Lost in Translation, Caption, and Sign

Sure, as people with hearing loss, we have all experienced this: either heard a joke from a co-worker about deaf or hard-of hearing people, were made fun of in as a kid by insensitive people, or witnessed a very funny (albeit at a time embarrassing) situation overhearing someone’s words.

Humor is a rubber sword, Mark Twain said. Helps us walk on a funny, oh, sunny side of life.

There are many sides to the humor related to hearing loss, deaf and hard of hearing, and in all my travels, I’ve found that misunderstanding happens in every language, and across every culture. We accept it when it does not become offensive. I’ve been collecting these funny moments, misconceptions, and overheard things. Besides making us smile, they also reveal how much society still misunderstands the deaf and hard of hearing communities.

In my childhood in Russia I’d tell kids my hearing aid was a newly designed “Walkman” (the Sony music player). “Can I try?” my classmates begged me. “Unfortunately, no”, I retorted proudly and mysteriously. The kids were sad. That reminded me of Tom Sawyer who turned wall painting into an exciting sought-after activity…

Here’s just a sampling of the multicultural humor I’ve run across in my travels:

When, at a meeting in Brussels, I jokingly called my FM system a “KGB device” that transmits data to Kremlin,” some people – just think of it! – believed me. Enough of the jokes, I concluded. But I’m not alone. Marlee Matlin, in her childhood, could coolly get away with such gags: she told children that she has had an accent because her parents were foreign spies.

For one happy owner, a new pair of new digital hearing aids paved the way to a bright multicultural world. On the return back from a trip to Mexico, he exclaimed: “They [hearing aids] work so well, both in English and Spanish!”

At one of my training courses in France, a participant broke her glasses and a long time thereafter the participants laughed when she’d tell them, “I can’t hear without my glasses!” You see, glasses are important for lip reading and following captions.

One of my Finnish hard of hearing friends who speaks English very well, had a misunderstanding with her London cab driver. He finally snapped: “You are not hard-of-hearing, you just have a selective hearing!”

A bunch of young deaf and hard of hearing people were chatting at an international seminar coffee break. A German boy shared an exciting travel story, saying that his travels were “crazy,” and communicating this in sign by rolling his eyes and shaking his hand in front of a forehead. A chubby red-haired Danish girl giggled saying, “You seem to have had a delightful time!” The German boy looked confused until the Danish girl revealed that the sign he’d used for “crazy” is used for “orgasm” in Denmark.

Translation gaffes are not only between foreign languages, but within one language too. I asked my Russian colleagues, “How would you sign the word ’emancipation’?” A long discussion about the semantics followed, full of disagreements. The majority viewed emancipation in relation to women’s rights and did not know its wider meaning. When I asked in the UK how to sign “emancipation” properly, a deaf woman asked me in return: “Emancipation? What’s that thing?”…Oops…

CART reporters (or palantypists in Europe) and their CART machines are a constant source of hilarious errors if you watch closely.

Such as: fun rising. Yes, why not to rise some fun? (The talk was actually about “Fund raising”). Obviously, fund raising can go along with the fun rising. That’s what hard of hearing participants of the IFHOHYP seminars learned very well.

Do you want silly cone earmolds for your hearing aids? They were offered in the discussion about the best material for earmold fitting. “Silicone earmolds,” that is. The international congress participants were rolling in the aisles. One incorrect keystroke – wrong phonetic codes come out – and the result stuns you.

Oh fool…instead of “awful.

Finally, we can’t leave the topic of lost-in-translation flubs without considering glorious moments of real-time captioning on television. In the technology and communication field, the “call practices” were captioned ascult practices. Who said we are living in the 21st century?

In the US, there was a TV commercial where a girl was eating a candy bar on a top of a mountain. That took place in Montana’s well known Bitterroot Mountains. The captions said “BITTER ROUTE MOUNTAINS.” All Montana deafies giggled.

In an interview a guest said about receiving 100 females – rather than “emails.” He must be really popular with women.

Have you experienced these awkward moments? Situations that leave you laughing inside (or outside)? Please post them to my comments section. I’d love to hear about them!

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