Honorifics, Gender, and Journalism

A seemingly innocuous change to a newspaper style guide has some significant implications.

Doug Saunders, the award-winning international affairs columnist for The Globe and Mail, posted his paper’s new style guide on honorifics to Twitter:

My initial instinct was two-fold. First, I find second-mention honorifics silly. Unless there’s a likelihood of confusion (say, between Bill and Hillary Clinton or the two Presidents Bush) last-name-only is a far cleaner, and thus preferable, convention. Second, as noted before, I find it annoying that physicians have somehow appropriated the title “doctor,” which is from the Latin for “I teach,” from academics to the extent that people somehow think it’s we who have appropriated the title even though we’ve held it for centuries longer.

Neither of those debates is likely of much interest to those outside academia or journalism. But there are real implications of this, especially for women and non-binary scholars.

As Aisha Ahmad, an international security professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough, points out, “if you add gendered prefixes to your experts, it will undermine female scholars. There is a mountain of evidence on this.” She adds, ”I don’t need to be called ‘Dr. Ahmad’ in second reference. But I will NOT allow anyone to use a gendered prefix on me. Ahmad. Or I will refuse to speak to you. I encourage all academics, male and female, to hold this position.”

Furthermore, as we’re becoming more aware of the struggles of trans and non-binary individuals, it’s rather obvious that gendered prefixes (and pronouns) are especially problematic for them. It’s much harder to write around pronouns given the limitations of English grammar and syntax, especially if we don’t know that the individual in question does not identify with a particular sex. But going with last-name-only as the standard second-mention reference renders it a non-issue in terms of honorifics.

Saunders defends the new style by observing that, “Referring to people by marital status or level of education is not very suited to this century.” He goes on to argue that it’s better to simply note the nature of the credentials to establish expertise on the first mention. While that’s my general instinct as well since it’s the norm in both scholarly and journalistic writing (the NYT and Globe and Mail are decided outliers in using second-mention honorifics) we know that the practice has a disparate impact on women.

There was an article making the rounds a year-and-a-half or so back making the argument that the “cool professor” practice of asking students to call them by their first name was much more costly to female academics than their male counterparts. Essentially, it’s simply easier for a male professor to command respect than an otherwise equal woman, so they simply gave up less by eschewing their titles.

Women in the academy often complain that they’re referred to by their first name in professional settings where male colleagues are addressed as “Dr. or Professor So-and-So.” Female physicians have similar experiences.

A recent article from K. Poppenhaeger (note: it has been a common, if not universal, practice in many academic disciplines for years to use only initials rather than full names of scholars, to avoid injecting gender bias) titled, “Unconscious Gender Bias in Academia: from PhD Students to Professors” notes,

The definition of bias is a positive or negative unconscious belief about a particular category of people. This allows quick, but sometimes inaccurate, processing of information. It often conflicts with consciously held attitudes. Over time, biases can change based on experience and exposure. Some examples are: On average, both men and women underestimate the contributions of women. Similarly, on average both whites and people of colour
underestimate the contributions of people of colour. Biases are not the same as discrimination; discrimination can happen if a person actually acts on their biases. However, if someone is aware of their biases, they can consciously decide if they act on them. If biases go unchecked, they can have multiple detrimental effects for groups against which negative biases exist, for example in performance evaluations, hiring, and career progression.

Unconcious gender bias can have a significant effect on how students and their proficiency are evaluated by academic staff. Moss-Racusin et al. (2012) studied if professors in STEM fields rate identical student CVs differently if the CV lists a female or a male first name. On average, the professors would rate the “male student” significantly more positively on the aspects of competency and hireability, would offer to mentor the student more
often, and offer them a 10% higher salary on average. The gender of the professor did not influence how they responded on average, showing that unconscious biases about a group can also be held by members of that group.

Unconscious gender bias can also produce significant differences in how male and female academic staff are evaluated by students. MacNell et al. (2015) conducted a study to quantify outcomes of gender bias in student evaluations by taking advantage of online teaching methods in order to have the students be “blind” to the actual gender of their academic teacher. If students thought they were taught by a woman, they gave significantly lower
teaching quality ratings than when they thought they were taught by a man.

It’s neither the responsibility of nor within the ability of the Globe and Mail or the newspaper industry writ large to solve these problems. But, certainly, they shouldn’t move their style guides in a direction that complicates them, either.

