The Museum of Wonky English, a Japanese Exhibition Dedicated to Hilarious Mistranslations

I got hooked on Duolin­go a few years ago. Since then, I’ve used it dai­ly to prac­tice lan­guages like French, Span­ish, Finnish, Chi­nese, and Japan­ese. But none of those cours­es is quite as pop­u­lar with as many users as the one for Eng­lish, which is wide­ly spo­ken around the world — and, inevitably, almost as wide­ly mis­spo­ken around the world. Even non-Eng­lish-speak­ing coun­tries tend to put up some Eng­lish-lan­guage sig­nage, sparse and strange though it can often be: a hand­writ­ten gro­cer’s sign warn­ing cus­tomers not to “fin­ger the peach­es”; a notice mount­ed just above a uri­nal that urges vis­i­tors to “please uri­nate with pre­ci­sion and ele­gance.”

These exam­ples come, unsur­pris­ing­ly, from Japan, whose awk­ward but vivid­ly mem­o­rable writ­ten Eng­lish has long cir­cu­lat­ed in West­ern media. That made Tokyo the ide­al loca­tion for the Muse­um of Wonky Eng­lish, a pop-up col­lab­o­ra­tion between Duolin­go Japan and cre­ative agency Ultra­Su­perNew that, as the lat­ter’s site describes it, exhibits “six­teen of the best exam­ples of wonky Eng­lish found all over Japan.”

When “vis­i­tors look at the signs, menus, clothes, and oth­er objects exhib­it­ed in the muse­um — objects that can make them chuck­le, gasp, think, and reflect — they will notice there’s more depth to wonky Eng­lish than they ini­tial­ly thought and become more embold­ened to learn a for­eign lan­guage.”

You can still see some of the Muse­um of Wonky Eng­lish’s prized lin­guis­tic arti­facts in the pro­mo­tion­al video above (which pro­vides the orig­i­nal Japan­ese phras­es from which these odd trans­la­tions sprang), as well as in the pic­tures accom­pa­ny­ing this Japan­ese-lan­guage arti­cle. “Please do not eat chil­dren and elder­ly.” “When cof­fee is gone. It’s over.” “Crap your hands.”

Though uni­d­iomat­ic at best, these phras­es and oth­ers exert a kind of pow­er over the imag­i­na­tion. When close­ly scru­ti­nized, they also illu­mi­nate the mechan­ics of the under­ly­ing Japan­ese lan­guage and its dif­fer­ences with Eng­lish. And though the Muse­um of Wonky Eng­lish was open for only a week, a run that end­ed last week, I can assure you — liv­ing, as I do, in Korea — that wonky Eng­lish itself remains in rude health.

via Spoon and Tam­a­go

Relat­ed con­tent:

Learn 48 Lan­guages Online for Free: Span­ish, Chi­nese, Eng­lish & More

David Fos­ter Wal­lace Breaks Down Five Com­mon Word Usage Mis­takes in Eng­lish

“Weird Al” Yankovic Releas­es “Word Crimes,” a Gram­mar Nerd Par­o­dy of “Blurred Lines”

Steven Pinker Iden­ti­fies 10 Break­able Gram­mat­i­cal Rules: “Who” Vs. “Whom,” Dan­gling Mod­i­fiers & More

What Are the Most Effec­tive Strate­gies for Learn­ing a For­eign Lan­guage?: Six TED Talks Pro­vide the Answers

The Restau­rant of Mis­tak­en Orders: A Tokyo Restau­rant Where All the Servers Are Peo­ple Liv­ing with Demen­tia

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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