January 15, 2007

How to thaw a jacket

A number of Language Log posts have been about the dangers and humor of translating Chinese into English menus and commercial instructions. For example, see here and here. It's easy to understand why overseas manufacturers with limited ability in English might have problems translating from one language to another but I can't figure out what happened with the new jacket I purchased a few days ago. It was made by Columbia Sportswear, a company in Portland, Oregon, which seems to specialize in winter wear. One might expect the instructions for use by an American company, in Oregon no less, to make sense. But what I found mystifies me. In the zipper pocket, I found a three by four inch card saying the following:


I like my jacket a lot but I can't figure out why I should need to thaw it. It wasn't frozen when I bought it and I can't imagine falling into an icy river or spending a night locked in a giant foodlocker. Hoping for further enlightenment, I followed the instructions to the "see below" part of the card. Here's what it says:

Soft sueded fabrication on the outside with fleece on the inside
Heavy weight cotton/polyester
Easy access hidden pockets for music players
Lined hood with drawcord

As far as I can tell, these instructions weren't the least bit relevant for helping me thaw my jacket, even if I wanted to. In fact, they weren't even instructions. Apparently Chinese to English translations aren't the only problem with instructions on commercial products.

Posted by Roger Shuy at January 15, 2007 06:19 PM