FILED UNDER: Academia, Education, Gender Issues, Media
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Mu says:

    “I’m a journalist with the Globe and Mail and would like an interview”
    “Are you subscribing to their style guide?”
    “Yes”
    “No”

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  2. James Joyner says:

    @Mu: That’s Ahmad’s strategy. But, as noted, the NYT has done this for as long as I can recall.

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  3. teve tory says:

    Huh. I never exactly knew why my scientific pubs had my first initial instead of my first name. Now I know.

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  4. Kathy says:

    Given that English has no gendered nouns and no gendered conjugations for any pronoun, you’d think third person pronouns and titles would have gone gender-neutral naturally in time.

    About the specifics for “doctor,” there’s an anecdote by Dr. Isaac Asimov from the time he taught at Boston University medical school. A med student approached him and asked, “Dr. Asimov, are you a PhD or a real doctor?” (*)

    This was sometime in the 40s, so it’s been a long time coming.

    (*) For the record, Dr. Asimov’s doctorate was in biochemistry.

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  5. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Kathy:

    I have a PhD acquaintance who is fond of noting that “doctor” was a medieval title for a scholar and that if the medical profession wants to adopt the medieval title for a health care provider, then they should start referring to themselves as Barber so-and-so.

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  6. Kit says:

    I have broad sympathy for this, but then I read the following and I feel my enthusiasm starting to leech away:

    [Aisha Ahmad] adds, ”I don’t need to be called ‘Dr. Ahmad’ in second reference. But I will NOT allow anyone to use a gendered prefix on me

    We start with trying to protect credentialed intellectual authority from the sorts of unconscious prejudices endemic to our age, and we end with a radical program to reform grammar and society itself. These two projects will never be happy bedfellows.

    Still, to continue with the spirit of the subject, why use names at all? Surnames are another rich subject of discontent. Pseudonyms have long been used for the freedom they allow.

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  7. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    As someone that has a Romance Language as a Native Language I think that the absence of gendered nouns in the English Language is confusing. If I read about a teacher being killed in hotel I don’t know if that’s a woman or a male teacher. Several times I’m reading about a writer or a doctor that has a different name and I don’t known If he/she is a woman.

    In this sense gendered nouns are MUCH better.

    @Stormy Dragon: To me, “Doctor” is representative of authority. If I’m going to a Medical Doctor I’m going to have to accept his authority over me and accept what he is prescribing me to do. On the other hand, just because someone has completed an academic doctorate it does not mean that he is an authority in the public debate.

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  8. Kathy says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    From my spotty knowledge of medical history, I think the “barber” handle applies more to surgeons than doctors (and I hear also butcher, but don’t quote me on that). I’ve read that to this day in the UK and some of the British Commonwealth countries, like Australia, a surgeon is not addressed as “doctor,” but rather as “miss or mister.”

    Anyway, the rationale for this, is that barbers (and maybe butchers) had ready access to the sharp tools needed to perform surgery.

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  9. Tyrell says:

    About ten years ago I applied for a job that required a proficient reading ability and knowledge of the basic rules of English grammar, and sufficient spelling skills. One requirement was that applicants had to write a half page paragraph; topic of their choice. As I was writing I noticed some of the other applicants who looked to be in the late teens or early twenties were in a virtual panic: they just did not know what to do. We are in an age of grammar ignorance. Most college students now would not know a preposition from a car transmission. My education consisted of demanding English teachers who knew how to use the red ink and would require papers to be correct, or done over. They also required proper English in the classroom.
    Pronouns: have people completely lost their minds? The idea that somehow it is improper or impolite to use referents such as Mr., Mrs., lady, gentleman, boy, girl, he, she? Weird, bizarre! When I am out, it is frequent that a lady such as a waitress or bank teller will call me “honey”. I guess that is out too.
    Aisha Ahmad:” But I will NOT allow anyone to use a gendered prefix on me. Ahmad. Or I will refuse to speak to you. I encourage all academics, male and female, to hold this position.”
    Really? Well, If I run into you sometime, how about “darling”?
    “Referring to people by marital status or level of education is not very suited to this century.”
    Says who? From where I am at people still show respect at work, at school, the courtroom, and other formal places. At the ball park, picnic ground, parties, or other informal occasions, “dude”, “sweety”, “buddy”, and such are fine. In a courtroom, people had better use expressions such as: sir, mam, Your Honor, Mr., Mrs.
    Physicians: I have never referred to a female physician as anything else but Doctor.
    Student evaluations: sorry, but we did not have those back in the day.
    All of this “re-pronouncing” reminds me of the so-called “ebonics” trend that came out years ago. People trying to pretend that street slang could be used everywhere. Actually I was not against ebonics in informal settings. But misguided individuals tried to allow it in classrooms. In our part of the south, we have our “ebonics” too: “I’m fixing to go shopping”, “cut off the light” “faster than Blalock’s bull”
    What we now have appears to be a small group of people pushing their “language correctness” agenda on everyone else. Next people will be fired or even arrested for violating some silly language rules. Well, a whole lot of people ain’t buyin’ it!

