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Lost in Translation

When Japanese collides with English, some charming bloopers result

By Sarah Phelan

I USED TO teach English to Japanese adults--an experience which taught me that learning a second language gets harder with age and is a lot like working out at the gym. To quote an aerobics drill sergeant I once learned to hate, "Use, or you lose."

I've often wondered what happened to my students' English skills after they returned to Japan. The Japanese Engrish website, www.engrish.com, dedicated to English bloopers in Japan, appears to answer that question.

My personal favorites are Mercy toilet paper ("For the good wipe"), My Fannie paper towels ("Please don't squeeze!") and a rough skin remover called Shape Horny Remover.

Favorite drinks include BM canned coffee (BM stands for Bowel Movement, in case you're wondering), Biggy Drink ("Drink it--it's no Biggy!") and Postonic refreshing water--which is "newly tasty improved enhanced." And then there is the irresistible sounding Sweet Asse candy.

Cute, yes, but is Engrish politically incorrect?

"The webmaster of this site lived in Japan for 10 years and loves the people and the culture," the website disclaimer says. "If anyone can point out anything ... that is blatantly racist or otherwise uncool ... I will happily change the content of the site."

We are hoping not. Or, to quote the caption for a toy "made for the extreme priority of good looks": "Danger! Engrish is contained generously!"

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From the May 23-20, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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