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Misadventures in Campaigning for the Ethnic Vote:

Ha'aretz: "Political campaign buttons in Hebrew are a popular way to woo Jewish votes - but sometimes things get lost (or added) in translation. When Democrat John Kerry ran for president in 2004, his transliterated name appeared on thousands of buttons, stickers and coffee mugs. To the amusement of those familiar with Talmudic Hebrew, 'keri' in its phonetic spelling means a seminal discharge."

And learning from the past:

Obama supporter Shahar Golan, of Rehovot, crafted a poster with the Hebrew translation of the slogan "Change we can believe in."... Golan knows that translations can be tricky. On his blog, he elaborated on his choice of words. "Translating 'Change we can believe in' proved to be somewhat of a challenge," he muses, "as the Hebrew word for 'we can' (nuchal) is the exact one for 'crook' (nochel)." Not wanting to repeat past mistakes, he added that "even a hint of such subliminal connections can be bad."

corneille1640 (mail):
I don't know Hebrew, but I imagine that any translation into any language would have to try not to be so literal. "Change we can believe in" has a certain cachet as a political slogan, in English. But in a translation, I think it's better to err on the side of caution and say something like "He will bring good changes."

I don't quite know what to say about the "Kerry"/[keri] situation.
7.13.2008 9:32am
Bama 1L:
When Democrat John Kerry ran for president in 2004, his transliterated name appeared on thousands of buttons, stickers and coffee mugs. To the amusement of those familiar with Talmudic Hebrew, 'keri' in its phonetic spelling means a seminal discharge."

At my elementary school, there was a kid with the last name "Butts." To the amusement of those familiar with colloquial English, "Butts" in its phonetic spelling means "butts."
7.13.2008 10:37am
DonBoy (mail) (www):
The current president's last name also has possible sexual connotation in English. The whole story may be like the "Nova" urban lengend; people who actually speak languages often completely miss such ambiguities. (Plus..."Talmudic Hebrew"? Now we're talking about a tiny scholastic minority of a minority.)
7.13.2008 11:03am
Just Saying:
At my elementary school, there was a kid with the last name "Butts." To the amusement of those familiar with colloquial English, "Butts" in its phonetic spelling means "butts."

I had a classmate by the name of Molly Lester. To the amusement of those familiar with modern English... well, you know the rest.

[I always wondered if she married into that name, or had particularly cruel/oblivious parents.]
7.13.2008 1:08pm
Dan P (mail):
My mother went to school with a girl named Ophelia Rass (not kidding)
7.13.2008 2:42pm
Mocha Java (mail):
In this jocular vein, I had the distinct pleasure of serving with one Peter Peterlik.
7.13.2008 2:45pm
Gastric:
I once worked with a guy named Richard Rasche.

He went by "Dick"
7.13.2008 3:33pm
Big Bill (mail):
How does Obama's "Yes we can!" ("Si se puede!") translate?

"Yes we're crooks"?
7.13.2008 4:46pm
LM (mail):
DB,

Sorry for going OT, but I'm surprised you haven't posted anything on the (in my opinion insane) decision of the Israelis to swap Samir Kuntar for the remains of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser.
7.13.2008 5:27pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
LM, what's insane is that Israel doesn't have a death penalty for terrorist murders, which leaves it constantly vulnerable to blackmail attempts like this one to get terrorists out of jail. I do plan to blog this one of these days.
7.13.2008 6:17pm
CDR D (mail):
There once was a fellow named "Peter Beter" (the two names did ryhme):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Beter
7.13.2008 7:55pm
LM (mail):
DB,

I agree re: the death penalty, and I look forward to your post.
7.14.2008 4:56am
Yankev (mail):
Not just Talmudic Hebrew, but also Biblical and Rabbinic. Any observant Jew would be familiar with the latter. I suspect that many Israelis would be familiar with the former in the same way that many Americans have some familiarity with Elizabethan English.

The literal meaning of Keri is "random", "accidental", "unpredictable", "happenstance" -- in fact, Keri is used that way in the story of Balaam, which was read in synagogues all over the world this past Saturday. Perhaps a doubly unfortunate connotation given some of the themes in the campaign.

There is an alternate but equally phonetic spelling of Kerry that starts with the letter kaf rather than quf. The two letters look very different. The problem could also have been avoided by inserting an ayin after the first letter; the ayin often dones the short "e" sound when translitering foreign words into Hebrew. Either way, the pronunication would remain unchanged but the written name would have avoided suggesting the unflattering Hebrew term.
7.14.2008 10:20am