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  10. Gustopher says:

    I kind of like the stilted style of referring to Mr. So-and-so as “Mr. So-and-so.” It allows for a variety of slights that referring to someone by last name along just does not permit.

    “Because Mr. Trump did not even win a plurality of the popular vote, many people are wary of calling him President.”

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  11. Kylopod says:

    @Kathy:

    Given that English has no gendered nouns and no gendered conjugations for any pronoun, you’d think third person pronouns and titles would have gone gender-neutral naturally in time.

    Old English was a gender-heavy language similar to modern German, with nouns classed into masculine, feminine, and neuter, and a range of conjugations and declensions. It lost almost all of this during the early Middle English period. It’s the only Indo-European language to simplify its grammar this radically. (There’s a minority opinion among some linguists that it underwent a process of semi-creolization following the Norse invasion of England in the 9th century.) The only traces of gender left are the he/she pronoun distinction and the occasional noun that has distinct forms for male and female (though of course inanimate objects are never marked for gender, like they are in almost all other Indo-European languages). The movement to replace gendered nouns has been around for a while (as in server instead of waiter/waitress), but pronouns are one of the hardest things in language to change. Neologisms like the terms “he or she” or “he/she” sound overly stilted and formal (and they also invite complaints over the fact that “he” comes first); “they” for third-person singular when the sex is unknown has a long history in colloquial English (as in “Everybody get to their classes”) but is frowned upon by grammar purists. Of course there are many languages in the world with a third-person pronoun that can mean either “he” or “she,” but English isn’t one of them, and there’s really no way to force it to become one.

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  12. Kathy says:

    @Kylopod:

    Old English was a gender-heavy language similar to modern German, with nouns classed into masculine, feminine, and neuter, and a range of conjugations and declensions.

    I know. I listen to John McWhorter’s podcast regularly.

    Here’s an odd fact: the Hebrew pronoun for “she” is pronounced “he,” while the pronoun for “he” is pronounced “who.”

    For English I predict eventually one of the third person singular pronouns will be dropped, and the remaining one will become neutral. “Eventually” can be a very long time, though.

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  13. James Joyner says:

    @Kit:

    We start with trying to protect credentialed intellectual authority from the sorts of unconscious prejudices endemic to our age, and we end with a radical program to reform grammar and society itself. These two projects will never be happy bedfellows.

    No, she’s just asking the Globe & Mail to follow the convention followed by almost every newspaper and academic style guide: last name only on second reference. Like it or not, calling attention to the fact that an expert is a woman lowers the credibility we assign to the statement that follows.

    Still, to continue with the spirit of the subject, why use names at all? Surnames are another rich subject of discontent. Pseudonyms have long been used for the freedom they allow.

    There’s something to that, actually. “Ahmad” likely gets less respect, ceteris parabus, than “Joyner,” which gets less respect still than “Smith” or “Johnson.” But we do have names and our egos like to have our ideas associated with them.

    @Andre Kenji de Sousa:

    . . . just because someone has completed an academic doctorate it does not mean that he is an authority in the public debate.

    As a general rule, I don’t engage in punditry as “Dr. James Joyner” or “James H. Joyner, Jr., Ph.D.” but rather as “James Joyner.” But there are all manner of issues where my academic training—and three-plus decades of study—give me more authority than Joe Schmoe brings to the table.

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  14. Kylopod says:

    @Kathy:

    I know. I listen to John McWhorter’s podcast regularly.

    I haven’t heard his podcast, but I have read several of his books (which I recommend). He happens to be a leading proponent of the English-semicreolization hypothesis I mentioned earlier.

    Here’s an odd fact: the Hebrew pronoun for “she” is pronounced “he,” while the pronoun for “he” is pronounced “who.”

