Singapore is a land of wonders. So many people speak so many different languages that it’s perfectly possible to have someone rattle off a sentence with three different languages in it. I mean when you order your kopi si siu dai in English, you’re also speaking Malay (kopi) and Hokkien (si siu dai). No wonder other countries marvel at our ability to code switch so quickly.

Unfortunately, that means we’re not always very observant when it comes to translation gaffes. Here are some of the five worst mistranslations that could only happen on our island. We can barely get full marks for our Mother Tongue spelling tests, so if every sign is in the four major languages, something’s bound to go wrong somewhere.

1. Ten N

Ten N. Credit: Screen grab from Beh Chia Lor - Singapore Road Facebook Page

Ten N. Credit: Screen grab from Beh Chia Lor – Singapore Road Facebook Page

A recent Facebook post had a discussion about mistranslation adventures in Singapore. One, in particular, stood out – simply because few people could decipher it. “Ten N?” What place is called N.N.N.N.N.N.N.N.N.N. right? The New Number Ninety-Nine Nanyang North National Nautical News Network? No, right?

It was ION, as in ION Orchard. I guess if you squint, it might look that way…

2. Tampenis

Ten N. Credit: Screen grab from Beh Chia Lor - Singapore Road Facebook Page

Tampenis. Credit: Popspoken Facebook Page

I’m sure you could say that this place was the source of life in Singapore, and you could be forgiven for thinking that this was a nickname for Geylang (if you weren’t local). However, the reference to the male appendage is completely unrelated to the actual name of the place. What neighbourhood was this?

Tampines, ladies and gentlemen. Spelt the same way we pronounce it.

3. Bed OK

Nobody really sees it as "be" and "dok". Credit: Bedok Mall Facebook Page

Nobody really sees it as “be” and “dok”. Credit: Bedok Mall Facebook Page

When even the namesake mall of the town strives to ensure that you never see that the town’s Malay name is comprised of two English words, you know you’ve got a gem on your hands. Only dirty-minded teenagers and foreigners would ever see “Bedok” as “Bed OK”, but once you’ve seen it, it can’t be unseen.

4. Paan Kah Kee

Paan Kah Kee. Credit: Mani Pariasamy Facebook Page

Paan Kah Kee. Credit: Mani Pariasamy Facebook Page

Where on Earth is that? Specifically, where in Singapore? It sounds like a name but it doesn’t quite match anything that we know. But if you take away the “Paan” it should be quite obvious which train station it belongs to.

This Tamil mistranslation of “Tan Kah Kee” was quickly picked up by Tamil speakers on social media. Fortunately, it was changed before the Downtown Line opened its doors to the public.

5. Lau Pa Sani

Lau Pa... Sani. Credit: FiveStarsAndAMoon Facebook Page

Lau Pa… Sani. Credit: FiveStarsAndAMoon Facebook Page

This Tamil mistranslation comes from multiple errors. See, the translators assumed the original “Sat” meant Saturday and kindly decided to translate it into Saturday rather than picking a word that approximated that sound. Unfortunately, that choice of word was also something you could use to curse people with.

I’m betting this was one big giant joke by the translators, or hapless public servants who simply used Google Translate.

6. Cluck Kway

So how do you pronounce quay? Credit: Clarke Quay Facebook page

So how do you pronounce quay? Credit: Clarke Quay Facebook page

“Quay” is one of those words which look completely different from how they’re pronounced, like “lieutenant” in British English. So when Clarke Quay was rebranded and reopened as the Clarke Quay Festival Village in 1993, many people were suddenly stumped by the word “quay” and pronounced it the way it looked.

But, as it turns out, pronouncing it as “kway” wasn’t all that wrong after all! The Merriam-Webster Dictionary lists kwā as one of the possible pronunciations of “quay”, which isn’t too far off.

Arrival. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

Arrival. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

If we humans can already have so many translation errors on Earth, imagine how we would fare if we were to decipher an alien language? That’s exactly what happens in Arrival. Louise Lane (Amy Adams) and Hawkeye Ian (Jeremy Renner) must figure out what alien visitors on Earth are saying before a misunderstanding threatens to turn friendly overtures into acts of war.

Let’s hope there aren’t any Tampenis mistranslations in Arrival.

 

Credits: Beh Chia Lor – Singapore Road Facebook Page, Popspoken Facebook Page, Bedok Mall Facebook Page, Mani Pariasamy Facebook Page, FiveStarsAndAMoon Facebook Page, Clarke Quay Facebook Page, Golden Village Cinemas