Wasabi Stories vol.48: “Mistranslation and Bad Breath!?”


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“Mistranslation and Bad Breath!?”

Today’s story teller is a scholar of French literature and translator, Shigeru Kashima.

The topic is “Mistranslation and Bad Breath”.


Kashima explains how uneasy to be pointed out his mistranslations.

For example, when the book that he first translated was released, an article pointing his mistranslations was appeared on an academic journal.

Although the correction was reasonable, he found that there were full of mistranslations in the books of the translator who pointed out his mistakes.

While Kashima was relieved that the translator’s level isn’t so high, he felt anger welled up in him, so he started writing the translator’s mistranslations to report in the academic journal; however, as he wrote it, he found it silly and quit writing.

It’s easy to find others’ mistranslations but one never notices one’s mistranslations until someone else points out.

On this point, Kashima compares mistranslation to “bad breath”.

It’s like a man with bad breath who is not aware of his stink says to someone “your breath smells bad”.


“So, when I see someone aggressively point out others’ mistranslation, I think this is the type of person who isn’t aware of his bad breath.”


Developing his original theory (?) of “Mistranslation x Bad Breath”, Kashima doesn’t mean to blink at mistranslations.

According to Kashima, the language skills of today’s young translators are improved and they don’t make so many grammatical mistakes, but they often have cultural misunderstandings.

Mistranslation occurs on an easy point rather than a difficult point, because more it is difficult, they ask native speakers to check it.


His unique theory concludes with his word,

“The only truth is that there is no translation without mistranslation. Just like there is no one who doesn’t have bad breath.”

The NIKKEI May/26/2009 by Shigeru Kashima (Scholar of French literature)


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