Monthly Archives: August 2015

Making a pig’s ear (or an IKEA shelf!) out of a ‘mistranslation’…

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The dust has now settled over the Celtic vs Malmo match – at least as far as the result is concerned. In case you didn’t watch/aren’t a football fan, Malmo beat Celtic 4-3 on aggregate to qualify for the European Champions League. Celtic, as a consequence, will have to play in the Europa League, regarded by many as a somewhat inferior competition.

However, Global Connects’ interest extends beyond the football (although we’re quite keen on that too). There was the usual “exchange of words” after the first leg of the tie, a 3-2 win for Celtic in Glasgow, with Age Hareide, the Malmo manager then being dragged into an angry dispute with Scottish football journalists over the actual nature of the words used.

Apparently (or should we say allegedly!) the Swedish side’s goalkeeper, Johan Wiland, referred to the Celtic players as “grisar”, which translates directly as “pigs”. However, it was claimed by his manager that the context/idiom that was used meant that saying Celtic “played like pigs” simply meant they were dirty players. An insult, but not as bad as “pigs”.

Scottish football journalists reacted predictably at being accused of taking things out of context. You could hear the sound of their eyebrows being raised on the radio, but in this instance they may well have had due cause.

For a start, consider the phrase that Hareide used to deflect criticism. He said the idiomatic phrase used was a synonym for “dirty play”. Now no-one (we think) actually believes that the word “dirty” is used in its primary sense of being “unclean” here. It is used as a euphemism for “rough” or “foul” play (something both sides were guilty of if you watched the second leg).

In his interview with the Scottish media, Hareide got so angry that he claimed that a well known Anglo-Saxon word, famous for being, along with Association Football, one of the UK’s primary gifts to the world, means something totally different in Swedish. However, we have checked and he’s not quite right: “fack” is a commonly used Swedish word, but the English swearword is also commonly used and understood in Swedish. “Fack” actually is a contraction of “fackförening” or “fackförbund” in Swedish. It means “trade union”! It also means a small box, such as a pigeonhole, or small shelves. A Swede, looking at this example from Ikea would call each “shelf” a “fack”.

None of this really matters as far as football is concerned. For the sports hacks it’s simply a means of selling more papers by creating a “story”. However, for language professionals, it’s one more example of how one country misunderstands another and unnecessary conflict is created. We can see this across the world in all sorts of other areas of politics and business. For example, no-one takes the language used by North Korea about everyone else (running dogs of capitalism, etc.) seriously, but their (nuclear) military threat is real. Ultimately, we think journalists, of every stamp, should be more careful in chasing a story that, when you examine it properly, is built if not on sand then at least on a genuine lack of understanding of the way different peoples use their native languages, and especially the nuances and idioms employed in a sporting context!

Anthony Madill, Global Connects

The importance of languages to Arsenal FC (and other successful businesses), as featured in the FT

We are delighted that the Financial Times is featuring a blog by Emily Drummond of Global Connects on its online careers site.   Emily’s blog looks at the problems of a number of very high profile businessmen, whose lack of language skills was, arguably, detrimental to their careers, and then contrasts them with another highly successful businessman, the Arsenal FC manager Arsene Wenger, a Frenchman whose language skills put some more conventional businesspeople to shame.  You can read the full article here: