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Is it real, or is it Memorex?

24/02/2012

The field of mistranslation is a fertile one for planting with weeds instead of flowers. Funny stories become true as soon as they have been immortalised online and, of course, “the Internet is forever”. The people over at snopes.com fight a valiant battle against rumour becoming entrenched as fact but, in a quotation that is widely attributed to Mark Twain, “a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes”.

Proving that there’s nothing new under the sun, Virgil seems to have got there first: “Fama, malum qua non aliud velocius alium (Rumour, than whom no other evil thing is faster) [Aeneid iv 174]. Shakespeare paraphrased it in the Prologue to Henry IV, Part II:

Open your ears; for which of you will stop
The vent of hearing when loud Rumour speaks?
I, from the orient to the drooping west,
Making the wind my post-horse …”

Incidentally, and coincidentally, Mark Twain did have a thing about proof-readers. Here are a couple of his swipes:

Yesterday Mr. Hall wrote that the printer’s proof-reader was improving my punctuation for me, & I telegraphed orders to have him shot without giving him time to pray [1889]

In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made proof-readers. [1893]

Doubtless Giles Coren would identify with those general sentiments. I’m not going to pillory him here by reprinting his famous loss of cool with the sub-editors of The Times, but you can read the story here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2008/jul/23/mediamonkey. I do tend to agree with him, though perhaps less vehemently. Let’s get back to funny but untrue.

Movie stars and singers are frequently the victim of slander masquerading as truth. While Madonna was in Budapest filming some scenes for Evita, the Hungarian newspaper BLIKK interviewed her. The questions were posed in Hungarian, and then translated into English for her; her replies were translated back into Hungarian. USA Today wanted a copy of it. So the Hungarian version was retranslated from Hungarian back into English for USA Today. So far, so true. Then Gary “Doonesbury” Trudeau took the idea and created an entirely imaginary interview:

BLIKK: Madonna, Budapest says hello with arms that are spread-eagled. Did you have a visit here that was agreeable? Are you in good odor? You are the biggest fan of our young people who hear your musical productions and like to move their bodies in response.
MADONNA: Thank you for saying these compliments {holds up hands}. Please stop with taking sensationalist photographs until I have removed my garmets for all to see. This is a joke I have made.
B: M, let’s cut toward the hunt: are you a bold hussy-woman that feasts on men who are tops?
M: Yes, yes, this is certainly something that brings to the surface my longings. In American it is not considered to be mentally ill when a woman advances on her prey in a discotheque setting with hardy cocktails present. And there is a more normal attitude toward leather play-toys that also makes my day.
B: Is this how you met Carlos, your love-servant who is reputed? Did you know he was heaven-sent right off the stick? Or were you dating many other people in your bed at the same time?
M: No, he was the only one I was dating in my bed then, so it is a scientific fact that the baby was made in my womb using him. But as regards those questions, enough! I am a woman and not a test-mouse! Carlos is an everyday person who is in the orbit of a star who is being muscled-trained by him, not a sex machine.
B: May we talk about your other “baby,” your movie then? Please do not be denying that the similarities between you and the real Evita are grounded in basis. Power, money, tasty food, Grammys — all these elements are afoot.
M: What is up in the air with you? Evita never was winning a Grammy!
B: Perhaps not. But as to your film, in trying to bring your reputation along a rocky road, can you make people forget the bad explosions of “Who’sThat Girl?” and “Shanghai Surprise?”
M: I am a tip-top starlet. That is my job that I am paid to do.
B: OK, here’s a question from left space. What was your book “Slut” about?
M: It was called “Sex”, my book.
B: Not in Hungary. Here it was called “Slut.” How did it come to publish. Were you lovemaking with a man-about-town printer? Do you prefer making suggestive literature to fast-selling CDs?
M: There are different facets to my career highway. I am preferring only to become respected all over the map as a 100% artist.
B: There is much interest in you from this geographic region, so I must ask this final questions: How many Hungarian men have you dated in bed? Are they No. 1? How are they comparing to Argentine men, who are famous being tip-top as well?
M: Well, to avoid aggravating global tension, I would say it’s a tie (laugh). No, no. I am serious now. See here, I am working like a canine all the way around the clock! I have been too busy to try the goulash that makes your country one for the record books.
B: Thank you for the candid chitchat.
M: No problem, friend who is a girl.

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