Tuesday, April 04, 2006


The American movie "16 Blocks" is about a NYDP officer who is taking a witness 16 blocks from the police station to 100 Centre Street (the street address of the criminal division of the New York Supreme Court for New York County). I have not seen the movie but the title makes sense.

Unfortunatelyand stupidly, it was translated into French by "16 Blocs" which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

A ‘block in this context means “A segment of a street bounded by consecutive cross streets and including its buildings and inhabitants” and does not quite translate as such in French.

The French counterpart may be 'pâté de maison' or simply 'rue' as in the following examples

  • To drive round the block : faire le tour du pâté de maisons;
  • he lives three blocks away : il habite à trois rues d'ici;
  • the bank is two blocks south : la banque est à deux rues d'ici au sud;

So why write '16 blocs' on the posters ? Laziness is my first idea.

Maybe the problem is that “16 rues” or “16 pâtés de maison” sounds too lame [and “16 pâtés” is even worse as a “pâté” is also “pie”]. So the best thing would have to change the title altogether or keep it in English. In any case, 16 blocs makes no sense at all. I don’t care what language you choose, the point should make at least to make sense and avoid ridicule. (Granted that may be a sign that the movie is worth its title)

As much as I think it is rather stupid for the French president to walk ut of an international meeting supposedly because a Frenchman uses English for his speech (see here and here), I think it is more resious to use a French word in the wrong meaning and placate it all over the city. No wonder our students are confused..

NOTE: Another option that just came to my mind is the official new meaning of ‘bloc’ which is supposed to be ‘blog’ (as in ‘bloc note’ for weblog). The problem there is that in reverse translation ‘bloc note’ is ‘note-pad’ in English. I believe ‘Journal de bord’ is better (that’s a log is) but it is not specific to the web. So how do you shorten that…? That’s the problem of French. It is not flexible enough and does not adapt well to the pace of our modern world ruled by short terms. Not something politcally correct to say for a French teacher...

But as you can guess, the reality is that nobody every uses the French ‘bloc’ for ‘blog’. It will remain one of those stupid impractical rules that everybody ignores.


At 08:24, Anonymous Abie said...

I resigned any hope in movie title translators when "Cruel intentions" was translated "Sexe (sic) Intentions"...


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home