AFAICT, the "misspelling" vihctoria would be विहक्तोरिय (vihktoriya) but on the BBC’s "how to fix it" image, it looks more like विठक्तोरिय (viṭhktoriya).

  6. Paul Bennett says:

    Just to show it can happen to the best of us…

    The misspelled misspelling should have been:

    विठकतोरिय (viṭhakatoriya)

  7. Meh says:

    It’s quite possible that it was done by someone who spoke Marathi and not Hindi. The script is almost identical(one extra character), but they like to sprinkle ‘h’ sounds where Hindi doesn’t have them.

  8. vajrang says:

    Technically, the tattoo is in Devanagari (the script), not Hindi which is a language that uses this script. There are many languages that use the same script – see

    One of the features of the Devanagari script is that pronunciations are defined within the script itself. There are a few exceptions based on which language is using the script, but generally speaking one can pronounce a word written in Devanagari without ambiguity.

    The spelling of the tattoo actually looks like "vhictoriya" (by the way, Devanagari does have have upper case letters), not "vihctoria" as reported in the articles.

  9. vajrang says:

    Oops, that should read :

    Devanagari does NOT have upper case letters

  10. Since "Allah" means "God" as you surely must know, I don’t see the particular poor choice of words. Or should I (were I a believer) ask you to call It "Dios" just because I’m Spanish?

  11. Robin KAY says:

    Adriano Varoli: The poor choice of words refers to  ‘honest-to-God’ being blasphemous (in an apology for sacrilege).

  12. It’s a subtle point, but one would have to be foolish to miss it….

    (cf: Raymond’s post It’s a good…

  13. Vince P says:

    Today the Muslims demand we submit to thier rules regarding blasphemy, tomorrow it might be what you eat (Dont want to offend them while they see you eat pork) and later on what God you do or do not believe in.

  14. A says:

    "This is a disgrace to Islam. The activities in raves are totally immoral,"

    If a Hindu said that, or a Buddhist, nobody’d even yawn. Gee. I wonder why not?

    "The brochure’s designer … declined to give his name, saying he feared retaliation"

    *Now* I remember!

  15. Cooney says:

     Today the Muslims demand we submit to thier rules regarding blasphemy, tomorrow it might be what you eat

    Most of the Muslims I’ve met don’t care too much. It’s only the wingnuts that demand you submit to their morality, but that’s the same with every religion’s wingnuts.

  16. Stephen Jones says:

    >>If a Hindu said that, or a Buddhist, nobody’d even yawn. Gee. I wonder why not?

    The Sri Lankan Diplomatic Service seems to be spending more time complaining about the proliferation of Buddha bars than it does about the proliferation of LTTE offices.

  17. Stephen Jones says:

    When I emailed your the link to a friend I find that the title is flagged by the Outlook spell check, which doesn’t accept proofreader is a word!

    There actually is a name for this "Hartman’s law of Prescriptivist Retaliation" which says

    "any article or statement about correct grammar, punctuation, or spelling is bound to contain at least one eror"

  18. Jules says:

    Apperently, in 2002 FIFA issued a commemorative football for the World Cup, with the flags of each of the competitors printed on one of the faces.  The problem was that (unknown to the designers) the Saudi Arabian flag includes the word "Allah", and there were objections to the notion of people kicking around an item that had the name printed on it…

  19. Qian Wang says:

    This reminds me of an episode of Frasier where two characters spoke giberish in place of actual mandarin.  Not very classy for a major show on a major network that was billed as the smartest comedy on TV.  I mean, the show was probably made in SoCal anyway, so how hard would it have been to find a Chinese speaker?  Laziness like that makes me appreciate shows and movies that take the trouble to get it right (such as the West Wing) a lot more.

  20. Stephen Jones says:

    When John Nuston filmed "The man Who Would be King" in Morocco, the Pastun tribesmen all spoke Arabic.

  21. Zero Wing says:

    All your base are belong to us.

  22. Anonymous says:

    The name actually reads Vhiktoriya, not Vihktoriya!

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