    When I was in yeshiva as a kid, we were taught that “me is who and who is he and he is she.”

    While we’re on the subject of Hebrew, anyone who thinks English makes it difficult to deal with modern issues of gender equality hasn’t seen anything. Hebrew doesn’t just distinguish between he and she, but has distinct forms of you depending on whether the person being addressed is male or female, and while there’s only one form of “I,” verbs are conjugated according to gender so that even a simple sentence like “I’m going to the store” is spoken slightly differently depending on the speaker’s gender. As a result, in almost any two-person conversation speakers are practically forced to reveal their own gender as well as their assumptions about the gender of whoever they’re speaking to. I’m not sure the old SNL skit “Pat” would work in Hebrew.

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  15. Moosebreath says:

    @Kylopod:

    “When I was in yeshiva as a kid, we were taught that “me is who and who is he and he is she.””

    We also learned than “meats” is “juice”.

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  16. Kylopod says:

    @Kathy:

    For English I predict eventually one of the third person singular pronouns will be dropped, and the remaining one will become neutral. “Eventually” can be a very long time, though.

    Indeed, and we need to realize that English has been in its largely gender-less state for at least the past 600 years, without the he/she pronoun distinction disappearing. But I believe the use of “they/their/them” as an indeterminate singular pronoun will eventually come to be accepted as the standard, and probably not long into the future either. It won’t be the main singular pronoun–“he” and “she” will still survive for most purposes–but it will be reserved for those situations when the gender of the person you’re referring to is unidentified or unknown.

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  17. Kathy says:

    @Kylopod:

    I haven’t heard his podcast, but I have read several of his books

    I read “Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue.”

    Hebrew doesn’t just distinguish between he and she, but has distinct forms of you depending on whether the person being addressed is male or female, and while there’s only one form of “I,” verbs are conjugated according to gender

    I recall that much, though not much else. And, no, I don’t think “Pat” would have worked in Hebrew. For that matter, it would be hard to do in Spanish, as adjectives can change by gender.

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  18. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Kathy:

    For English I predict eventually one of the third person singular pronouns will be dropped, and the remaining one will become neutral. “Eventually” can be a very long time, though.

    Just as “thou” was dropped as the singular second person pronoun and “you” (which was originally only the plural second person pronoun) came to be used as both singular and plural, we’re going to give up “he/she/it” in favor of “they” being both singular and plural third person.

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  19. Kylopod says:

    @Kathy:

    I read “Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue.”

    I can’t quite remember, but that may be where I first encountered the semicreolization hypothesis. (McWhorter is a creole expert, among other things.) Probably my favorite book by McWhorter is Word on the Street. The second half of the book is devoted to the Ebonics controversy, but the book as a whole is largely a defense of descriptivism and a debunking of the kind of attitude embodied by Tyrell earlier in this thread. Here is one of my favorite quotes from the book:

    “What we must realize…is that during these changes, because renewal always complements erosion, all languages are eternally self-sustaining, just as while our present mountains are slowly eroding, new ones are gradually being thrown up by the movement of geological plates. Thus at any given time, a language is coherent and complex, suitable for the expression of all human needs, thoughts, and emotions. Just as linguists have encountered no languages that do not change, they have also not encountered any languages whose changes compromised their basic coherency and complexity. We have encountered no society hampered by a dialect that was slowly simply wearing out like an old car. Anthropologists report no society in which communication is impossible in the dark because the local dialect has become so mush-mouthed and senseless that it can only be spoken with help from hand gestures. In other words, there is no such thing as a language ‘going to the dogs’–never in the history of the world has there existed a language that has reached, or even gotten anywhere near, said dogs.”

    Another quote which I rather liked, this one about American monolingualism:

    “Many foreigners are amused that Americans find bilingualism exotic, especially as it shades into outright astonishment when Americans encounter people who speak more than two languages. For example, if you meet East Africans, you will presumably communicate with them in English; meanwhile, they more than likely also speak not only Swahili, East Africa’s linguistic coin of the realm, but also the local language of the area where they were born–and often, yet another local language. Finally, if they are from a country once colonized by a power other than England, they probably speak that power’s official language as well–French if from Burundi, Portuguese if from Mozambique, etc. East Africans think nothing of this, yet they have to get used to being treated as if they glowed in the dark or could breathe underwater because they are multilingual. One East African I know from Mozambique speaks English, Portuguese, Swahili, and the local languages Yao and Nyanja and thinks no more of this than I do of my ability to boil water.”

    And, no, I don’t think “Pat” would have worked in Hebrew. For that matter, it would be hard to do in Spanish, as adjectives can change by gender.

    I have often found that translators can be quite ingenious at finding ways to convey concepts that would seem to be untranslatable, but it’s still hard for me to imagine even a simple Hebrew conversation where the speaker manages to avoid giving away their gender the entire time. On the other hand, there’s some inherent artificiality to the “Pat” routine even in English, as it’s hard to imagine a polite conversation between strangers without the words “Sir” or “Ma’am” or something similar being heard at least once.

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  20. Kylopod says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    we’re going to give up “he/she/it” in favor of “they” being both singular and plural third person.

    As I mentioned, the use of “they/their/them” as a singular pronoun has been in colloquial English for centuries. (You can find it as far back as Chaucer.) Many schoolteachers, grammar purists, and the like consider it “wrong,” but it probably will one day become standard English accepted by everyone. But even this colloquial usage is only used in limited ways: it basically comes up when you’re referring back to a person who’s unidentified or hypothetical, as in the sentence “Somebody left their keys.” Nobody uses the pronoun “they” when referring to someone specific and known. You would never say “My wife wants their ticket refunded” when you mean “her ticket refunded.”

    Of course there’s no way to know how English will change centuries down the line, but singular their seems to operate pretty consistently within the role it plays, so I don’t think it’s really in the process of replacing his or her except within the narrow situations that call for it.

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  21. grumpy realist says:

    @Kylopod: When I was working for the Japanese government, we would run into the impossibility of translation in Japanese many many times, since the Japanese make a much finer distinction among the different steps of an industrial process than Americans do. In several cases we decided it was easiest to just grab the Japanese word itself and use it as is, together with an explanation in a footnote, rather than trying to find an equivalent English word.

    (This reminds me of that marvellous quote from James Nicholl: “The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.”)

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  22. Lounsbury says:

    @Kathy:
    Barbers re surgeons.

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  23. Jay L Gischer says:

    I’m with @Kylopod in that I think that they/their/them is going to win as the third person pronoun of indeterminate gender. I think that “he” and “she” will retain some usage, though.

    I’m also in agreement with @James Joyner and his academic colleagues in resisting any honorific after first mention. The resistance to using “doctor” is amusing, but I think academics (and I once was one) have lost this battle, and I don’t feel like tilting at windmills.

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  24. Kathy says:

    @Kylopod:

    I have often found that translators can be quite ingenious at finding ways to convey concepts that would seem to be untranslatable, but it’s still hard for me to imagine even a simple Hebrew conversation where the speaker manages to avoid giving away their gender the entire time.

    I’ve done some English-Spanish translations. Almost every concept can be translated, but some that may be a word in one language require a sentence in another. I go for meaning first and feel second, and never engage in literal translations. Think of the literal meaning of “Passing the buck.” Why would trading large, aggressive male herbivores be a common activity? 😉

    So translating at into Hebrew would be a Herculean task, if it could be done at all. You can’t even use the dodge of having Pat speak in third person.

    There was a late episode of “Three’s Company” where Jack employs Felipe’s cousin from Mexico who doesn’t speak English. I saw it dubbed in Spanish once. They made her, get this, Felipe’s cousin from England who doesn’t speak Spanish.

    As to McWhorter, I like him a lot, but I’m not that interested in linguistics. A few minutes of Lexicon Valley a month are plenty on the subject for me.

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  25. grumpy realist says:

    @Kathy: Many years ago I had a book of French jokes and funny stories (most very non PC, but that’s a different issue) and there was one which I remember reading and then thinking how absolutely impossible it would be to translate into any other language given that it depended upon a triple combination of pun, slang, and literal description.

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  26. Kylopod says:

    @Kathy:

    There was a late episode of “Three’s Company” where Jack employs Felipe’s cousin from Mexico who doesn’t speak English. I saw it dubbed in Spanish once. They made her, get this, Felipe’s cousin from England who doesn’t speak Spanish.

    That can get tricky, because translations will usually try to avoid changing a character’s nationality unless there’s no other choice. If you watch, say, a French movie translated for American audiences, the translation is probably not going to try to pass the characters off as Americans. If the characters refer to their country it will be called “France,” and if they refer to their language it will be called “French.”

    The problem arises when there are cultural references that may be lost. For example, in one of the Harry Potter books a character alludes to a popular Christmas carol. In the Modern Hebrew translation the reference is changed to a Chanukah song. But for the most part the translation doesn’t try to imply the characters are Jewish. The characters are shown consistently as English schoolkids who celebrate Christmas, just like in the original. The problem is that the reference to a Christmas carol would float over the heads of most Israeli kids, who typically know very little about Christian culture.

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  27. Kathy says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Oh, word play is murder to translate. The best thing to do, if you absolutely must, is to find similar word play in the target language and use that, even if it’s not witty or funny.

    But, you know, word play can be hard to translate between different varieties of the same language. Even something as simple as written vs spoken. Consider this:

    Jack is annoyed that a politician keeps talking about goals. Jack complains:
    Spoken: “He’s more interested in jails than goals.”
    Written: “He’s more interested in gaols than goals.”

    I think I’ve mentioned this before: you know you’re fluent in a language when you can understand word play.

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  28. Kathy says:

    @Kylopod:

    If you watch, say, a French movie translated for American audiences,

    You’d have a very small market 😉

    In the Modern Hebrew translation the reference is changed to a Chanukah song. But for the most part the translation doesn’t try to imply the characters are Jewish.

    I’ve heard that Arabic dubbed versions of The Simpsons have Homer and his pals at Moe’s drinking “soda.”

    I wonder how they handle Homer and other characters getting drunk.

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  29. Kylopod says:

    @grumpy realist: While I’m on the subject of the Modern Hebrew translation of Harry Potter, in the original there’s a scene where one of the wizards says to Mr. Weasley, “And don’t take too long, the delay on that firelegs report held us up for a month,” to which Weasley replies, “If you had read my report you would know the term is ‘firearms.'”

    How do you translate this exchange into another language? It depends on the peculiar English word “firearms,” where the word for upper limbs also happens to be the word for weapons, and where the word is attached to the word “fire,” which can mean either something that burns you or something that’s discharged from a gun.

    The Hebrew version doesn’t bother with any of this. It has Mr. Weasley’s report be about “handguns,” and the confused, technologically illiterate wizard refers to them as “footguns.”

    That seems to be the way translators deal with puns and wordplay: they try to find something else to substitute for the original. It’s not always possible. On the other hand, I’ve occasionally seen a translation create a pun that wasn’t in the original. When I was on El Al I happened to catch a version of The Emperor’s New Groove dubbed into Hebrew. For those who haven’t seen it, it’s a Disney cartoon about an emperor who gets transformed into a llama. Now, the word “llama” is borrowed into Modern Hebrew simply as “llama.” But it just happens that the Hebrew word for “why” is lama. So when the emperor at one point cries out “Why me?”, this gets translated as “Lama ani?”–which also sounds like he’s saying “I’m a llama?!”

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  30. grumpy realist says:

    @Kylopod: This is why I get a kick out of reading Terry Pratchett in German, just to see how PTerry’s wordplay has been handled.

    (I remember puzzling over a line in the Japanese translation of the novelization of Star Wars, until I realized that the unusual Kanji was a counter for legged furniture and referred to R2D2.)

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  31. DrDaveT says:

    @Kathy:

    Oh, word play is murder to translate.

    The very best French class I ever took was called “Advanced Grammar through Translation”. The pinnacle was analyzing translations of Alice in Wonderland, and discussing alternative approaches to translating the wordplay.

    “The twinkling of what?” asked the King.
    “It began with the tea”, the Hatter replied.
    “Of course twinkling begins with a T!” said the King sharply. “Do you take me for a dunce?”

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  32. Kathy says:

    @DrDaveT:

    The pinnacle was analyzing translations of Alice in Wonderland, and discussing alternative approaches to translating the wordplay.

    “The twinkling of what?” asked the King.
    “It began with the tea”, the Hatter replied.
    “Of course twinkling begins with a T!” said the King sharply. “Do you take me for a dunce?”

    And here’s where gendered nouns, adjectives and articles rear their ugly heads in some languages. If I were to attempt to translate that to Spanish, aside from the fact that the word for twinkling won’t start with “t,” I’d run into this problem too:

    The Spanish word for “tea” is “te,” the name of the letter “t” is also “te.” So that would work, right?

    No. the noun “te” is masculine, while the letter te is feminine. So the Hatter would say “empezo con EL te.” And there’s no way the king can confuse that with LA te.

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